“I like eating, it is so real” – Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September
Eating was one of the last ‘real’ things that COVID-19 left after it disrupted normal life. In a matter of days, the whole country was stripped of the social interactions that go hand-in-hand with sharing a meal. From chats over a morning coffee to a birthday meal at a favorite restaurant, everyone felt this loss. More and more time spent at home with nothing to do drove some to productivity and some to insanity, but it drove the productive and insane to baking.
In December of 2018, Amanda Mull coined the phrase “anxiety baking” in an Atlantic article. Surely “anxiety baking” was a thing before Mull put a name to the phenomenon, but the phrase has only become more and more relevant as time has gone on. “Many [young Americans] seem to have turned to weekend baking as a salve for the ambient anxiety of being alive,” writes Mull. As weekdays have blended into weekends and the “anxiety of being alive” has been heightened, baking as a release has grown in popularity.
The rise and fall of culinary fads has sparked the interest of the masses across social media throughout the past few months. Quarantine began with hopes of flattening the curve and being over sooner rather than later. People quickly jumped on the Dalgona coffee craze. “I’m looking for distraction anywhere I can find it. I wanted to try the trendy coffee,” wrote Alex Beggs in Bon Appétit. Interest in the frothy coffee died almost as quickly as it grew.
A few weeks into this sobering pandemic, around when people realized just how much time they were going to have in quarantine, sourdough bread began to gain traction. “A couple weeks into quarantine, I followed a recipe I found online to make my own sourdough starter from scratch… I named my starter “Tina,” short for quarantine,” said Nicholas Pietrinferno of Boston, MA. The therapeutic nature of kneading and shaping bread has given many an opportunity to forget the worries of a pandemic-ridden world. “The process of baking sourdough has been a relief. When I’m able to take my starter out of the fridge a couple days before baking, I feel like I’m prepping for a big trip with friends” Nicholas reflected. Although there was a great deal of ambition when it came to the sourdough trend, only the strong and stubborn remained committed to perfecting the art of the perfect loaf.
Those who came to the conclusion that they didn’t have as much time and patience for sourdough turned to banana bread. Being the ultimate comfort food, banana bread was what sustained bakers and non-bakers alike as quarantine dragged on and on. “If anything, I’ve realized that making some baked goods requires more precision than I’m willing to put in,” remarked Alicia Kang (BC ‘22). “But I like having something in the kitchen that I made with my own hands and that anyone can enjoy”.
As the world has begun to emerge from isolation and ease back into social interactions, food has remained the focal point around which all else revolves. Friends and family around the country are able to partake in the realness of eating together once again. However, the power of physical labor and comfort as demonstrated by quarantine baking must not be forgotten. Climbing back down the rabbit hole of baking trends might not be such a bad thing. In fact, why don’t you start here.