t first, the Bread Boom may have seemed like just another trend; however, a closer look suggests something much larger. In a time of uncertainty and fear, cooking offered many people an opportunity to harness control, if only for a few hours.
In March 2020, an unusual event took place online. It was a direct result of the world coming to a screeching halt: search queries for “sourdough” skyrocketed to historic popularity. Within a matter of weeks, it seemed everyone was cultivating jars of bubbling wild yeast on their counters. Instagram feeds populated with loaves of bread baked in steaming Dutch ovens, and people all over the world turned to baking and cooking to treat their boredom in isolation—many, for the first time.
It’s easy to scoff at those who say to use this time to create a side hustle or learn something new—even getting through the day sometimes feels like an insurmountable task. However, cooking somehow falls into a different category. It is productive escapism, which sounds like an oxymoron, but the benefits of an outlet that allows you to break free of everyday stressors is nourishing for both body and mind. Now, over a year into the COVID-19 global pandemic with lives still on hold, millennials have turned these “trends'' into rituals, rewriting their relationships with food altogether.
Millennials like Sharon Kuo and Philippe Pagé, a Toronto-based couple who own Cannabonzai, a creative studio specializing in the art of growing cannabis bonsai trees. Their busy lifestyles pre-pandemic meant minimal meal planning. “We didn’t really know how to cook to be honest, maybe rice,” says Sharon. While she was often travelling for her nine-to-five, with Philippe working at an office in downtown Toronto, the pair had little time to cook, much less learn how to start. “Since COVID began, our lives have been very different. Since we're home more often, cooking just makes so much more sense now both financially and mechanically. We’ve had to learn and try new things to spice it up – we can’t eat butter chicken forever.” Being a creative duo, Sharon shares that their change in lifestyle has also been the source of inspiration.
"Having spent the time to understand how 'cooking' works makes me want to do it more."
For others like Vancouver-based Anika Bursey who is in the process of completing her Masters in Community and Regional Planning, the global pandemic has fostered a deeper appreciation for quality ingredients and little luxuries. “My partner and I have been very fortunate to still be working,” Anika says. “Given that we couldn't really do much besides stay at home, we had a little more money to spend on better ingredients like local grass-fed meat, fresh seafood, or that bottle of wine that was out of our price range before.” She looks to both classic and contemporary outlets to inspire her, from Julia Child favourites to creators on TikTok. Online food creators and bloggers are some of the very few working in a culinary realm to continue their craft during COVID. On RockRecipes.com—which is currently ranked the number one food blog in Canada—traffic hit an unprecedented high in 2020.
The initial pandemic peak spanned from March 15 to May 31 and individual website users went up 154% over the same time frame in 2019. For the remainder of the year however, traffic did not return to pre-pandemic numbers, an indication of an increased consistent audience. From June to October, the number of users on the site was still up a remarkable 54% compared to the year previous. It would be remiss not to recognize that increased home cooking is also a direct result of people longing for the dishes they love from their favourite restaurants.
For those in the hospitality industry, the pandemic has brought mass job losses and hardship, especially on small, independent businesses. Fortunately for Kate Finn, who works back of house at Toslow in St. John’s, this has been a time of reflection.
“It was an adjustment, but the time off helped me feel so much more at home in my own kitchen. As a person in the [hospitality] industry, I felt like it was a nice break to make nourishing food for myself.”
The break has given Kate time to reflect on her personal and professional life, and since returning to work has said she has a reclaimed appreciation for home cooking and a fresh approach to her craft in the kitchen. “It’s brought a lot of joy back into making meals for myself, even now one year later. It was like I needed the break to remember I could put effort into things at home, rather than just at work.”
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for home cooking. Beyond food fads the algorithms feed, something else has been uncovered: the collective longing for comfort and creation.
People everywhere, and especially millennials, are re-learning food literacy, establishing a closer relationship to ingredients, cultivating more patience for the process, and uncovering the multitude of ways in which they are connected by cooking.
The last year has made people yearn for days in which meals can be shared together again, stealing bites off each other’s plates and staining tablecloths with rings of red wine. Until then, they’ll share photos of their sourdough, and break bread digitally.