Give Them Cake!

 

That expression has come to signify a person of privilege completely out of touch with common people. “Cake? Okay, queenie. How about we address the hunger first?” But we can do better. Why not cake?

Roger Scruton noted that the “form follows function” philosophy of architecture is mistaken when “function” neglects the constant human desire for beauty. In “Why Beauty Matters,” he referred to studies showing that the productivity of laborers is improved by working in beautiful settings. Modern architects were not wrong to emphasize utility. They were only misled to believe that beauty is a frivolous addition, rather than a practical aspect.

Similarly, Mother Theresa of Calcutta frequently reminded her admirers, both faithful and secular, that her service to the poor was not primarily material. Above all, she emphasized the need for people to feel loved and appreciated. It would not suffice to feed the hungry and mend the sick. They need smiles and laughter, touch and sincere conversation, so that charity can be accepted not as a burden or cold duty but as a gift of personal concern and communion.

For practical efficiency, we often structure our gift-giving by division into bare necessities. “I could give this cause $100. But I could give to 5 causes if I give $20 each.” We send rice and dry goods. We donate old clothes.

All gifts are helpful, of course. Sometimes the most basic are the most appreciated. Sometimes only certain things will survive the journey.

But people don’t live on spreadsheets. We internalize the differences between a wave and a hug, between a simple loaf of bread and a delicious cake. Sometimes, at least, give your best.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Whoa. So much to say here, but I’m not eloquent enough.

    A wonderful irony: just reading this post caused an explosion in my head, I immediately knew it was true, and important. Important. I thought of how many times in my own life a certain action by someone stuck with me – changed me forever, in a way that a simple handout wouldn’t.

    Maybe it’s “Your charity is welcome, but people learn and change by your example”, something like that. @arahant can help me here, he’s smart.

    Btw, I’ve always thought that “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” could have also been interpreted as “If the poor don’t have food, let’s give them everything we have here”.

    (Of course Cersei would just have it all fed to the dogs.)

    • #1
  2. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    Btw, I’ve always thought that “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” could have also been interpreted as “If the poor don’t have food, let’s give them everything we have here”.

    The interesting thing about the phrase is that she most certainly didn’t say it! Propaganda.

     

    • #2
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    As y’all might have guessed, this is the sort of post that comes of nibbling on poppyseed cake.

    • #3
  4. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    Btw, I’ve always thought that “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” could have also been interpreted as “If the poor don’t have food, let’s give them everything we have here”.

    The interesting thing about the phrase is that she most certainly didn’t say it! Propaganda.

     

    I heard the “cake” referred to in “let them eat cake” was the black crust that lines an oven which doesn’t get cleaned often.

    • #4
  5. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    On the beauty part — I love Fr. Michael Gaitley, author of 33 Days to Morning Glory, 33 Days to Merciful Love (a retreat my study group just completed) and more. But, in one of his talks, he tells a story about visiting Our Lady of Angels (Los Angeles) with other seminarians after its completion. He felt the other seminarians were too critical of its asymmetry and ugly exterior. He was trying to find something positive to say and he “realized” the asymmetry and modern ornamentation were reflective of the chaotic lives of the largely Latino congregation. 

    Now, maybe that’s true, but I did a little thought experiment: what if a more traditional (as in beautiful) cathedral were built next door? Which would the Latino churchgoers prefer? Which would inspire them to holiness and to sense the presence of God?

    The point Saint Mother Theresa makes is the same, I believe. When your charity is personal, people sense the love of God. That makes it beautiful and attractive.

    • #5
  6. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I was sure this was going to lead into this:

    Draft Executive Order Would Give Trump a New Target: Modern Design

    The proposed order, called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” favors classical design for buildings in Washington. It has drawn opposition from architects.

     

    • #6
  7. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    Thank you for this essay. Somewhere along the line, humanity’s need for beauty has been shoveled off, as if by ignoring that very important item, the poor will be fed and clothed, and the wars will stop.

    Reader’s Digest had this wonderful article that it was fond  of re-printing.

    It was the experience of a grade school teacher who insisted the kids she taught put together a food basket to take to someone who was down on their luck. (I think, IIRC, that it was an elderly lady, barely getting by.)

    They had a donation drive and then took the collected monies off to the grocery store. The kids were allowed to pick out the food items. But the teacher supervised. (After all, some kids might chose an entire grocery basket full of Snicker and KitKats, but I digress.)

    The children were adamant that they include flowers. The teacher said, “But when a person is hungry, food is the needed item.” Not frivolous flowers, food.

    For whatever reason,  she gave in to their demand. Flowers were included.

    The look on the recipient’s face let her know the kids had been right. She needed and wanted the food, but it was the flowers that restored her.

    • #7
  8. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    I was sure this was going to lead into this:

    Draft Executive Order Would Give Trump a New Target: Modern Design

    The proposed order, called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” favors classical design for buildings in Washington. It has drawn opposition from architects.

     

    Thank you Drew. I thought at first that it was gonna be a satirical piece, but it actually is real. Trump wants buildings to be beautiful. (And why not.. It’s not like we tax payers  have been paying less for the Ugly.)

    • #8
  9. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Does the J. Edgar Hoover Building create Comeys?

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Great post Aaron.

    Your first two paragraphs got me all revved up to deliver a disquisition on form following function versus form inimical to function, which is even worse. But that would be off your true topic.

    • #10
  11. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    Thank you for this essay. Somewhere along the line, humanity’s need for beauty has been shoveled off, as if by ignoring that very important item, the poor will be fed and clothed, and the wars will stop.

    Reader’s Digest had this wonderful article that it was fond of re-printing.

    It was the experience of a grade school teacher who insisted the kids she taught put together a food basket to take to someone who was down on their luck. (I think, IIRC, that it was an elderly lady, barely getting by.)

    They had a donation drive and then took the collected monies off to the grocery store. The kids were allowed to pick out the food items. But the teacher supervised. (After all, some kids might chose an entire grocery basket full of Snicker and KitKats, but I digress.)

    The children were adamant that they include flowers. The teacher said, “But when a person is hungry, food is the needed item.” Not frivolous flowers, food.

    For whatever reason, she gave in to their demand. Flowers were included.

    The look on the recipient’s face let her know the kids had been right. She needed and wanted the food, but it was the flowers that restored her.

    What a wonderful story Carol. Thanks. 

    • #11
  12. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    So to clarify, Aaron, are you saying we should donate something other than money?  Yes, I donate old clothes (actually they ask for “gently used clothes” around here) but I can’t see how that’s better than money. 

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Stad (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    Btw, I’ve always thought that “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” could have also been interpreted as “If the poor don’t have food, let’s give them everything we have here”.

    The interesting thing about the phrase is that she most certainly didn’t say it! Propaganda.

     

    I heard the “cake” referred to in “let them eat cake” was the black crust that lines an oven which doesn’t get cleaned often.

    The story as I heard it was that there was already a law setting the price of cheap bread. The problem with the set price was that the baker was not making any money at that price, or perhaps was actually losing money. Brioche, which is made with eggs, wasn’t covered by the law. So the bakers were baking few if any loaves of cheap bread and making plenty of brioche. Marie Antoinette’s brilliant plan was to make the bakers sell the expensive bread at the price of the cheap bread if they ran out of cheap bread.

    As government solutions go, that would beat anything Bernie Sanders ever came up with. Hopefully, he stays focused on issues such as deodorant and sneakers.

    • #13
  14. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    As y’all might have guessed, this is the sort of post that comes of nibbling on poppyseed cake.

    Then nibble on more poppyseed cake. This is just–well, beautiful.

    • #14
  15. Painter Jean Member
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    On the beauty part — I love Fr. Michael Gaitley, author of 33 Days to Morning Glory, 33 Days to Merciful Love (a retreat my study group just completed) and more. But, in one of his talks, he tells a story about visiting Our Lady of Angels (Los Angeles) with other seminarians after its completion. He felt the other seminarians were too critical of its asymmetry and ugly exterior. He was trying to find something positive to say and he “realized” the asymmetry and modern ornamentation were reflective of the chaotic lives of the largely Latino congregation.

    Now, maybe that’s true, but I did a little thought experiment: what if a more traditional (as in beautiful) cathedral were built next door? Which would the Latino churchgoers prefer? Which would inspire them to holiness and to sense the presence of God?

    The point Saint Mother Theresa makes is the same, I believe. When your charity is personal, people sense the love of God. That makes it beautiful and attractive.

    WC, I’ve always thought that there will be a special place in Hell for those who built ugly churches and – even worse, I think – wreckovated so many of our beautiful Catholic churches in the 70s and 80s. 

    • #15
  16. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Manny (View Comment):

    So to clarify, Aaron, are you saying we should donate something other than money? Yes, I donate old clothes (actually they ask for “gently used clothes” around here) but I can’t see how that’s better than money.

    The post started with acts of charity in mind. The point is more that quality is often preferable to quantity. 

    That’s true of material donations, but also true of spiritual acts and works of business.

    A wife surely appreciates small displays of attention and help with little chores any time. But arranging for a babysitter so that one can take her out for a well planned romantic evening is a more memorable gesture. Quality over quanity, though both are necessary. 

    In architecture, one must design within one’s budget, space, regulations, and priorities. Not everything needs to be a cathedral. But sometimes perhaps one can push to impress and inspire. 

    It’s true of anything, but in work we normally don’t have much choice of whether to prefer quantity or quality. One works within a system, under management or as part of a team. But donations of time, resources, and personal energy are offered with greater freedom.

    When we are free to offer our best, it is okay if we sometimes focus our gifts on fewer people so that we may bless those people in more powerful ways.

    • #16
  17. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Of course, there is no perfect path. We live in an imperfect world. Sadly, helping one person or focusing on one avenue of excellence often does mean neglecting another.

    Back in my schooling days (an environment in which one meets many new people), there were more than a few occasions when I established a new friendship with someone but struggled to maintain it because, for example, sitting beside a new friend required moving away from an old one.

    This is a very common dilemma in conversations which involve more than a few people. Whomever one looks at when speaking is deemed to be one’s primary focus. That’s why public speakers are taught to look up from their notes and to alternate their gaze from side to side.

    In daily conversations, individuals often feel more or less included according to eye contact and posture. But if you only glance at everyone in a more intimate setting, your companions might all feel distant! You can’t normally speak to friends as you would speak to an audience in an auditorium.

    This is also why country manners are rarer in big cities. If one holds a door open for every lady in a busy metropolis, one might never leave the door.

    In charity as well, a choice to attend to one person often means neglecting another. It’s just a sad fact of life. A Christian or Jew has some comfort, at least, in trusting God to employ someone else to address those we miss.

    • #17
  18. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    The post started with acts of charity in mind. The point is more that quality is often preferable to quantity. 

    That’s true of material donations, but also true of spiritual acts and works of business.

    I assume you’ve heard of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Little Way?  You’re reminding me of it.

    • #18
  19. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Stad (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    Btw, I’ve always thought that “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” could have also been interpreted as “If the poor don’t have food, let’s give them everything we have here”.

    The interesting thing about the phrase is that she most certainly didn’t say it! Propaganda.

     

    I heard the “cake” referred to in “let them eat cake” was the black crust that lines an oven which doesn’t get cleaned often.

    Probably a liberal said that

    • #19
  20. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Manny (View Comment):
    I assume you’ve heard of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Little Way? You’re reminding me of it.

    Yes, she is among my favorite saints. She definitely speaks to my way of being. 

    I have fallen out of the habit. But I used to often pray “Lord, bless us for our small acts of kindness” while driving, in response to common but considerate actions of fellow drivers. When a driver moves into the slow lane to let me pass, for example, he or she is technically just following the law. Still, it shows consideration. 

    A spirit of gratitude is liberating. And, like any good father, it pleases the Lord to bless one child on behalf of another, even for the slightest excuse.

    • #20
  21. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    Btw, I’ve always thought that “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” could have also been interpreted as “If the poor don’t have food, let’s give them everything we have here”.

    The interesting thing about the phrase is that she most certainly didn’t say it! Propaganda.

     

    I heard the “cake” referred to in “let them eat cake” was the black crust that lines an oven which doesn’t get cleaned often.

    Probably a liberal said that

    I consider the French revolution an ideal marker for all that is wrong with modernity in the West. Royalty of the time merit plenty of criticism, but I’d side with them in a heartbeat over the rootless and bloodthirsty mob.

    • #21
  22. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    This is also why country manners are rarer in big cities. If one holds a door open for every lady in a busy metropolis, one might never leave the door.

    This explains alot of the divide in America between the rural and the city people. 

    • #22
  23. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    I consider the French revolution an ideal marker for all that is wrong with modernity in the West. Royalty of the time merit plenty of criticism, but I’d side with them in a heartbeat over the rootless and bloodthirsty mob.

    It’s complicated, but yes, I agree. It’s still help up as some noble idealistic enterprise, but it’s just drafting behind the US revolution, hoping no one notices its bloody claws. It’s the birth of the totalitarian state. 

    • #23
  24. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    I was sure this was going to lead into this:

    Draft Executive Order Would Give Trump a New Target: Modern Design

    The proposed order, called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” favors classical design for buildings in Washington. It has drawn opposition from architects.

     

    Thank you Drew. I thought at first that it was gonna be a satirical piece, but it actually is real. Trump wants buildings to be beautiful. (And why not.. It’s not like we tax payers have been paying less for the Ugly.)

    I hope Trump cans the design for the Eisenhower Memorial – if it hasn’t already been ditched . . .

    • #24
  25. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    I consider the French revolution an ideal marker for all that is wrong with modernity in the West. Royalty of the time merit plenty of criticism, but I’d side with them in a heartbeat over the rootless and bloodthirsty mob.

    It’s complicated, but yes, I agree. It’s still help up as some noble idealistic enterprise, but it’s just drafting behind the US revolution, hoping no one notices its bloody claws. It’s the birth of the totalitarian state.

    It’s class warfare (envy), which as usual ends in a new oligarchy killing their fellow revolutionaries in the name of fraternity.

    It’s wild destruction of old norms, beliefs, and history in pursuit of Utopia and human perfectibility. 

    It’s exchange of Science(!) for God, moving from worship of invisible divinity to worship of nature and self. 

    It’s not the cause of present troubles, but emblematic of them.

    • #25
  26. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Today, we remember when Jesus called us salt of the earth. This ties in well, I think. We are called not just to feed the world but also to spice it up. It’s not enough to survive. We have to live.

    The poor also desire more than sustenance. The sick desire not just absence of pain but joy and activity. We should give people more than what they need.

    • #26
  27. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Today, we remember when Jesus called us salt of the earth. This ties in well, I think. We are called not just to feed the world but also to spice it up. It’s not enough to survive. We have to live.

    The poor also desire more than sustenance. The sick desire not just absence of pain but joy and activity. We should give people more than what they need.

    God bless you Aaron. It needed to be said. 

    • #27
  28. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    Aaron Miller: We donate old clothes.

    Just a few days ago, I saw an article that said most donated clothing is tossed out. Rather like the plastic I scrupulously recycle sometimes is sent to the landfill because the recycling facility is overwhelmed. 

    What’s a well-intentioned person supposed to do?

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller: We donate old clothes.

    Just a few days ago, I saw an article that said most donated clothing is tossed out. Rather like the plastic I scrupulously recycle sometimes is sent to the landfill because the recycling facility is overwhelmed.

    What’s a well-intentioned person supposed to do?

    What are you asking me from?

    • #29
  30. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Suspira (View Comment):
    I saw an article that said most donated clothing is tossed out.

    If so, that’s inexcusable… unless it’s dirty underwear or something unhygienic. There are plenty of people, including me, willing to wear clothing with holes and frays. Many clothes are only thrown out by the original wearers because they don’t want to look poor.

    • #30