INTERVIEW BY SAMANTHA MEAGHER
Art by Ben Beechener
Becca Rea-Tucker wants you to feel your feelings. Then she wants you to eat them.
Known to many on Instagram as The Sweet Feminist, Becca has been using her baking expertise to start difficult conversations since 2019. With dainty sprinkles and colourful frosting, she combines messages more commonly seen on protest signs with "a little something sweet" by writing them on cakes, cookies, and pies. "Abortion is healthcare." "Abolish the death penalty." Her desserts are eye-catching and unapologetic.
The Sweet Feminist began as a platform to speak out against the virulent racism, sexism, and xenophobia that swept the United States during Donald Trump's presidency, and it quickly went viral during the 2020 lockdown. As the fight for reproductive rights has evolved, so too has her content. Based in Austin, Texas, Becca's posts on legislative attacks against abortion access and civil rights are sandwiched between updates from her Substack. Reviews of 90's rom-com classics and reposts of anonymous "secrets" from followers turn her page into an eclectic, comforting safe space, like the virtual room of the internet's take-no-shit big sister. The combination of bitter news with moments of sweetness is an intentional reminder that staying sane is just as important as staying informed; that self-care is a necessary part of resistance.
With the recent release of her first cookbook, Baking By Feel: Recipes to Sort Out Your Emotions (Whatever They Are Today!), Becca puts the therapeutic power of baking into our hands. Described as a "choose-your-own-adventure guide to processing your emotions", Baking By Feel was named one of the best 12 cookbooks of 2022 by Delish. Her artistry has garnered the attention of Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Vogue Spain, Book Riot, and more.
In the following interview, we discuss misunderstood emotions, abortion resources, and Becca's return to her blogging roots.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Would you like to introduce yourself?
I am Becca Rea-Tucker. I am a baker and pro-abortion activist and based in Austin, Texas. I run an Instagram platform called The Sweet Feminist (@thesweetfeminist) where I combine political messages –feminist messages – with baked goods, because I’m a baker. And I am the author of a book called Baking By Feel which came out this past October; it’s sort of a choose-your-own-adventure guide to processing your emotions through the act of baking.
"Wait, why is this cake talking about abortion access?"
Why are emotions the centrepiece of your cookbook?
So, towards the beginning of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to go to therapy for the first time. And through that I realised that I could describe my feelings to you, in like a lot of detail, but it’s much harder for me to actually feel those feelings. And I didn’t actually know that there was a difference between the two. I thought describing them and feeling them was the same. But once I realised that that was not the case, I found that it was actually easier for me to experience and process those feelings, if I was simultaneously doing something with my hands. And for me the logical thing is to use baking for this, because it’s so tactile, it engages all of your senses, so it creates this space for you to actually sit with your emotions, but have something to do with your hands so you’re not just sitting there.
One of the core ideas of Baking By Feel is that there are no good or bad emotions. I like to say that the book is emotionally agnostic. So in other words, you know, whatever you’re feeling, it’s 100% okay. And if we’re spending a lot of time trying to determine whether a feeling is okay to experience, or good or bad, we might actually be avoiding feeling that feeling. That’s why the book has no judgement whatsoever, and that’s something that I try to do myself when I’m trying to process my own emotions.
I’m curious how you came to use baking as the vehicle for exploring these difficult themes and topics [like abortion].
Yeah. So I started The Sweet Feminist Instagram account about six years ago and that was towards the beginning of the Trump presidency, when I was looking for a way to share these big feelings and connect with other people. I believe that people can, and should, use whatever medium is available to them to express themselves. And I’m a baker, so I decided to use cake.
I really like the pairing of something beautiful and pretty universally adored with political messages because it makes people pay attention. They might be scrolling and then be like, “Oh wait, why is this cake talking about abortion access?” And they’re drawn in and stop to engage with the idea. Their guard is also down a little bit; if you're looking at a cake, you might be more amenable to engaging with the idea.
So what has your experience with combining your politics and your baking been like?
I really believe that you don't have to choose one lane to stay in. For me, I’m combining this pro-abortion activism primarily with my baking content so that was kind of challenging to find a publisher who was willing to embrace all of that work. But I did eventually find an editor who sort of understood and believed in this vision.
I’m really proud to share my abortion story in this cookbook. And I think it might be the first time that’s happened, I don’t know, I’ve never seen it before. But, yeah, I think you can combine all kinds of things, you don’t have to choose. All of your interests and passions can coexist.
What do you think is the most misunderstood or underrated emotion?
And then, sort of on the more lighthearted side, I love silliness as an emotion because it sort of temporarily suspends some of those rigid social rules of adulthood that prevent us from fully enjoying something, or even fully feeling. Silliness sort of lets us explore ourselves and the things around us without this usual concern about what people might think of us and it gives us a sort of break from the burden of those expectations and responsibilities that we’re constantly trying to manage.
Your platform allows people to submit "secrets" and "sparkles". I’m curious why you’ve decided to include these into your platform?
So I started sharing these a couple of years ago. The secrets are these, like, shadowy things that we want to share with other people but might be tempted to hide, because of shame and fear and social obligations. And the sparkles are the things that make you feel the most alive: so these little moments of joy and satisfaction and contentment, that you wish that you could bottle up and keep forever.
So what happens is people share these anonymously with me, either through Instagram stories, or I have a form on my website where people can submit them any time. I love curating these and sharing these because they’re so distinctly human and they can help us feel less alone. And also, just give us a space to celebrate our joys and share our sources of shame and difficulty.
And I get, like– themes are– they repeat. Like people share a lot of the same themes all the time but there’s always something new. So there’s this whole wide breadth of human experience but these core, yeah, themes that we share, and people see themselves reflected in both the sparkles and the secrets. And I see myself reflected. It’s just beautiful to see, the lightness and the darkness.
There's this whole wide breadth of human experiences, but these core themes that we share.
When you’re baking, do you have a particular soundtrack? Is that guided by emotion as well?
I do. I love to listen to music while I bake. I listen to music most of the time, but especially when I’m in the kitchen. I actually have different playlists based on the categories of emotions that I think that I’m feeling at that time.
Baking By Feel has five core categories that I’ve sort of tried to group these– this vast range of emotions into. And so that’s happy, sad, anxious, mad, and hopeful. And so each playlist is curated to support and engage with that category of feeling. But there are, you know, a mix of different artists, across genres, across time. I really like variety, I think that’s clear through most of my work. *laughs*
But before I was The Sweet Feminist, I worked in a bakery, which was a really high-energy, fun environment. There was always a lot of reggaeton playing, so I always love that. I can’t say no to Bad Bunny. So it’s one of those two things.
If you were able to collaborate on a dream project, who would you want to collaborate with?
I had fun thinking about this question. And I think it would be Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, because I love how they combine activism and food in a really unapologetic way. I’m also a really flavour-focused baker, I’m more focused on flavour than aesthetic most of the time. And so it would be my absolute dream to come up with my own ice cream flavour. So I, I think I’m just gonna come up with my flavour, and if Ben & Jerry’s ever asks, I’ll have it. I’ll have it ready.
What is the favourite project you’ve worked on?
Yeah, so I have a few things that I really enjoyed working on. The first is that I really enjoy hosting workshops with people, where we decorate our own cakes and cookies in the style of The Sweet Feminist. And it’s just so amazing to see what people come up with. Because at the end of the class, we sort of walk around and see what other people’s creations are, and there’s just so much variety in topic on like what people care about, what they want to share with other people, um and also the artistry, just all the… colours and ways that people choose to decorate I think is really fun.
I love the projects that I’ve done with abortion storytelling organisation We Testify, to destigmatise abortion, because that’s one of my main goals through my work. And, of course, I loved the process of Baking By Feel, especially the photoshoot with the photographer Amy Scott and food stylist Olivia Caminiti. It was one of the most fun two weeks that I’ve ever had.
We shot the cookbook in my house, which was really fun. It was… the most tired I’ve probably ever been, but it was such a fun and creative, playful environment, where we got to figure out how to photograph each recipe to represent its paired emotion visually. Because in the book each recipe is paired with an emotion, and so we were trying to figure out, “Okay, how do you represent rejection in this image?”. And it was just a very creative, fun project.
What do you think has been the biggest change in your online presence? And how do you see yourself as a content creator?
So when I started The Sweet Feminist I tried to cast a very broad net. I was talking about all kinds of things. I felt a lot of pressure to talk about everything all the time, which isn’t feasible as a one-woman show. So now, I really narrow down my work to focus on– in on the pro-abortion activism piece and the baking specifically as a therapeutic tool. And so Baking By Feel is a lot more inner-focused than much of my work as The Sweet Feminist and it's about carving out that space for ourselves and our emotions so we’re better able to navigate our lives.
And so I’m sort of making this transition away from Instagram into Substack because I– through writing Baking By Feel, I realised that I really liked the writing piece, and being able to have a place for longer-form writing, because you’re limited by Instagram captions. And so I’ve been grateful to have a space where I can put all of my thoughts. And so I’m currently publishing a twice-weekly Substack newsletter called “A Little Something Sweet.” It features recipes, pieces of feminist writing, abortion affirmations, secret-sparkle round-ups, so it’s just a little bit of everything.
What’s one resource you want to share with our audience?
I think the most important resource for people who need to access abortion care right now is www.ineedana.com . It shows you up-to-date, trustworthy information about how to access abortion care no matter where you live.
BECCA REA-TUCKER is a baker and abortion activist based in Austin, Texas. She recently published a cookbook called Baking by Feel: Recipes to Sort Out Your Emotions (Whatever They Are Today!). She can be found on Instagram at @thesweetfeminist and on Substack at https://thesweetfeminist.substack.com/ .