Should we all be raising a toast to bread-making’s therapeutic benefits?
When I’m feeling stressed, the last thing I think to do is don my apron and get myself into the kitchen – unless it’s to raid the fridge for comfort-eating purposes, of course. This is probably due to two factors: a) the stress-inducing, logistically nightmarish lack of space in my teeny tiny kitchen/living room/dining room, and b) my innate ability to cause a kitchen massacre while preparing even the simplest of snacks. However, a recent study by The Real Bread Campaign is causing me to rethink my usual mood-regulating strategies and stock up on yeast and flour.
The rise and rise of the baking trend has seen a lot of speculation about the activity’s therapeutic nature, with a few famous faces having spoken out about their experience of remedial baking. Author Marion Keyes is among them; she’s even written a book called Saved by Cake – an account of how baking has aided her mental health. Having also suffered with depression, John Whaite, winner of The Great British Bake Off 2012 , often speaks about the positive effect baking has on him, describing it as a kind of ‘pill-less Prozac’.
Although baking is no cure for depression, it would seem this kind of culinary counselling employs a logic which goes much deeper than just simple enjoyment. In his foreword to The Real Bread Campaign’s report, Rising Up, John notes: ‘There is something about the meditative process of bread making […] that enables me to lift my mood and take control: one of the many powers that I lack when feeling glum.’
This really makes sense when you think about it. Besides the perhaps obvious physically stress-relieving act of kneading, there’s the comfort of following a recipe; the methodological nature of working your way through the process; the feeling of control in weighing, measuring and mixing; and the ultimate sense of achievement with the end result. And that’s achievement you can see, taste and smell – the best kind.
This is not a type of therapy only for those suffering from mental-health-related issues though – we all perhaps need a good knead every now and again. Similarly, the soothing effects are not solely felt by bakers; Rising Up’s participants were hardly pros, yet 88 per cent of those asked felt that baking bread gave them a sense of achievement, while 87 per cent said it made them feel happier and 73 per cent were calmer or more relaxed as a result of baking.
And do you know what? Baking bread is actually – gasp – not that hard. With programs like The Great British Bake Off showing all kinds of fancy, frill-loving recipes being put into practice, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s an intricate process best left to those with specialist skills and knowledge. It’s really not. I’ve tried, and it turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. It’s hardly a costly practice either; The Real Bread Campaign is keen to point out that there are only four ingredients to ‘real’ bread – flour, yeast, salt and water – all of which are cheap and readily available. Nope, no fancy tools or mixers are required either – why waste the opportunity to take your stress out on a satisfyingly doughy punching bag?
Maybe we should all give it a go and turn to baking instead of brooding. To increase the baking boost, give your creations to others to enjoy. This also removes the temptation some of us may experience to comfort-eat every crumb of it ourselves…
Just remember: using a bread maker doesn’t count.