Baking for stress-relief during a pandemic

 

By Veronica White

I don’t know about you, but I was very happy when I heard that The Great British Bake Off was returning this Autumn. In this year of lockdowns and social distancing, there’s something incredibly comforting about watching the bakers in their ‘Covid bubble’, where there’s no fear of a (Hollywood) handshake.

It’s not just watching Bake Off that lets me escape. Since the start of the pandemic, I have found peace in baking. When the stress of writing my master’s dissertation or job applications was too much, I would take the evening off to bake. As Instagram was flooded with photos tagged #covidbaking and #quarantinebaking, it was clear I wasn’t the only one turning to baking as a way of distracting myself from reality.

Home baking soared during the UK’s initial COVID lockdown, as people looked for ways to fill new ‘spare-time’, deal with stress and connect with others on social media. When supermarkets struggled with the high demand for flour and yeast, bakers got creative – turning towards flour-less bakes and sourdough. It wasn’t just individuals who got in on the baking trend: chains such as Pret and Greggs released the recipes for their beloved bakes, while chefs and restaurants hosted ‘cook-alongs’ on Instagram. Feel free to leave us a comment letting us know what you’ve been baking!

A quick look at Google trends for some key search terms highlights a significant increase in interest at the beginning of lockdown, gradually falling off again in the summer months. Yet interest appears to be growing again, perhaps due to a combination of tightening COVID restrictions and Bake Off coming back to our screens.In her essay for The Correspondent, Emily Dreyfuss writes about how sharing pictures of our bakes on social media helps remind us ‘we’re all in this, whatever this is, together’. The importance of feeling a part of a community is also discussed by Easterbrook-Smith (2020), who suggests that in addition to providing sustenance and stress-relief, baking allows us to demonstrate our skills on social media and connect virtually with people when face-to-face contact is limited.

A few weeks ago, I started baking my own bread. It’s still far from perfect, but I quickly realised how much money I can save by baking my own loaves. Following the financial crisis in 2008, Italians began baking more bread and pizza at home, while here in the UK, home baking also increased. According to the AHDB, a ‘third of consumers have had some change to their household employment status’ because of COVID-19 and will, therefore, likely be looking for ways to save money on food. Their survey found that 72% of consumers are cooking from scratch more in an attempt to save money. Future research should look specifically at whether home baking is being used as a method of reducing shopping costs.

Whether I’m curled up on the couch watching Bake Off or baking banana bread in the kitchen, it’s easy to forget what’s going on in the world outside our living room. Over the last few months, baking has offered many of us a much-needed break, a creative outlet. Will this interest in home baking continue in a post-pandemic world? For the sake of our mental health and our wallets, I hope so.

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