Sourdough or Sour-no? Coping and Critiquing During The Pandemic

I would first like to say that I hope all of you are in good health and are taking care of yourself during this pandemic, which continues to brutally march on. For those who have been directly affected, or have lost a loved one, my heart goes out to you and what I am about to write will be trivial.

Why write it, then?

We are all coping in our own ways during this pandemic. And as COVID-19 continues to amp up personal frustration, we may find ourselves feeling unsupportive of others, or even judging them. We have been asked to be kind—and this has largely been my experience of others—but sometimes this can feel like a pretty big ask at such a very tough time.

How Are We Coping?

With quarantines and lock-downs, many of us have turned to home-based activities such as bread-making, crafting or exercise,  or are partaking of something more passive to help with the overwhelm: the use of streaming services has exploded. And obviously, you will no doubt have found ways that work best for you, whether they feel mediocre, fulfilling, or something in-between.

In short, we are all doing our best.

Enter Critique

With health and life compromised, threatened, affected and limited, and nerves are frayed to the max, people are going to get testy.

In my consumption of news and media–which I have the tendency to consume a little more than is ideal for me–I have observed a complex narrative, which is both supportive yet subtly critical, about the ways in which we are personally coping with the global pandemic, that seems to go something like this:

We are all struggling and coping the best we can with the current situation. We don’t have to achieve “great” things to be valid in our efforts.

“Great” would seem to be implied as soft (or sometimes harsh) cynicism, as if the coping strategy was to show off, or is a manifestation of perfection or even is an example of unrealistic productivity. Heck, I’ve even written about the latter phenomenon myself.

An example of the “great” (quotes emphasized) is often sourdough bread-making, which, I will admit, shoots a little dagger in my naturally-leavened heart. Although, to be clear, any form of coping is subject to criticism, so while sourdough has in many ways come to symbolize lock-down-coping strategy, there are equally valid coping strategies out there; this is not an article about sourdough per se.

Acknowledge The Bias

Some of you know that I’m a sourdough fanatic who started my adventures in 2016, but have been sourdough baking more seriously starting in 2018 and then much more seriously during the pandemic. Normalized in the sourdough community and eccentric to the rest of the world, I have even named my starter (Vanessa), who is actually my second starter after my first, Elizabeth, passed away after at least 6 months of chronic neglect, in early 2018. RIP.

So, I guess this is to say that sourdough isn’t new to me, but I will say that I have been baking with more fervour during the pandemic, so that is somewhat different.

Why Scorn?

There can be a number of reasons why coping activities like producing artisan loaves, masterful knitting, or physically fit bodies—to name a few—may be subject to scorn:

  • The pandemic has increased mental health problems and emotional suffering.
  • Social media gives a false impression of reality and it’s aggravating to see image, after perfectly curated image. We don’t generally see the baking that flopped, the sweater that was too small, our messy homes etc.
  • Media triggers feelings of inadequacy – We feel like we should be doing these things—we should be productive.
  • We’ve tried the “thing” and it didn’t work out, so we’re banishing it and anything to do with it.
  • We’re bored or frustrated and we want to vent.
  • We feel powerless and want to exert our voice in a salient way.
  • We are reacting to what we think someone’s intention is, which we may perceive as self-serving.
  • We are responding to others’ privilege, that we do not have.

Undoubtedly there are other reasons too.

Is Scorn Justified?

I think this is an important question because it challenges one of the messages of this article: if we don’t want to be judged, can we refrain from judgement if we are judged?

When I look at possible reasons for why judgement is occurring, there are bases for all of these reasons and yes, there will always—no matter what the issue—be haters who are gonna hate.

And also, it’s important to note that—particularly with social media—people are sharing how they are coping and with that, can come things like:

  • Showing off
  • Seeking validation or adulation from others
  • Presenting a choreographed image or lifestyle
  • Being competitive
  • Avoiding emotional intimacy
  • Consciously or unconsciously demonstrating their privilege(s): social, racial, economic, gender, sexuality, age, ability, body size

All of the above are a burden on the person hearing about it, or viewing it, and gosh, we all need a little less burden at a time like this.

But there may be some reasons that are less burdensome to others—particularly if they come from a place of personal coping, such as:

  • Lessening mental health symptoms
  • Mobilizing the body during lock-down
  • Invoking a sense of meaning or purpose
  • Facilitating a routine
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Sharing ideas with others or offering inspiration
  • Doing something tangible in an uncertain social time
  • Skill-building or challenging oneself
  • Producing something beautiful when times are ugly
  • Gifting others (for example, doing yard work for an infirm neighbour, crocheting a blanket for a friend, baking some bread to give away)
  • Generating and sharing excitement
  • Increasing accountability to oneself

Wrapping It Up

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we are all doing our best right now, and that best need not be tied to a coping strategy that leads to a tangible result. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Netflix may be just as good as sourdough, maybe better. I will not apologize for my voracious consumption of trashy reality TV shows during the pandemic (even better if they’re 5 or more years old), although in admitting this, I have shocked a few people! We can never truly know why a person is coping the way they are and I prefer not to extrapolate. My best advice is to let go of ALL judgment, including self-judgement and judging our judging during these very difficult times.

Please take care of yourselves.