Leave Publix hurricane cakes alone
Funny Florida cakes are not the problem, even if the store has stopped selling them.
A Publix baker puts the final touch on the top of a Hurricane Dorian cake in 2019.
A Publix baker puts the final touch on the top of a Hurricane Dorian cake in 2019. [ ROGER EDELMAN | ]
Published Aug. 24, 2023|Updated Aug. 25, 2023

There’s plenty to criticize where Publix is concerned. Should we start with the fact that I can’t get out of there without spending a semester’s tuition at Harvard? Should we pivot to the company and family’s dubious political activity? Or should we discuss how they need to do a better job getting the tendon (barf) out of the chicken tenders? There’s a technique with a fork.

Low on the list of concerns, I would rank hurricane cakes. Surely you have seen them. They once were cute, confectionery treats from the bakery, watery blue with a swirling red mass of terror on top, piped with words of affirmation such as “GO AWAY,” a rare message we can all get behind. Some even say they triggered alarm: If you saw a hurricane cake at Publix, it was time to get serious.

Well, the hurricakes are no more. Publix has trended all over national news and the artist formerly known as Twitter this week for canning the cakes in a bid for sensitivity. The timing is odd; the store’s move is actually a year old, traced back to Hurricane Ian. Mysterious how it’s a big deal now, the same way skirts over pants are back in style.

Publix has a ready-made response on its website. You can really tell someone in communications is over it because they did not even bother to cut the sentence a reporter would get after, say, reaching out:

“We appreciate your reaching out regarding decorated cakes from our bakery departments. Our associates make every effort to support our customers during weather events. Often times, this includes finding ways to delight them with their favorite Publix items as they prepare for uncertainty. For these requests in particular, it is our company policy to not produce bakery cakes that would make light of a natural disaster.”

Are hurricane cakes the most sensitive things in the world? Probably not, but the joke is undeniably Floridian. Like, we are twisted over here, OK? No one drinks more flavored alcoholic seltzer in the face of terror than Floridians. No one throws more theme parties. No one performs more ill-advised swimming.

Every state in this union is experiencing some existential crisis, but I would argue it’s hard to top Florida’s dark night of the soul. Not only are we a laughingstock as our governor tries to force a reboot on national debate stages, but we also find ourselves in constant physical peril. On any given day during this record-hot summer, pull up a hurricane map. It’s like a freeze frame from “Sonic the Hedgehog.” Just nonstop little swirlies rolling right at us.

Many folks are still healing and reliving trauma from Ian while scrambling to fortify homes for the next go-around. We pay a tax for living here, warring over canned meats and bottled water, devising an exit plan for our families and pets, climbing ladders to put shutters on shutters, all while finding the kindness to be sensitive and helpful to our neighbors.

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But it’s also OK, nay, necessary to find harmless release valves for fear, to seek moments of laughter, to, perchance, sit alone in the dark and eat an entire hurricake by oneself. Morbid humor is an essential building block of Floridian identity. If we didn’t have it, we would simply combust with peninsular anxiety.

I would like to restate that most of the Publix cakes did tell the hurricanes to leave us alone. The directive was pointed and clear, not to mention more positively manifest-y than theoretically serious cakes that say, “It’s the water, not the wind,” or “One gallon of water per person per day.”

Lastly, and this may seem like a leap, but stay with me. I often wonder if seemingly innocuous moves like this contribute to individual apathy and extremism. A lot to put on a cake, right? But it’s already nearly impossible to shop anywhere without referencing a historical flow chart of bad corporate behavior. Is my toothpaste purchase adjacent to an insurrection? Does this tasty sub sandwich harm the LGBTQ+ community? Did I just ding the planet by expelling the fuel it takes to get to another store that might be less financially nefarious? Did ordering my toilet paper online contribute to a billionaire’s evil plot to establish a colony of space cadets on Mars? Have I eaten anything today? Where are my keys?

I am just saying, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to think that a small story concerning a dessert themed around regional weather interests might be the weight that tips an already exhausted and confused person off the scale. Why try to do the right thing when everything is wrong? Disillusioned, this person will start using the word “woke” unironically and head to the dark web, where they inevitably become radicalized and forge a campaign as the next president of these United States of America. We will all watch this person gesticulating wildly on a political debate stage sponsored by Publix as we eat plain white frosted cakes and a tropical weather event bears down on our uninsured ramshackle homes.

The defense rests. Bring back the cakes.

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