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Lessons from a Slice of Cake

I was at a dinner meeting at a restaurant when the focal point of discussion became the cake slices set out on the table. The meal had not been served, but there, diagonally to the side of every plate, sat a slice of cake. It was a real attention-grabber. Aside from wondering why it was out so early when we hadn’t even ordered drinks, we all seemed compelled to give voice to its appeal or lack thereof.

It wasn’t even a particularly attractive slice of cake—kind of yellowish, double-layered with common white frosting on its sides and top, sitting in a pool of mustard-colored sauce drizzled around it. Nothing to write home about in my book (I was hoping for tiramisu or something equally exotic), but not everyone agreed. Here’s what was said about the cake as best as I recall and, at dessert time, how speech turned into action.

• (me) That looks like caramel sauce and I’ve been in the mood for caramel lately. I think I’ll try some. I tried the sauce—it was mediocre—and had no more.

• (several guests) Do you want my sauce too? I declined because I didn’t even want the sauce on my slice.

• (guest) I know I really shouldn’t, you know all that sugar, but I’ve been good all day. She ate the whole piece without stopping.

• (guest) It’s nothing special. Not worth all the calories. She declined and never looked at the cake again.

• (guest) That cake’s been sitting out here for two hours. I think I’ll pass. (With a sigh of irritation, he pushed the plate away from him.)

• (guest) I think I’ll have some. I hate to pass up free food. (She ate most of it quickly.)

• (guest) If anyone wants mine, they can have it. In fact, please take it so I don’t have to be tempted. Please, pretty please. She set down her slice near someone who’d begun eating his own slice of cake.

• (guest) With all the hungry people in the world, I bet they’re going to throw out all the cake we don’t eat. That’s a shame. (She had a few bites of cake then stopped and nibbled on a few more, resting and stopping until her slice was gone.)

• (guest) This looks good. What’s a cup of coffee without a piece of cake? (He ate the whole slice after scraping off the caramel sauce.)

My favorite comment came from a friend who grabbed my arm as I was leaving the restaurant. “I ate the cake first,” she exclaimed. “I couldn’t stand it staring at me. And then I ate the rest of the meal. I’m stuffed.” Without making anyone right or wrong, which reactions might you have had? Which reactions do you consider wise or healthy?

Which do you think were unwise or unhealthy? What criteria for eating or not eating the cake would you use in such a situation?

Best, Karen

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