Why we shouldn't trust mathematicians to teach us how to cut cake
A video is sweeping the internet, informing us that we've been cutting our cake wrong all along. The star of this video reveals a mathematics-based approach to cake cuttery that is designed to guarantee the perfect slice every time. However, while chemists, physicists, biologists and yes, mathematicians, have advanced the culinary arts and sciences throughout history, we find this video to be undeniably flawed.
The "scientific way to cut a cake" vs. the culinary way to eat a cake
If you've got many culinary-minded friends on social media, then you've undoubtedly seen author Alex Bellos' video claiming the way literally billions of people in the history of food have been cutting their cake is wrong. To back this up, he produces a letter published in the journal Nature, written by British mathematician Sir Francis Galton, which gives a series of steps for the "proper" way to cut a cake.
Photo credit: Numberphile via YouTube
This method involves the following steps:
- Cutting a piece right out of the middle of the cake
- Using your hands to smash both halves back together
- Taking a rubber band to keep the cake together
- Cutting a second piece from the middle and so on
The first reaction one must have to this display should be "Ugh… Keep your hands off my cake," as the success of this method relies on using your hands to push the cake together. Repeatedly. It's kind of gross to think that when I serve you a delicious piece of cake, there is no counting the number of times my (potentially unwashed) hands have handled your slice. Also, there's no way he was using food-grade rubber bands.
Plus, none of the example cakes Bellos uses in his video have frosting on the ends, meaning this technique only works for fondant-covered cakes. German chocolate cakes, red velvet cakes, carrot cakes, etc., cannot be cut using this method unless you're OK with us smearing the decorative edges of your cake with our hands (and subsequently licking off the frosting left on our fingers…).
And since we're talking frosting, is a cut from the middle of the cake really the most desirable? We tend to look at cake as merely a frosting delivery vehicle.
The "right" way to eat cake
Besides, can there really be a wrong or even better way to cut and eat cake? We actually prefer the 5.5-pound-cake-in-9-minute method or the wedge method or any method that accomplishes the minor miracle of transferring cake from the pan into our mouths.
Are we wrong, or should letters "revolutionizing" cake from 1906 stay in 1906?