Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday 16 March 2014

Darwin's Cupcakes strike again!

If you're the sort of person whose idea of a treat is a miniature sponge cake topped with a mound of piped buttercream and a liberal sprinkling of glitter, then you probably wandered here by mistake.

Cynicism we have in abundance, along with satire and acerbic comment occasionally seasoned with song parodies and asteroids, but, if sparkly cupcakes are your thing, you're not going to find much to interest you here.

And you certainly aren't likely to want to know that, according to tests carried out by West Yorkshire Trading Standards on certain 'edible' cake decorations:
When the plastic glitter was placed under a microscope, it was shown to be made up of hexagonal fragments with jagged edges.  
In one case, the glitter was made of finely powdered brass.
Mmmmm, yummy! The findings were released eighteen months ago but, the legal system being what it is, the case has just come to court.
A businesswoman has been landed with a £13,500 legal bill for duping customers into buying “edible” cupcake glitter made out of shredded plastic - which ended up in the food chain.
Unlike the standard edible variety, which is based on gum arabic, the glitter in the samples tested was made from the same plastic as drinks bottles - polyethylene terephthalate (PET to its friends) - and was originally intended for craft use. The hearing was told that its effect on the human digestive system is unknown and it should not be eaten.

I should have thought that most rational beings, confronted with multicoloured glitter, would not naturally assume it to be edible, but there are clearly people out there willing to tuck in with gusto - Oooh, shiny! - and even feed the stuff to their children (on the plus side, the inevitable consequences should add a certain interest to potty-training).

Of course, one might argue that it's Darwin in action again; if you are fool enough to consume sparkly plastic flakes in a range of startling artificial colours, you probably deserve all you get.

Meanwhile, the boss of the firm has neatly sidestepped the issue by insisting that, despite selling the products to cake decorating shops and bakers, she had never suggested that they could be eaten. As for the homophonous company name printed - rather haphazardly - on the labels:
Protesting her innocence, Ed Able Art Ltd boss Margaret Martin claimed the name of her firm was inspired by three animated mice characters called Ed, Able and Art.
Nope, me neither. In fact these alleged mice are, as far as I can ascertain, conspicuous by their complete absence from the world-wide web - although I admit I was briefly sidetracked from the search by a fascinating scholarly article entitled:
Mice as a Delicacy: The Significance of Mice in the Diet of the Tumbuka People of Eastern Zambia
Ed Able Art products, however, are out there in abundance, offered for sale by cake decoration suppliers; I could even, if so inclined, order a pot of black and silver 'Asteroid Disco Glitter' for a mere £2.50, one of a range of 94 Disco Glitters including 'Neon Flamingo', 'Laser Blue Hologram' and 'Remington Steel'.

The £13,500 fine - surely a mere slap on the wrist in modern business terms - and 12 charges dropped out of a total of 24, combined with a number of previous unheeded warnings suggest that Trading Standards lack the teeth required to prevent inedible decorations reaching the market.

This means we are back to caveat emptor - and Darwin. To quote from my original post on the subject:

'Trading Standards warn that they do not know what the effects of eating glitter might be - I can see some interesting lawsuits pending when Yummy Mummies find out what they've been feeding their little darlings - but we can be fairly sure they will, by and large, be confined to that sector of the population prepared to throw common sense to the winds for a sparkly, self-indulgent treat.'

I'm sure you'll agree that, should the ingestion of plastic glitter prove to have negative consequences, this will ultimately benefit the human race.

Update: A brief tour of online retailers suggests that, even after buying clearly-labelled 'non-edible cake decorating glitter' - how is that supposed to work? - consumers are happily leaving comments about how much they and their children enjoyed eating it.

I'm starting to think that, if you ran up to them and shouted "Soylent Green is PEOPLE!", they would just smile and say "I know, but it makes lovely cakes!".


  1. If you eat that stuff and die, does that mean you've topped yourself?

  2. All that glitters is not pastry. Have I got that quite right?

  3. Most definitely, Rightwinggit; it also raises the possibility, in the case of assassination by cupcake, of being iced.

    Perhaps one of the Bard's lesser-known lines, Demetrius...

  4. "I should have thought that most rational beings..."

    Ah but were they her chosen market? Mind you, I seem to remember things like shiny ball-bearing which were scattered over iced cakes and were supposed to be edible...

    ...or were they ball-bearings?

  5. I remember those too, AKH; like very tiny gobstoppers and seriously uncomfortable if bitten hard by accident.

    I had a quick look; the ingredients, according to one retailer are:

    Sugar, wheat starch, maltodextrin, fish gelatine, colouring agent E174.


  6. I remember that just after the war - when there was real austerity - a local trader got fined for making the 'pips' in strawberry jam out of plywood.

  7. Ah, Malpas, but he was a mere amateur simply replicating a known ingredient; somehow the purveyors of cupcakes have inveigled vast numbers into willingly eating something no sane person would recognize as food.

    Perhaps future historians will trace the decline in civilization from the delicate fairy cake to today's monstrous confections topped with sparkly dollops of My Little Pony poo.

  8. Reminds me of Python's spring surprise.

  9. Well spotted, JH: thank you!



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