OPINION: Make cakes not war! We can bake our way to a peaceful co-existence

Noel, Paul, Prue and Matt from The Great British Bake Off 2021

Noel, Paul, Prue and Matt from The Great British Bake Off 2021 - Credit: Press Association Images

In a week in which the effect of anonymous keyboard warriors’ ability to stoke up hatred and worse was all too shockingly demonstrated by the tragic and democracy-threatening events in Essex, it is perhaps appropriate to reflect on the contents of the comments section below the online edition of this column.

The discourse there is often heated and controversial, but thankfully the vast majority of readers of this fine publication refrain from resorting to abuse (either that or my reputation owes much to those unsung heroes at Archant Towers who moderate the posts).

I have no problem with people strongly disagreeing with my opinions – they are, after all, just that: opinions. I have the privilege of a newspaper column in which to put forward my own views; it’s only right that others should have the opportunity to join in the debate.

Despite the editor’s suggestion that I don’t look at the comments section, I do genuinely enjoy reading other people’s opinions, even if they are diametrically opposed to my own.

Occasionally, a particularly well-argued post will cause me to stop and review my own point of view, and even change my mind (although not very often).

That said, it is too often too easy to predict which direction the online debate will take. So, for example, in my last column when I dared to suggest that British food is all the better for the influences of various foreign inputs over the years, it was clear where the debate was going to go: World War Two. It’s always World War Two.

Of course, I didn’t mention the conflict at all in my column, but that didn’t stop fully 50 per cent of the posts below the online version referencing the war. Why is it that so many Britons simply cannot frame their patriotism in a more up-to-date way?

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Don’t get me wrong, I have an immense respect for the generation which faced up to the Nazi threat. But statistically, only a tiny proportion of the current crop of keyboard warriors was around 80 years ago; is there really nothing in their own lifetime which they can reference to show their British pride?

Anyway, to avoid such controversy this week, I have decided to write about something about which we can surely all feel a comfortable, warm fuzziness: baking.

This week has been National Baking Week, which conveniently falls almost exactly half-way through the run of that most British of TV programmes, The Great British Bake Off.

Aside from the occasional confected controversy (anyone remember ‘Ice Cream-gate?), this is the most inclusive, feelgood series on TV. Because when it comes to it, it’s difficult to be anything other than positive about cake.

One of the reasons Bake Off is such a comforting watch is the complete lack of vitriol and back-biting which usually forms part of these sort of reality TV shows.

Instead, when a contestant is facing a difficulty, the others invariably rally round to help.

The obvious conclusion here is that those who bake tend to be nice people. Maybe courses in cake-making and bread-baking should be offered instead of anger management courses for those who cannot control their temper. Make cakes, not war.

Perhaps before posting on social media – or even on the comments section below online columns – everybody should have to show photographic proof of a cake or loaf of bread they have baked that day.

I bet we would see a lot less online abuse, and the virtual world would be a nicer place. And as we have seen, web-based unpleasantness has a nasty habit of translating into damaging real-life behaviour.

So let’s use National Baking Week to try and be a bit nicer.

Get in the kitchen and work out your frustration by kneading some dough, rather than abusing someone you have never met on the internet. You will feel better for it, and the world will be a more gentle, safer place.

Incidentally, the two front-runners in this year’s GBBO are Italian Giuseppe and German Jurgen, two very likeable characters who are the perfect demonstration that you don’t have to be born here to be a British champion.

Should Jurgen end up winning this year’s Bake Off, it will be a triumph of laying to rest the past and accepting that baking is at least one area in which past conflict can be forgotten.

If that does happen, can I make this plea to all those bottom-half-of-the-internet keyboard warriors: for once, don’t mention the war.

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