By ZACK BABINS
In mid-March, in what seems like 1,000 years ago, I called my father. It was just before every political leader and health official in Canada told us we should stay inside for the foreseeable future. I had refrained from hoarding toilet paper, and now I was running out. Could my dad help?
Soon, the same thing happened with flour and yeast. I make my own bread every few weeks, and my challah has occasionally been called “the best I’ve ever had. But now, my cupboard was bare.
All of you were getting in the way of my challah.
We all know what’s been going on. People are making bread now because they’ve got time on their hands. Stuck inside with lots of time, it’s a good hobby. It’s why I started a few years ago, and it’s become a form of therapy for me. That’s why, when the lockdown ends – any decade now – I hope some of you keep it up.
I bake bread because I’ve sat behind a desk and a laptop every weekday since I graduated university. And I bet you could say the same. While I’ve been lucky enough, by and large, to spend most of my professional career doing something I love, it’s basically just sitting behind a screen clicking some buttons and making imaginary words go from my brain to someone else’s brain.
It’s abstract, it’s anti-real. It’s just a bunch of thoughts.
Baking bread, on the other hand, creates life. The yeast is a living organism. It can’t be a coincidence that the Hebrew words for life and bread – chaim and lechem, respectively – have the same roots. Or similar sounds, at least.
When you sink your hands into a bowl of flour and water, you’re touching something real, corporeal and earthly. When you knead a ball of dough – and if you use a machine for this part, just try using your hands once or twice – feeling the stuff beneath your hands and between your fingers is a reminder that we are part of the physical world.
Baking bread is physical, it’s real, and when you taste the bread that your two hands have produced, you’re tasting the idea of work.
More than that, bread is an individual activity that takes an entire community. “Farm to table” isn’t just a restaurant buzz phrase. There’s an entire social structure between how wheat becomes flour before it even gets to the store.
For a long time, many of us have taken our food systems for granted. We’ve always been secure in the idea that we’re going to be able to take the money we have and go to the store, or sit down at a restaurant. We have the ability to have food grown, harvested, processed, cooked and delivered to us within minutes, all with the click of a button.
Luckily, in Canada, our food systems are well and safely run, but we have to protect them. Yet, even the possibility of a threat to our food systems has thrown a lot of us for a loop. There are many among us, in our community and our country, who, even in in good times, do not share the confidence that we will be able to afford and find our next meal.
When all this is over, we must rebuild in a way to ensure that no one faces food insecurity.
For me, breadmaking is a reminder that I could feed myself in a true crisis. Breadmaking reminds us that we are a part of a community. We must heal our community at its most vulnerable points.
For the most part, we are consumers, and most of the time, that’s not a bad thing. All I’m asking is for all of us to consume a little bit less, and create a little bit more. And share it with the people you love, or people who need it. Creation is how we remind ourselves that we are human and alive.
So, when all of this is over, decades from now, bake one more loaf of bread. If you do, I bet you’ll do it again.