Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Favourites of 2020: A lockdown loaf

When it came to baking bread, we were breaking bread as a community.

Sourdough, by Ian Bruce
Sourdough, by Ian Bruce

An end-of-year series as the Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films or TV programs this year. Look back on the series and watch for more recommendations and reflections in the days ahead.

A year like no other. From global pandemics to climate change to the US presidential election, there was no shortage of crises this year. We lurched from one to another. As I worked from home, the amount of news I consumed increased exponentially. Anxiety levels increased the more I read. There was a sense of helplessness – the inability to see family and friends within Australia, let alone internationally.

Sure, I can write about my favourite book, podcast, films, TV program … things consumed to take the edge off the year. But surely, the zeitgeist for 2020 has to be the sourdough.

To our family and friends in the Northern hemisphere facing a second wave and a winter like no other, keep Zooming and keep baking.

In February, before lockdown happened, I started my own sourdough starter. For those in the know, sourdough starter takes a month or so to cultivate before it is ready to bake bread. When we were ready to start baking in March, we were facing shortages. Whatever flour we could locate went to the sourdough baking/stress-buster project. Ironically, locating flour became a stress in itself.

When The Economist and Financial Times publish articles and “how-to” videos, we know we have reached peak sourdough. Even Barack Obama has his own sourdough starter.

The act of creating something with your own hands and the meditative effect of kneading the dough gives back some of the power that the lockdown took away. In the face of chaos and financial scarcity, bread making and cooking in general provide a sense of achievement and gratification.

Yes, everyone was at it and every post on Instagram was of a sourdough loaf. We might be in isolation, but when it came to baking bread, we were part of a community – sharing in the highs and lows of each loaf.

To our family and friends in the Northern hemisphere facing a second wave and a winter like no other, keep Zooming and keep baking. As Sydney eases its way out of the pandemic, we have not discarded the sourdough project – rather it has become a ritual of our household to enjoy the smell and taste of freshly baked bread each week, and it reminds us of the community we have joined.

Sourdough starter: Holger

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