I am a pastry chef deeply troubled with a moral dilemma I seek your guidance on. For as long as I can remember, professional bakeries and retail outlets have relied heavily upon the use of trans-fats in their cake formulas. Because trans-fats hold more water and air (both of these ingredients are free) than sweet butter, trans-fats give higher formula yields, resulting in increased revenues. In addition, the baker's ability to add more water and air to the product results in a pastry that is moister and tastes lighter on the palate, so trans-fat formulations are sought after by the public.

However, trans-fats remain solid at body temperature and as such clog arteries and blood vessels. While no celebration cake can ever be considered "healthy," cakes based on trans-fats are actually more than unhealthy: they are toxic.

By resolving to base my own formulas on creamery butter I am placing myself at an unfair disadvantage against the competition. Not only does my decision involve a significant increase in food costs (which I am willing to absorb), it yields a product that is not as moist or airy as what my competition offers. While many consumers are health conscious, this does not seem to rank as much of a concern when a child's wedding or bar mitzvah is being planned.

I have considered that I should use trans-fats as no one appreciates the so called "health police." Nevertheless, I feel that the deliberate use of trans-fats is immoral.

In fact, there are some sectors of government that are attempting to ban trans-fats, but until and unless such a ban is imposed there is an unleveled playing field between those who use trans-fats and those who do not.

Do you have a suggestion?


First of all, it's refreshing to see someone is having such a problem. Asking the right questions is a good indication that you're on the right track.

Most bakers think they're baking because they have to make a living. But we are human beings, not money-making machines. Whatever we do must have a deeper purpose. Including pastry making. Whatever the reason G‑d gave you this job, it wasn't in order to poison people.

But it may be in order to educate them.

You see, your quandary is directly addressed by the Torah when it tells us, "Do not place a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14). Obviously, that's talking figuratively as well as literally. Meaning: if someone is floundering about life in the dark, you're not allowed to lead him off the cliff just to make a few bucks.

As in your case: If someone just wants to eat some pastry and you can sell him a cake that will raise his risk of heart disease, it doesn't matter that he can see without glasses—your cake becomes the stumbling block that sends him crashing to the floor.

However, let's say you tell your customer, "Listen, this cake is made with trans-fats. Trans-fats make it lighter and fluffier, but they also kill 30,000 people a year in the U.S. alone. In Denmark, this stuff is contraband and in Canada it will be pretty soon as well. In NY City, a restaurant can be closed for using this stuff. Furthermore, there is no known benefit to human beings from trans-fats. All they do is increase the cholesterols that kill you while decreasing the ones that are on your side. If your life-insurance company finds out you were eating this, your premiums would soar. But if you really want..."

Or, if you're not so verbally savvy, you could just hand him one of those inspiring brochures from the NYC Board of Health. They also have some heart-chilling posters.

Now the question is, if he still wants the trans-fat pastry, are you allowed to give it to him? Isn't he still blind—since he obviously hasn't swallowed the fact that this is bad for him? (Or perhaps he has swallowed it, but he hasn't realized that he doesn't want to do things that are bad for him. Humans are complicated.)

If eating trans-fat cake were an absolute sin, we would certainly say that it is still forbidden to fork over that sinful pastry. However, trans-fat does occur naturally in milk and meat products in small amounts. And no one has been known (yet) to keel over on the spot from a Danish. So, if it's a once-in-a-special-occasion event, it's hard to call that sinful.

So do your job of opening the eyes of the blind and leading them towards responsible lifestyles. Along the way, it's no sin if you mention the beneficial qualities of your alternative pastries. When you do business the way your Maker meant you to do business, it's to everyone's benefit—the customer's and your own.

May we soon merit the time when all eyes will be opened to the truth, no man will cheat another and all trans-fats will be replaced with a healthier and even tastier alternative.1 May that be very soon, sooner than we can imagine.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for