This week I continued to work on the rough draft of my final paper and found a few images that I oculd use in the chapter. I still need to figure out how to reference the artists' work with enough description, as I was unable to find public access photos for their work. I also broke the paper into sections with headings. I would still like to rewrite the conclusion and tie in the next section of our book, on desire versus disgust. In terms of group progress, our group solidified the final layout of our book.
Our relationship to food is far more complex than we tend to think. Food is part of our culture and traditions. Recipes are passed down through generations. Food is the centerpiece of holidays. It is fairly easy to conjure an image of a stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving or a loaf of sourdough in the center of the table. Food and religion are also intertwined. In fact, there is a hymn titled “Let’s Us Break Bread Together,” with the lyrics “Let us praise God together on our knees.” To “break bread” means to share a meal, a sense of brotherhood, or to make amends. Its origins are biblical - Jesus would break bread and give the pieces to His Disciples.
Figure 1: Bread brings warmth, comfort, and security ("Bread-Food-Healthy-Breakfast").
Bread is something tangible that is generally shared by a family. It provides a sense of comfort and security. This is represented by Antony Gormley’s “Bed,” a full-size bed built from over 8,000 pieces of bread. Gormley created the negative space of himself resting in bed by eating the slices as he worked. Not only does the piece of art suggest the comfort and security that food provides, but the method of creation also suggests further processes involved in digesting food and harvesting the nutritional value that we do not normally consider. Our relationship to food is far more complex than simple consumption and sustenance.
Figure 2: “Bed,” Antony Gormley (Tate)
Bread, Life Cycle, and Relief
The current pandemic has made me think more about our relationship to food. Having a meal may break up the monotony of a day or create a designated time to spend with loved ones. On a more personal level, for the past two months it has been extraordinarily difficult to find flour and yeast in the store. People seem to be turning to baking, and especially to bread, to find comfort.
In a Particles Episode with Victoria Vesna, Pat Badani explains the therapeutic effect of baking bread: “It’s like many meditative traditions…the action of baking bread…is so sensual. It’s the aspect of the need of getting in contact with the material…there’s this anguish that we can’t touch other bodies.” Maybe we don’t all have such an intimate relationship with bread, but there is a certain experience to be had by the act of kneading and baking. And with nearly two out of every three Americans mostly or completely isolated (Saad), it’s no wonder we’re craving physical contact.
Because of the efforts to slow the spread of the virus, many people have much more time to explore or rediscover hobbies. But why does bread making seem to be the default for so many? Why is it the thing that we fall back on to find comfort? In a piece by the Washington Post, Martin Philip, who is a baker for King Arthur Flour, said “We’re going back to the instinct of caregiving, and the instinct to bring community closer to us, and bread is the center of that.” Having the time to make a homecooked meal or cooking for someone you love isn’t the entire story. In Ancient Egypt bread was not only regarded as a source of life, but also necessary for nourishment after death. In Christianity bread baked for celebrating the Last Supper is called “holy bread” and can be translated to “offering” (Nawar). In many religions and cultures, bread represents not only life, but the cycle of life. You need life to nourish life.
In the Particles Episode, Pat Bandani told a story of how her bread bowls from her Tower-Tour project were ravaged by weevils. Bandani points out that her work would have disintegrated anyway, – after all, they were made from bread – and that the weevils only accelerated the natural process. This again suggests a cycle of life. She also used her weevils incident to begin to think about the relationship between humans and parasites in relation to epidemics (Bandani). Western society tends to fear “parasites.” We focus on hygiene, on cleanliness and sterility. In this time especially, with the immense fear of a microscopic virus that is running its life course, we turn to yeast as a source of comfort. It gives texture and taste to our bread but can also be parasitic. An unbalance of yeast in our bodies can lead to an infection. Bandani suggests that “In epochs crisis…, people seem to…be very psychologically drawn to the essential, to what is the meaning of a source of livelihood” (Bandani). Bread symbolizes nutrition and family gatherings. More than nutrition and survival, though, bread has become a celebration. Challah is the centerpiece of a Passover meal, hot cross buns are made for Good Friday, and stollen is made to celebrate Christmas in Germany.
An extension of bread seems to be baked goods. All over the internet you can find posts labeled #quarantinebaking and #stressbaking. As one baker tells CNBC, “I’ve been making recipes I’m very familiar and comfortable with, and I find it comforting to make and eat foods I’ve made and eaten a hundred times before. It provides a sense of normalcy, which I think many people are craving right now” (Clifford). More than being able to produce something tangible, useful, and nutritious, making food provides a connection to our past. We know that smell and taste are linked, and we have probably all experienced a smell’s strong association with a memory, allowing you to recall it in vivid detail. It’s no wonder that more and more of us have turned to baking – to filling our homes with an array of aromas that allow us to feel connected to our past and our community.
Science isn’t far behind what seems to be our inherent need to make baked goods. There is a field called Culinary Art Therapy, which one website describes as “therapy that uses cooking as the means of communication and expression.” The process of making, eating, and sharing food seems to be the one thing that we can all relate to. Cooking is an art form in itself, but many artists have developed new ways of looking at food in relation to the physical distancing orders.
In thinking about all the current effects the pandemic has had on our supply chains, food production, and how we view food, I realized there were many connections between now and the Great Depression. During the Great Depression, although farmers were producing the same amount of food, people no means of purchasing it due to the economic collapse. This led to a seemingly contradictory situation in which there was an abundance of food while many Americans went hungry, similar to today. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered farmers to destroy their abundance, producing an artificial scarcity and increasing the prices. However, the destruction of food while many were hungry led to public outcry, so the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation began to purchase the excess food and distribute it to people in need, leading to less business for grocers (Klein). It is worth noting that unemployment at this time was seventeen percent, and is close to fifteen percent as of May 2020. This figure, however, does not account for the people who have been forced to work part-time or who have left the workforce (Heather Long). To combat the surplus and hunger, and to promote sales of food, the government launched the Food Stamps program. This program increased sales for grocers and gave people greater variety in their food (they received surplus coupons for free when they purchased food stamps). It has continued since – with a brief pause thanks to the economic stimulus from World War II - and has had bipartisan support [In April 2020, stricter regulations for the SNAP program (formally the Food Stamp program) including a work requirement were put on hold in response to the national crisis] (Fadulu).
Thinking about the Great Depression led me to the topic of Victory Gardens, which were a movement created by the federal government to promote making a self-sustainable food source for families and communities that lasted through both World Wars. It is estimated that by 1942, the gardens produced forty percent of the United States’ fresh produce (Scbumm).