Every now and then I like to watch the Food Network and take some time to appreciate the mastery and art of fine cuisine. I also happened to notice an interesting trend on many of these food related shows that deal with desserts, specifically cakes and cupcakes. Artistic cakes have become a popular trend now with almost every event. Whether the celebration be a birthday, an anniversary, or even a grand opening, themed cakes with bright colors, pictures, and even modeled replicas have become the new standard of dessert entertainment. But amongst the delightful decor and playful presentations there is an underlying health concern buried under mountains of sugar and piles of fat that viewers and customers often ignore. So I thought I’d indulge you in the delicious damage many people often incur through these tasty treats.
There are a few common ingredients you’ll often hear on shows such as “Cake Boss” or “The Cupcake Girls”. The two most notorious ones are Fondant and Butter cream.
Fondant is the stuff that is rolled out into thin sheets and draped over cakes to give them that smooth flawless look. It’s generally made of sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Other ingredients can also include glycerin, shortening, and gelatin. Artificial coloring gives it an array of different colors.
Butter Cream is the stuff that many of the cakes are layered with. It’s also used to hold together tiers as well as fondant on top of cake. Basically it’s just powdered sugar mixed with butter. Sometimes it’s mixed with color and spread onto cupcakes.
Of course let’s not forget that the cakes themselves (depending on the type) are also loaded with sugar, butter (and possibly cream). Therefore, to calculate the exact number of calories is pretty tough. Generally speaking, an average cupcake with colorful frosting and pretty fondant flowers can run from 200-300 calories. A piece of cake can be 500+. But let’s be serious, calculating and comparing dessert calories is like asking which bullet to the head is more deadly – one from a revolver, or one from a pistol – same difference. And you may be thinking “well that’s kind of extreme, comparing dessert to bullets”. Is it?
The fact of the matter is that millions of north Americans are struggling day in and day out with their unhealthy lifestyles and battles with their weight. Many of these individuals suffer heart attacks, strokes, organ failure, and eventually death because they lose this battle. We rave and rant about companies that sell tobacco and cigarettes, and we teach our kids to say no to drugs, but yet we’re a society that celebrates and glamorizes bakers turned celebrity who push obscene and dangerous amounts of sugar and fat into people on a daily basis. Millions of north American women suffer from depression due to their weight, yet these same women find inspiration from two women who quit their day jobs to start a full time cupcake business in hopes of putting one on the corner of every street.
Why you ask? It’s simple. A favorite quote of mine from the movie Vanilla Sky – “The answer to nine out of ten questions is money.” Sugar is a cheap high, and just like any drug all you need is the right dealer. Someone with a colorful angle, or a “heart warming story” and people will line up for miles to see the grim reaper.
I’m all for artistic talent, and I do believe that it’s o.k to have sweets and desserts once in a while. However, when people complain about how difficult it is for them to fit back into their favorite jeans, or how winded they get on their morning jog to the pastry shop, it makes me wonder how easily manipulated our society has become. Over time many people have lost control of their actions and habits at the hands of big businesses. A high stress work life and daily challenges of getting by in a bad economy only adds to this barrage of distress that takes our attention away from what we’re doing to our bodies and our health. This of course makes people easy targets. However, I do believe that when we educate ourselves about our habits and inclinations towards food we gain an insightful advantage. When we take the time to rebuild our habits and focus on our health, we have the opportunity to affect everything else that goes on in our life in hopes of continuing positive change for ourselves and our loved ones.
So the next time you come across another baking or dessert related show, take a closer look. You may notice a few interesting things. Many of the workers on Cake Boss are overweight or obese. In fact there was even an episode where one of them had to go to the hospital due to a heart problem. And take a closer look at the two women who run the cupcake shop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone closer to a nervous breakdown due to such high stress (by the way, the networks don’t like the word “stress”. Instead they use the term “drama”).
Nonetheless, for masking extremely unhealthy desserts under a colorful barrage of sugary and fatty toxins, the doctor gives the bakers of the Food Network two frosted thumbs down.