Book Review: Dessert Can Save the World
Dessert Can Save the World: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes for a Stubbornly Joyful Existence
Dessert Can Save the World was published on March 8th, 2022 (Harmony).
Dessert connects us heart-to-heart like almost nothing else. It brings us together in good times and bad, celebration and solace. It marks big and small milestones and creates memories of comfort and joy. And Christina Tosi, the founder and CEO of Milk Bar, believes it can save the world. Does the combination of sugar, flour, and butter have some magical ability to fix all the craziness of our modern existence? Of course not. Tosi knows a cookie is just a cookie—but bringing the joy a cookie holds into every area of your life most definitely can. The spirit of dessert—the relentless, unflinching commitment to finding or creating joy even when joy feels hard to come by—is what can save us. And then we, in turn, can each save the world.
Tosi Shares the wisdom she learned growing up surrounded by strong women who showed her baking’s ability to harness love and create connection, as well as personal stories about succeeding in the highly competitive food world by unapologetically being her true self. Studded with personal and unorthodox recipes, Dessert Can Save the World reveals the secret ingredients for transforming our outlooks, our relationships, our work, and our entire collective existence into something boldly optimistic and stubbornly joyful.
This book is rightfully described in the synopsis: optimistic and joyful. This reader was expecting sort of a balance between the unfavorable aspects of coming into a competitive industry coupled with the sacrifices made to achieve great success, and the beauty of connecting with people through food and how to go the extra mile for loved ones and strangers alike. That expectation of balance was not met.
What is met throughout the entirety of Dessert Can Save the World, is unbridled optimism and everlasting joy. Christina Tosi touches on some harder personal moments throughout her book as examples for how she maneuvers life, but they are more supplementary to the greater points of tackling problems with enthusiasm and trust.
Because I’m a die-hard optimist in daily practice and at heart, I often get asked how I stay so positive. But let me be clear: I don’t “stay” positive. I work at it, just like everyone else. Maybe it comes a little more naturally to me than it does to some, but I still have to make the choice every day. I have to choose whether I want to be annoyed that I spilled coffee on the only clean shirt nice enough to wear to be the CEO at work or grateful that although I’m clumsy I still have a sense of humor—and that my days are so full that I never have enough time to drink said coffee in peace anyway. Don’t even get me started about the world outside my tiny little existence; it’s hard work not getting depressed by the daily bad news reports and staying hopeful that we’ve got it in us as a species to pull it together. The work is to choose what you want to sit with.
The beginning especially is full of this joy, optimism, and choose-to-be-happy messaging. The former two don’t match my baseline disposition, nor do I agree with the idea that happiness is always a choice. However, underneath the influences of Christina Tosi’s upbringing and as a result, willingness to dive in and “just bake the cake,” there is an awareness that her attitude and outlook are of the variety that supports productivity in the face of hardship or roadblocks. She takes in failures and issues and approaches both the current calamity and aftermath by acting, not dwelling. And while this book is a self-reflection of her own life and a piece of encouragement to see things the way she sees things, it’s also a charming example of how community and personal relationships really support prosperity.
While the majority of the book focuses on personal stories, life lessons, and advice, there are also examples of how Christina Tosi’s unyielding positivity impacts the way she does business. Whether it’s slipping coffee and a sweet treat to a passerby before official open hours, directly contacting customers whose deliveries would not be made because of weather on Valentine’s Day with ways to make it up to them, or looking for a bottleneck to make a workspace more functional and supportive of the employees (professionally and creatively).
This last example contains one of my favorite pieces of advice from the book. In times of frustration, look for the bottleneck: a point where the flow of production gets narrower and narrower.
You can’t ask people to be these beautiful, creative wanderers and be robotic. They needed to learn to take risks, fail, communicate, correct a misstep, ask for help, teach one another…and we were trying to create a system that removed all of that from the equation. How could they learn if they never fell short? We had to be okay with imperfections within our controlled ecosystem. We needed to allow room for humanity alongside the rigidity to create balance, kind of like getting your homework done before you get to go out and play. The forty-seven clipboards got winnowed down to fifteen (after all, we still needed our ordering clipboard, our invoice clipboard, our opening checklist, our deep-clean guide, our prep list…). We kept the absolute essentials and cleared away the rest to give our team more breathing room.
As a manager in an environment that fosters this type of change and growth, and supports feedback that offers solutions for productivity bottlenecks, this really spoke to me. Especially in a creative industry, it’s important to prioritize a workspace or system of operations that works with staff members rather than constricting them. In a world of corporate ladders and disconnected leaders, it’s nice to see the leaders who pay attention to how their business is functioning for employees as well as customers.
Sprinkled throughout the sections of this book, are a variety of what I consider “how-to pages.” They range from specific recipes to how to create care packages to a list of ten things to celebrate (like a great haircut, meeting a goal, or even simply the existence of a grilled cheese sandwich). These offer fun breaks in the narrative, and make this unlike other books in its genre.
There aren’t too many downsides to the things Christina Tosi says in her book, but there is one thing I’m still a bit hung up on.
The first is a quick moment near the beginning of the book, where she begins talking about the warm memories brought on by desserts. She writes: “We don’t need dessert. Since it’s a complete opt-in, dessert is rarely tainted by power struggles or other complicated food memories.” I know I am not the only one who would strongly disagree with this statement, and while this is not a book on food struggles or coping with food-related issues, it’s a little befuddling to feel like someone who is entrenched in the world of food and desserts is not aware that dessert can be a difficult topic for people. It just seems a bit naïve. I believe that Christina Tosi is well intentioned in believing this for herself, but it feels like the line should have been edited out before being published and released to a wide-ranging audience of readers.
Overall, for a book on how to live a “stubbornly joyful existence,” this one is perhaps the sweetest (I edited out a few dessert puns and clichés from this review, but I’m leaving this one in). This is very much a “How to Live and Work the Christina Tosi Way” book, which may not necessarily resonate with a lot of people’s circumstances. But if you’re slightly interested in how a business can thrive or how to take a bad day and turn it into something good, this is a pretty comprehensive way to learn. Or, if like me, you have reached a point in your life where you’re tired of leading with pessimism and distrust and are working towards eliminating every bottleneck, you may find encouragement in Christina Tosi’s words.