The Great Pandemic Bake-Off has arrived in homes around the world! Intrepid bakers of all ages are rediscovering cooking and baking, all while, consciously or unconsciously, seeking comfort, predictability, and attention-holding projects during this pandemic era.
It’s no surprise that baking supplies are now a hot commodity, many a grocery store shelf bare of flour and yeast, because of consumer panic around food shortage. There is still no food shortage, but the pivot to homemade diet staples points to a different motivation from home cooks.
Avoiding public spaces is an act of public health. Excellent, indeed. No daily trips to the grocery store for that last ingredient or two for dinner, a loaf of bread to freeze just in case, and a treat for later. No, it is well known that social proximity, recreational and otherwise, raises the risk of community transmission, so hours’ worth of daily routine are now incongruent with current public health protocol. And for those who are feeling overwhelmed with layers upon layers of social and economic change, the draw toward baking appears to have a long history based in comfort and predictability.
Whatever one’s relationship with bread may be, the physiological and psychological responses to the multisensory input associated with baking remain. The sweet and funky smell of living yeast, the tender but elastic texture of dough being kneaded, the care and purpose it takes to coax a loaf of bread to its crispy, risen state from a messy glob. These each are extraordinary displays for the senses that settle the mind to where it physically is: in the body, making the thing. A singular focus with a delicious reward at the end.
Humans are simple creatures with brain chemicals that respond to stimuli that serve as reminders of place and time, past and present. A simple and comforting behaviour that lends itself to planning, research, and execution might be a timely balm for a host of anxieties.
In the context of physical distancing, perhaps the extension of humanity’s collective action in this area is to unite on a few key serotonin-boosting activities and rediscover slower consumption as a first step to reinventing our social and economic worlds.
Further reading on the psychology of bread baking can be found in a Globe and Mail article here.