Take a moment and check your Instagram feed for me. How many people have posted about baking a loaf of bread in the last few days? The last week? Ever since isolation kicked in? I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s a red hot few of ’em. Myself included. I’ve absolutely become guilty of the Great Iso Bake Off of 2020.
But why are we all doing it? What was it about the sudden change in our environments and our daily routines that set off a little oven alarm in our innermost being, immediately giving us this incredible urge and need to bake bread in our isolation lives. I don’t think I’ve read more about proofing dough more than I have in the last month. I even heard a woman proudly say “yeah I got some sourdough starter” as she walked by my house last week.
Ever curious about the behaviour of people when they’re faced with something out of the ordinary, and how they cope with these things, I decided to have a chat with Associate Professor Leah Brennan and Dr Matthew Ruby from the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University about what drives us to want to do something tactile in a crisis.
Is it a fight or flight response to things rapidly changing around us, with a sudden threat to our normal avenues of food?
Dr Leah Brennan believes the deprivation effect might explain our bread-mad behaviour in isolation because we’re suddenly devoid of one of our favourite carbs.
“When our access to something is restricted, or we think it is going to be, it increases our focus on/desire for the thing increases,” Leah said.
“Fresh bread is something we now have limited access to, and this is increasing our desire for it and focus on it. We see similar things happen when people diet, as soon as they tell themselves not to have something they want it more than ever.”
This sounds like it’s not only the deprivation effect but also a massive case of reverse psychology. As soon as we can’t have something as readily as we’re used to getting it, we want it more. Maybe we’re all just a bunch of bratty Veruca Salts when it comes to bread? Absolutely not surprised by that one, to be honest.
Looking out for others may also be playing a part in our sudden desire to bake up a storm, too. Dr Matthew Ruby told me that because bread is a kind of ultimate comfort food – seriously, just think about cutting into weighty loaf straight out of the oven, and smothered in butter – we tend to want to make it and provide for the ones we love.
“People often make food for others as a way to show that they care for them, and sharing food is a time-honoured way of becoming closer with those around us,” Matthew said.
“For a lot of people, homemade bread is connected with happy childhood memories, so it’s unsurprising that it’s become so popular in recent weeks.”
Dr Matthew also said that because breadmaking is such a tactile and physical process, it’s probably also giving us a good break away from our screens; the endless scrolling of Instagram, getting stuck in TikTok K-holes and somehow falling down into the very weird side of YouTube.
So there you go, our bread habits in isolation are all about wanting what we can’t have, providing for others, reaching back to the safety of our childhoods, and creating some variety in our isolation.
Dunno if any of that is what you’re vibing in the kitchen, but I know that I just love carbs. Also if you have some starter, hit me up.Image: Getty Images / Daniel Day