“Carb” was a dirty word among the healthy set for a long time. But even with the gluten-free mania that’s sweeping the scene, health-conscious consumers who once scorned carbs are embracing bread as a nutritious option for body and mind. Now, with consumers increasingly seeking out non-connected pastimes, the ritualization of baking is being launched into a cultural phenomenon.
Sourdough in particular has reached cult status as a therapeutic antidote to constantly connected modern lifestyles. “Making sourdough bread is the opposite of using the internet,” wrote Eve Peyser in her July 2018 piece for The New York Times titled ‘I Wanted A Dog. I Bake Bread Instead.’ “While the social media feed is driven by impulse, sourdough is intentional. It cannot be made on a whim…A post on a website floats somewhere in the digital content abyss; bread is real. It nourishes you. Karl Marx might’ve been onto something when he philosophized about how being alienated from our labor deprives you of life.”
The patience and trust required to make a sourdough starter – the mixture of water and flour that, once fermented, forms the signature tangy dough – fosters a surprisingly intense emotional connection. “I am a little bit in love with my sourdough starter,” confessed Bon Appetit writer Sophie Lucido Johnson in her February 2018 love letter to the bread. “You have to ‘feed’ it regularly with fresh flour, which makes it begin to feel like a member of the family,” she explained. “Sourdough has to be nurtured. You never get rid of it. It becomes something you talk about at Thanksgiving when your aunt asks you what’s new in your life.”
“You have to get familiar,” agreed Vanessa Kimbell, who runs The Sourdough School in the U. K. “It’s about hands, heart and mind coming together. It involves the whole of you.” For writer Kerri Wiginton, this emotional process was a form of healing. “I turned baking bread into a full-day meditation,” wrote Wiginton in her January 2019 article How Baking Sourdough Helped Me Stop Drinking and Stay Sober. “I get excited every time I pop the top off my Dutch oven to see how my little bread babies have grown. And I’m pretty sure I feel actual love for my starter,” which the writer affectionately named Calvin.