Cake Therapy: Baking the Way to Change

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.

Photo Sarah Whiting

I grew up in a modest village in Jamaica with my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I did not know I was poor, so my early childhood was wonderful, filled with playing cricket, hide-and-seek, and hopscotch with kids just like me. At the age of eight, my mother, brother, and I moved to a more urban city in search of a better life. I saw people tease my mother for her dream to send her children to elite schools. Yet that is what she did, after we left the rural community.

After that period in my life, however, things became traumatic for me. My aunt’s husband molested me. I began to struggle in school. Our poverty was noticeable to me during my teenage years, when I felt unable to live up to the potential I wanted for myself.

Eventually, I was able to attend Howard University with scholarships, finishing in less than three years with an almost perfect GPA. I earned a Ph.D. in public health and became a virologist, working as a consultant in vaccine science and studying infectious diseases.

Eventually my husband and I moved to Minnesota in 2018, so he could be closer to his family and take a medical job at the University of Minnesota.

Baking had become a stress-relieving hobby for me. During the process of working with my hands in a quiet space, I was able to think about the traumas I had experienced, and began to heal by processing in the stillness. The negativity of those experiences began to dissipate. When you get into the rhythm of baking and creating cake designs, it takes you out of your mind and into the silence of a safe space. Designing cakes became my form of self-expression.

After I found baking, monetizing it as a commercial business came fast. I am a perfectionist at heart, so my cakes were of high quality. News spread via social media, and support to buy my cakes was overwhelming.

I began to feel guilty for making money from what for me was therapeutic. The purpose of the gift of baking was to heal me, so I wanted to take the profits that came from that gift and give them back to the community. Still working as a virologist, I launched Sugarspoon Desserts, a premier baking and dessert-making company in Plymouth, which gives a portion of its profits to the Cake Therapy Foundation I created in 2019.

The foundation serves girls and women, including trans and gender-nonconforming youth, aged 14 to 24. It is focused on personal development for people impacted by the juvenile justice system, out-of-home placements, or foster care systems. The mission is to help youth heal and build a future for themselves through baking and entrepreneurship. The curriculum is designed to be taught by myself, master chefs, and bakers. We teach leadership and the healing properties of food.

With the help of a nonprofit board, Cake Therapy Foundation is planning quarterly retreats and an inaugural annual conference in Minnesota. We will teach the art of baking, financial literacy, and understanding trauma. I feel truly blessed for a gift that not only helped me through my own traumas, but can help others transform from their own.

Altreisha Foster (she/her) is author of Cake Therapy: How Baking Changed My Life. She continues to work as a virologist strategist with Foster-Bentho Consultants.,