Editor’s Note: This story was excerpted from the April 10 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
And it leaves an opening for another nation – that rising superpower across the Pacific for instance – to seize the world leadership mantle.
Bread dough is on the rise in homes across the West, as quarantined home bakers exorcise their cabin fever with furious kneading and punching. Manufacturers of commercial yeast – the tiny living organisms behind good bread, beer and wine – say demand is soaring to near-unmanageable levels.
“We are producing yeast as fast as possible, however the new demand is simply unprecedented,” says US manufacturer Red Star Yeast on its website. “No one could have predicted that yeast would disappear off the shelves so quickly.” French, Italian, Canadian and Swiss distributors of baking supplies say the same thing.
Stocking up on ingredients for the staff of life isn’t crazy – many countries have already restricted grain exports amid the global economic slowdown, sensitive to the fact that bread shortages have long been cause for revolution. Wheat futures are up, too.
But there’s still plenty of bread in shops – and the proliferation of boules, baguettes and buns on social media suggest that most home-bakers are hardly hoarding their flour reserves for lean times.
Rather, for those locked into a monotonous daily landscape, unable to help or change the crisis outside, bread-making offers the relief of an all-consuming task: You can’t check your phone to mainline infection statistics while up to your elbows in dough.
The sticky process also rebuts the endless routines of disinfection, alcohol wipes and bleach spray: Making bread means getting friendly with micro-organisms, waking dormant yeast with warmth or trapping them wild from the air, nourishing them on flour, marking time by their breath as the dough rises on a scaffolding of air.
“It’s funny because only one month ago, everyone was on a gluten-free diet. Now, suddenly everyone is a baker,” says Maddalena Borsato, a researcher in the philosophy of bread at Turin’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, and a former baker at several of Italy’s most legendary pasticcerias.
In Italy and France, where great bakeries are around every corner, the rush to make bread at home is particularly unusual. Borsato hypothesizes that it has to do with solidarity despite social distancing.
“It’s something you don’t do only for yourself, you do it also for others,” she says. “Everyone is baking a lot and posting and sharing photos of their bread but they cannot actually share their bread, so it’s shared in a symbolic way.”
Plus no one will be the wiser if you eat the whole loaf.