The Ms. Q&A: #RageBakers Katherine Alford and Kathy Gunst Have the Recipe for Resistance

A few years ago, I read a book about a woman who could taste the emotions of friends and strangers alike when she ate one of their baked goods. I’ve always found great joy in baking, and have felt that the act of mixing, measuring, icing and tasting was a celebratory one—a tangible way to express love and excitement through food.

I’ve felt like celebrating less and less over the last few years— a feeling many of my fellow feminists have had, as well, I’d bet—so when I first got my hands on a copy of Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury, and Women’s Voices, I knew I had to speak with the women behind it. The new collection of more than 50 recipes, short essays and quotes from feminist bakers and activists is a delicious addition to any coffee table or kitchen; contributors like Rebecca Traister, Tess Rafferty and Pam Houston connect the recipes inside to the movement happening off the pages, and in our communities.

Authors Katherine Alford and Kathy Gunst spoke with Ms. about building community, the power of female rage and the importance of taking action in a world that’s increasingly maddening.

What is rage baking? How did this book come to be—both as a collective work, as well as for each of you individually?

Rage Baking began for me (Kathy) during the Kavanaugh hearings. As you will read in my introduction to the book, I was full of rage and baking helped me focus. I started calling Senators, signing petitions, sending donations. I was, quite frankly, in shock over the way this so-called “hearing” was being conducted. Why would Dr. Blasey Ford risk her family, career and reputation? And why weren’t these Senators really listening?

Katherine and I have been friends for a decade and started talking about rage, baking, politics, being a woman and activism. We decided this needed to be a book and we knew it couldn’t be a traditional cookbook that just included recipes, so we also added essays, interviews, poetry and photography—both old and new. When we came to this idea, we realized that Rage Baking was a movement that first expressed itself around 2012 in journalism, fiction, social media, poetry—and it was most certainly a movement that was greatly influenced by #MeToo. It was important to us to write a book that included a diverse community of women.

How can baking be powerful? How can rage be powerful?

Baking requires focus. It’s a “practice” that asks you to be precise, and rewards you with gratifying results. What we realized as we worked on this project is that baking is incredibly powerful, and not for the obvious reasons. This is not a book asking women to get back into the kitchen and start baking away their troubles. This is a book that highlights women’s skills, and crafts, and how they use those traditions to create community. A sandwich is for one. Baking is almost always a shared activity—think of a pie, a cake, a batch of cookies. Baking is about community. Cakes show up in signature moments in our lives. Birthdays. Weddings. Celebrations. And, these days cakes are being used as symbols—blank canvases—for political messages. When the right to a wedding cake goes to the Supreme Court you know baked goods are powerful.

As Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad and a contributor to Rage Baking, says so beautifully: women’s rage has always been a catalyst for good.

Rage is not simply about anger. It’s about passion and finding an outlet for it that can lead to good social change.

Authors Kathy Gunst (left) and Katherine Alford

Throughout the book, you encourage readers to rage bake—but also to take action in other ways.

When we were putting together this project, we wanted to give part of the proceeds to an organization that was creating real change. EMILY’s List is that organization. And we, of course, love what the acronym stands for: Early Money Is Like Yeast! It turns out the founder of Emily’s List was once a baker in Maine!

We have both marched, supported candidates, made contributions to causes we believe in, written our Senators and Congress members endlessly, made calls and been part of several grassroots campaigns. And, of course, we encourage everyone to get out and vote.

We wanted to use our skills—both as food journalists, writers, editors and part of a community of women—to help create a book that provides hope. In the end, after interviewing women like Ani DiFranco and Marti Noxon and reading essays from Osayi Endolyn, Rebecca Traister and Jennifer Finney Boylan, we felt a new sense of hope.

You included an essay called, “Will Rage Baking Help? One Writer Isn’t So Sure.” Why did you think this perspective was important to include?

We sent a prompt to several writers asking them for a short essay about “rage” and what the phrase “rage baking’ brought up for them. Charlotte Druckman immediately emailed us back with this essay, almost word-for-word, verbatim. As soon as we received it, we knew this was going to be her contribution. Her questions felt important.

What is your favorite recipe to rage bake?

Wow, that’s like choosing your favorite child. Right now, for me (Kathy), I’m obsessed with Elle Simone’s Lemon Pound Cake (as well as her stunning poem that accompanies it). And I just made a batch of Ruth Recih’s Oatmeal Cookies. They are so easy and simple and fabulous (ten minutes!), it’s kind of shocking. For Katherine, her current favorites are the Chocolate and Vanilla Marble Cookies and Pigs in a Blanket (which still, unfortunately, resonate like crazy).

Anything else you want Ms. readers to know about your book?

We are interested in starting conversations between women and between women and men. Our country is so polarized these days that it’s hard to find civil discourse between people who don’t see eye-to-eye. [Rage Baking] is a tool that we want people to feel they can use to bring communities together. Bake on! Rage on! #ragebakers

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