In the midst of the 2020 pandemic, National Public Radio delivered good news: the Great Flour Struggle of 2020 might soon be over. Producers and grocery stores were finally catching up to the sharp spike in demand for the vital ingredient for baked goods. Met with the possibility of a lockdown, shoppers scrambled for cleaning products and toilet paper. But once houses were supplied with necessities, many quarantiners turned to activities that would comfort, entertain, and bring back a sense of normalcy. Baking fulfilled those needs for many households. More importantly, baking served as a symbolic and performative way of tapping into nostalgia/public memory to create a sense of community while in isolation.
Food plays a vital role in cultural moments. As Presswood (2020) argues, “only food simultaneously represents a personal testament to individual taste, an homage to heritage or tradition, and a service done for the community or loved ones.” But as many have noted, baking in particular fills more of a cathartic need than one of necessity. “After all,” one Eater author writes, “one can only eat so much dessert.” And, as Stokes and I (2016) have explained, “Certain desserts can affirm the spiritual and cultural health of our communities, soothing people in times of need and supporting cultural traditions that draw them together. Desserts feed community resilience.” #Stressbaking and #procrastibaking had been explored in recent years, but #pandemicbaking and #quarantinebaking created a whole new online community. Food blogs, tweets, and instagram posts created our public, in this case.
In particular, banana bread emerged as one of the most frequently searched online recipes and hashtags. The staple American quick bread appeared during the Great Depression out of a necessity to salvage food and use simple ingredients. During the pandemic, we felt nostalgic for simpler times. Of course, it may seem strange to yearn for an era when America was so endangered, but perhaps the fact that the country emerged from the Depression—displayed resilience—is what we tend to remember the most about that period right now. As one Kitchn author noted, “Baking banana bread feels like an easy-to-reach achievement in a time when we’re all feeling defeated.” Gathering in person had ground to a halt, but baking banana bread became a way to enact community by swapping recipes and creating our own twist on a slice of Americana. And so #pandemicbaking became all about the banana bread. Even Teen Vogue jumped on the “gateway baking” trend, explaining, “Instead of a symbol for spiraling out, banana bread shows how we’re making the most of our circumstances.”
Presswood, A. L. (2020). Food blogs, postfeminism, and the communication of expertise. Lexington: Lanham, MA.
Stokes, Ashli Q., & Atkins-Sayre, Wendy. (2016). Consuming identity: The role of food in redefining the south. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.