Johannesburg’s Nerine Gardiner has come to be known around the world as “Girl with Cake” (http://www.girlwithcake.co.za). Her mission is “to spread unconditional kindness one cake at a time.” She goes about her mission with support from her local community, and a slew of international sponsors (including Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, etc). It is her personal belief that everyone deserves a cake made with love. Gardiner started her journey because “even if someone has been dealt a raw deal, they can enjoy the sweetness of a cake for a few moments.“
In January 2014, 27 year-old Gardiner started her enterprise baking cakes in a toaster oven. She has since moved on to better resources generously provided to her by sponsors. Her then boyfriend, now husband, started accompanying her as a photographer. She has since moved on to a more professional team, as documenting giving the cake seems to be almost as important as the gift itself. Gardiner uses the media for her website, which also promotes her forthcoming endeavors.
She feels that each cake has provided her with “joy, happiness, and deep life lessons.” I’m curious if her deep reflections ever include thoughts about nutrition, obesity, or possible tooth decay from excessive sugar in the diet and no access to preventative dental care.
I can personally think of a lot of appropriate gifts to give someone less fortunate. Fruit, vegetables, skills, a job, or even the direct cash it took to make the cake all seem somehow more appropriate than these sugary baked goods. Occasionally Gardiner will include what she deems “Blessing Bags,” when individuals sponsor them. These bags can contain dried beans, rice, spices, blankets, and/or other basic toiletries. I am fond of the well intentioned “Blessing Bags”. However, giving an individual who lives on the street items like dried rice and beans without any means to prepare the food is wasteful.
Gardiner’s status as a privileged white woman in a country full of inequality linked to race begs the question of how self aware is this individual? She is evocative of the young Queen of France to not only say “let them eat cake,” but then delivers the cake with a camera crew in tow.
The tragedy in Marie Antoinette’s now infamous statement is that she most likely meant no ill will. She happened to live her brief existence in a life of absolute luxury that only very few in her country experienced. She had never been in danger of starvation, and must have thought that cake was an obvious alternative to bread. I think that Gardiner is comparably as sincere and out of touch in her efforts.
I took a chance to read some of the comments on Gardiner’s Facebook page and there was an overwhelming outpour of support for her actions. Accompanying this Facebook Philanthropist are ever-present comment trolls, or in Gardiner’s case more like ignorant cheerleaders. My personal favorite in her defense eloquently stated, “It is easy to sit back and be an acid queen about everything, but to take hand of your cock and stop wanking and start doing something for somebody else is something completely different.”
My issue is with Gardiner’s vanity. Through her heavily publicized cakes, she is not acting out of any compassion, but seemingly for attention. I am not only discouraged by her actions, but also the overwhelming naïve support in her favor. Her actions seem similar to the self-interested actions of the “Hashtag Activist Generation,” where no good deed goes undocumented.
The one compliment I can give Gardiner is that these cakes are truly unique and beautiful. Gardiner shares her recipes on her popular and well trafficked website. I personally think a better use of her time and energy would be to share her skills with the community she wishes to uplift, providing some sort of job training, or establishing a bakery that hires the hard to employ.
Currently, Gardiner is not empowering anyone but herself with this unsustainable form of charity.
*All images are from Nerine Gardiner’s website.