Cupcakes & Gentrification on Mayday

We’re standing across the street from St. John’s Community Kitchen.  The original location of that soup kitchen, at St. John’s Anglican Church is just around the corner on Water St.

We’re stopping here in front of the CakeBox, a business that sells lots of cupcakes.  It used to be right next to Frankie’s bar right on King Street.  I guess it didn’t take them long to realize that we make terrible neighbours!

So why are we stopping here?

Decadent, non-essential food-stuff outlets, as characterized by cupcake shops, serve as markers for the process of the gentrification of an area.  Studies have been conducted on the appearance of cupcake shops vis-a-vis policing and gentrification.  The stats have proven that cupcake shops are a clear indicator of violence against poor people.

I don’t require a study.  I can tell you first-hand: people have been beaten, harassed and displaced so that this cupcake shop can exist.

Gentrification is a term referring to the domination and subjugation of neighbourhood residents by the land owning class.  Less affluent areas are routinely infiltrated by business interests who prey on the low rent and society’s rejection of the residents.  Businesses and police work hand in hand to cleanse the neighbourhood of those with less inclination or resources to participate in hyper-consumerism.  Local governments, run by local business interests, display a limited ability to understand and support diversity and therefore are eager to promote this, often violent, assault on their own residents.  Façade improvements, condos, university campuses, high-end boutiques, investment in commodified arts and, in Kitchener’s case, chrome fixtures, all indicate gentrification. Increased policing and forced mental health hospitalizations are the brutal underbelly of this process as residents are physically removed, or forced out of an area by increased rent and cost of living, to make way for capitalist pursuits.

So here we are, let’s take in our city’s geography. Behind me, cupcakes are sold as a trendy, hip addition to a party, a nearly invisible addition to a business meeting or the centre-piece of a campus based function.

“Ooh la la, look at these magnificent, artistic cupcakes!” the post-grads swoon.

Across the street, people line up for free meals in order to survive another day.

It’s disgusting and unacceptable.

Cupcakes are trendy.  They require a low rent storefront as orders fluctuate and money can be tight for brief moments.  When scenesters tire of the trend will this business fail and turn into an empty storefront? Are the pigs and the local government beating us and destroying our sense of self to support a fleeting trend?!!!!

Perhaps the cupcake entrepreneurs are quote unquote “community minded”? Perhaps they will donate some hipster red-velvet/chai/wasabi cupcakes to the soup kitchen? That sounds yummy.  At the same time, it reminds me of the infamous words attributed to Marie Antoinette, Queen of France “Let them eat cake”. The hungry people rose up and it did not end well for her.

Another point about cupcakes that I find interesting has to do with the cupcake’s representation of individualism and capitalist/consumerist values.  See, Poverty Makes Us Sick is keen on community meals.  We’ve cooked ‘em, purchased them and partnered with groups like Food Not Bombs.  The term ‘community meal’ is often used to indicate that the meal is free.  That’s cool.  Poverty Makes Us Sick is excited about both Community and Meals.  We see them as going together quite well.  Breaking bread together is healing and energizing.  Over the millennia humans have continually valued the experience.  It has been pointed out by people wiser than myself that the sharing of cupcakes is the antithesis of breaking bread together.  The high end, boutique cupcake is an individualistic consumer experience.  Everyone can have whatever flavour they want, so the shared experience is diminished.  No one even has to serve them to one another so there is no human contact, there is no eye contact – just walk up and take one from the fancy three-tiered tray.  In this case, they are not even prepared together – they are purchased.  All that is valued about sharing food is lost.  Individualism and decadence is celebrated.

In closing I’d like to say that Poverty Makes Us Sick demands access to healthy food for all.  We demand economic justice – whether it be in Haiti where we steal all this sugar from, or here at the corner of Duke and Victoria where the rich eat cupcakes and the poor are invited to lick the wrappers.  This imbalance is unsustainable. We stand against the violent assault of gentrification. We demand sustainable local food systems and access to healthy food for all!

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