These days, when you look at many of your friends' instagram posts, there is a good chance that a lot of them are pictures of loaves of bread they have baked at home.
During the coronavirus lockdown across Europe, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find flour at shops and supermarkets.
One possible reason is the disruption to supply chains, caused by the lockdown.
Another reason could be that confined citizens are turning their kitchens into amateur bakeries.
In fact, around the world, Google searches for bread recipes and baking tips are on the rise, and that is turning baking supplies into precious commodities.
The Spanish government recently reported that flour sales have quadrupled, during the third week of the country's COVID-19 lockdown. In the UK, flour producers have doubled production, but are still struggling to meet the demand. In France, flour sales are up by an estimated 140%.
Cooking and baking are known to have comforting, anti-stress effects. Bread, especially sourdough, demands patience, knowledge and a fair amount of skill. But when we do manage to produce a decent loaf with just flour, water and salt, like our ancestors, it becomes a thing of pride.
We asked two longtime bread advocates and master bakers - Australia's Dan Lepard, and Spain's Iban Yarza - what they think of the current, global, baking pan-demic, and the possible reasons behind it.
Dan Lepard | "The lockdown is improving our skills for life"
[Besides being a baker, Lepard is a chef, author, and TV presenter. Lately, he has been flooded with messages and requests for advice from people who have taken to the oven.]
Baking bread potentially offers stress-relief if you start simply and continue to bake to the point of success. It’s offers a glimpse into the workings of “cognitive behaviour therapy” that strengthens your problem-solving skills in a somewhat manageable way.
However, this coronavirus crisis has highlighted how many people have no skills whatsoever in baking, yet were ready to buy all the flour and yeast they could and somehow give it a go.
As a baker working in a media bubble, my interaction has always been with people who either want to bake or can bake, who follow and are interested in me because I share their curiosity about baking.Until now.
Suddenly I get messages, photos, questions every hour of the day on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. And many are panicked requests because they’ve realised they are out of their depth when tasked with baking a simple loaf of bread. Modern life, and television too, has encouraged us to believe that the simple things in life – like baking bread - must be intrinsically easy or else we’re doing them wrong.
The truth - that simple is complex – is not a truth we’re ready to believe, and many will bounce through all the google links they find desperately, looking for the recipe that makes that apparently simple task easy. You hear phrases like “well bread baking must be easy, my grandmother did it every week and she had no education”, itself a damning statement, showing how ignorant we are to the benefits of skills in life.
I’m hoping that this prolonged lockdown period will encourage people to look at manual labour and skills with more respect and appreciation. Even if we don't come out of it immediately with a newfound ability to say bake bread, or mend clothes, or even clean our houses, I hope we’re on the road to understanding how we can be better at our lives.
Iban Yarza | "Bread is a safe place to return to"
[Yarza is also an author, and teaches traditional baking. He believes that turning to baking in times of uncertainty is an instinctive return to the roots of civilization.]
Bread has always been there. It is actually at the core of our culture - one of the foundations of Western civilization as we understand it.
However, lately, people have been pretty wary of bread. It seems that wheat and baking are regarded by many as superfluous, dangerous or even a poison to avoid (with all the dieting and gluten-free madness).
It is really interesting to discover how, in these moments of uncertainty, people are turning back to bread, as a certainty, and a place of comfort. I am following the flour and yeast craze with curiosity, interested in how people who have never thought of baking at home have taken to home baking.
I am sure some of them are doing it for safety reasons (to not leave their homes, or to not buy bread that others have touched). But I am also sure that bread is playing its magic role here as a symbol, as it has done for more than ten millennia.
Whether you are a believer or not, I think there is an unconscious notion of bread as something more than food. Maybe you heard your grandma talking about it, or maybe you read about it, or maybe you are not even aware of it. But I think that many people regard bread as a safe place to return to.
We all keep special dishes for special occasions. Food as the matter that has kept us alive since the dawn of life has a unique status in the way we look at the world. Take the humble patatas a la riojana, a classic Spanish stew made of potatoes and chorizo. The day my grandmother died, one of my uncles took the entire family to his place and cooked a huge pot of patatas a la riojana. We all shared that warm and hearty stew, looking for comfort and relief.
I think bread is playing that role for many people these days. There are people baking for the first time, there are people baking with their families. The feeling I get from it all is that we are all sharing a common loaf, the same way we share a common culture.
I like words. I like what words mean or meant, and also the way words change their meaning over time. For many people in Spain pan (bread) is synonymous with food, but also with wheat and fields. A peasant on the Castilian plains taking care of his wheat fields calls the fields just "pan". When we wish someone good luck in the most simple way, we just wish that they never run out of "pan" (bread).
I think we are coming back to bread as that special place. When we go back to our normal life, I hope this movement will help raise awareness of the importance of bread, and the people who bake our daily bread.