By Jessica Bottomley
It’s 2020; you’re house-bound amid a global pandemic, with more time on your hands and less money in your pocket than ever before. Socialising with friends and colleagues feels a distant memory and now you’re looking for new ways to while away the hours. Instinctively, you reach for your phone and thumb through Instagram for inspiration.
Cue an influx of carbs…
Snaps of smart little loaves in steel tins. In the oven. Just out of the oven. Held between an oven glove. From classic white and multi-grain, to sourdough and focaccia. Even banana bread for the sweet-toothed.
Just for a second, your worries about the breadline are cushioned by a desire to get your hands on a sourdough starter. Or a bag of flour.
Funnily enough, not an easy feat. As consumers began panic-buying, supermarkets saw flour flying off the shelves. Millers were running packing lines 24/7 and doubled their normal production to four million bags a week, according to the National Association of British and Irish Millers. Even still, major retailers had to introduce a three-item limit for customers to help weather the storm.
So why the sudden baking frenzy?
Our olfactory cortex is highly connected with the parts of our brain that process emotion and memory. Think about the smell of freshly baked bread, cakes or pies. What follows? Thoughts of home, family, comfort and happiness. Lockdown has thrown us into emotional turmoil, prompting us to crave these positive feelings and associations and seek ways of achieving them like never before.
Take the act of baking itself. Very therapeutic: it requires process, focus and patience (like a form of mindfulness) and there’s an element of control over your creation. And once the dough has risen and the crust turns golden, usually we choose to share our baked goods with others. After all, there’s nothing like a slice of cake alongside a cuppa and good conversation. A British institution!
This is why shows like the Great British Bake Off – now in its eleventh season, having successfully managed to continue filming during the lockdown – have proven so popular. Stirring camaraderie, competitiveness and comedy, it’s the epitome of togetherness that as a nation we are so desperate for right now.
So is it any surprise that we’ve turned to comfort food? Over the past few months, our eating habits have changed and many of us are raiding our fridges for a quick sugar fix, or returning to feel good favourites like toad-in-the-hole and bangers and mash. Whether out of boredom or from stress, food has become a tool for dealing with these difficult emotions.
There’s no need to sugar coat it; we’re living through tough times. But if donning an apron or reaching for a pack of chocolate chip cookies brings a much-needed smile to your face, who could deny you that pleasure?