This has also been featured on Breadwinners.
My feverish journey into the wild underbelly of sourdough began like many others as a way to cope with being confined, with being deprived of touch and interaction. I found myself using my hands a lot more as instruments of contact, getting acquainted with non-human things around me to sense something palpable beyond myself, where I end and the world begins.
There’s something about the process of sourdough even before the actual baking that makes it feel like you are working with something tangible, unpredictable and therefore, alive. Through the manipulation of the dough, therein lies the possibility of discovering and understanding your own vitality and vulnerability, which can trigger a spectrum of emotion: from calm and satisfaction to utter confusion and panic.
Even your apprehension around the baked outcome feels like it mirrors a similar feeling about the larger erratic situation at hand but it’s that tactile encounter between body and bread which renders the overwhelming ambivalence a tad more manageable. To make a loaf that you and perhaps, your loved ones can sit down and enjoy together asks for a little anchoring of the monkey mind to stay present and roll with whatever caprices it brings. I call it – dough-ga.
“Hey,” you decry. “It’s just bread…” However, bread in all its seeming basic-ness is enduring and ubiquitous. It’s key to the formation of societies throughout history since the advent of agriculture over 10,000 years ago. It’s one of the oldest man-made foods, and there’s evidence of bread-making pre-dating the cultivation and domestication of wheat. But it’s this momentous shift of us humans from nomads to farmers that gave rise to settled civilisations, which has made bread more than mere sustenance, but an integral part of our culture no matter where we hail from.
Thus, bread universally underlies our conceptions of life and community. It has been the story that regales the way we live or the way we create kinship; and what we see to be essential or what we put our faith in. This is why there are several meaningful metaphors for this staple: “bread-winner” to refer to the economic provider of the family, “to break bread” as sharing a meal or connection with someone, “breadbasket” as a place of fertility and productivity, and “bread” or “dough” as money or a means to survive.
It makes sense that in an unprecedented time of distancing and isolation, making and baking bread reconnects us not only with our history and heritage, but also our primordial impulse for self-nourishment and sufficiency, and the yearning to be in touch with one another.