Two Loaves and Choices (Plague, Day 22, March 25, 2020)

You know the world is in the shithole, when I start baking.

I do not enjoy baking. I don’t like measuring cups, the fine dusting of flour over counters, meticulous reading of recipes, timers. Last night’s pot roast is more of my style of cooking — throw a bunch of good things in a pot and then walk away for two hours.

Also, I’ve so been conditioned by middle age diets to look at all carbs as things of evil. Little slices of heaven, too. Have you ever had a slice of pizza, after restraining one’s self for a couple of weeks? OMG. Your brain explodes. So, there’s a lot of complicated feelings wrapped in bread right now.

But with everything going on, I felt a deep need to kneed. Yesterday I pulled out my super easy recipe for bread making and spent the afternoon making two loaves.

Two loaves, almost identical, cooling on a rack. Which one to cut open first? Either way, there is no bad choice.


But now our president is ready to make a choice between two evils, as he sees the options before him. He can either badger the country to stay in the house, shut down businesses, keep the schools closed, which will very quickly lead to massive Great Depression-like levels of economic strife.

Or he could let business do it what it wants to do. Open those restaurants. Open the factories. Let people fly wherever they want. Money comes in, but the virus will spread. People will die, but people die every day, he said. We can’t stop the economy to save a handful of old people.

He later added geography to that calculus. Mostly, the problems are going to be in the hot spots, like the New York City metro area, so it’s unfair to rural areas in Texas to conform to rules that are appropriate for NYC. And those people in NYC are doomed anyway, so let’s just move on.

Those are bad choices: the economy versus dead old people. To be fair, the economy doesn’t just mean that some rich CEOs will suffer. It means that a whole of lot of minimum wage workers will be laid off, won’t be able to pay their rent, and children will go hungry. So, in the spirit of fairness, let’s revise that equation: hungry children versus dead old people in one part of the country.

But that equation still isn’t quite right. The dead people are starting to pile up around here, and they aren’t just 90-year olds in a nursing home. Our church just sent out an email asking for prayers for a 20-year old, a former high school athlete, who is in ICU.

I live in a virus hotspot, though things will be worse on the other side of the Hudson River, in the heart of the city. Anybody paying attention knew that this was going to be a big issue. The mayor took too long to shut the schools and get people off the streets and subway. Too long.

Friends who had an outlet and a brain to see the writing on the wall got out of the city seven days ago. They are in seclusion already in second homes and in the guest rooms of extended family. Others are trying to get out now.

My in-laws live in the shore of North Carolina, where those communities have shut their doors to outsiders. Police demand proof of home ownership before letting people cross the bridge to the barrier islands. Locals say they don’t have enough beds or bags of flour for the New Yorkers heading their way. No room in the inn.

I reject the presidents’ choice, because I think he’s wrong. I have faith in charts and trajectory curves. If we say, “Fuck this flattening curve stuff. Give me the high peak and get the pain over with quickly,” the losses will be too significant and probably won’t save the economy anyway. I say let’s save lives first, the economy second.


I’m not the only one baking like crazy. Flour, like toilet paper and dish detergent, is not to be found in any supermarket right now.

Why do we bake during a pandemic?

For many of us, we associate bread with comfort. It’s a way to nurture our families, when they’re in the midst of stress and pain.

We have time. Yes, the lucky among us are still working on our laptops and computers just a few feet from the kitchen. It’s not hard to let some dough rise in a bowl on the counter for forty minutes in between Zoom meetings with co-workers.

Bread is something Biblical, an ancient tie to the Gods. Mosaics in 2,000-year old churches in the Mediterranean depict the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Matthew 14:13-21: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he [Jesus] gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

We bake because we are in the midst of an Old Testament-like plague. This doesn’t feel real. It’s an ancient evil, not something that belongs in our worlds of sterile Apple stores or smart cars. An ancient evil must be fought by an ancient good. For some, that ancient good might come in the form of God, an old man with a beard. For others, the ancient good is formed by women with large forearms over a fire.

Of course, we can’t be saved by bread or prayers or by loud curses at the tv during presidential press conferences. Let’s just be safe, friends. Using whatever comforts and crutches that we have around us, let’s stay in our homes for another few weeks.

Me? Despite an afternoon aberration with baking, my real crutch is writing. Words are my loaf of bread. So, I’ll be here, as long as I can manage it.

13 thoughts on “Two Loaves and Choices (Plague, Day 22, March 25, 2020)

  1. As many others with more expertise than me have pointed out, the choice between saving lives and the economy is a false dichotomy. If we open up the economy now, the loss of lives and long bouts of illness will wreck the economy. So our choice is really saving lives and dealing with a crappy economy or losing lives and dealing with a crappy economy. Seems like a no brainer to me.


    1. Right, but have you considered the people who own highly leveraged hotels and whose solvency is very likely dependent on large purchases of rooms by foreign governments and people connected to foreign governments.


  2. Missed you posting yesterday. I’m embarrassed to say how many times I checked for an update. We are all feeling so out of control. Working from home this week prepping lessons for Distance Learning with my 6th graders for the first time ever. (starts on Monday) Can Governors defy orders from the President? Hoping Walz announces a shelter in place soon!


    1. H in MN said, “Can Governors defy orders from the President?”

      Local closures really are up to the governors and mayors.


  3. Working from home got dicey last night as our miserable internet failed and I’ve long forgotten how to make the hot spot work when it seems to say no. Today is better, but I need plans B and C when I teach online and the Y and coffee shops are closed. Our internet is still not fixed (it goes down about as often as it rains out here in the woods), but the hotspots are restored. And bread baking — yes, two batches of pita already. Really didn’t occur to me that flour would be scarce. Thanks for writing. (H -I’m in MN too).


    1. Kris said, “Really didn’t occur to me that flour would be scarce.”

      Yeah, that’s been one of the big surprises of the epidemic.

      Funnily enough, it’s been easier to buy mixes and prepared food than to buy flour, beans and rice…although I see that frozen pizza has been hit pretty hard and is one of our quantity-limited items.


    2. Flour is scarce because people like me are buying bread flour. We used to note this phenomenon whe we go to Hawaii for the winter holidays. I dont’ think people who live in Hawaii really get out the sugar cookies/fruitcake recipes, but all the families coming still want to recreate some victorian version of hygge. And, that is what we want during a forced stay at home (a pandemic or a snow storm, though they are not the same). So, I buy flour, though, as I’ve said, if I actually bake a loaf of bread it will mean something significant. My kiddo, home from college, is talking about learning how to cook beans (which my parents do routinely, so she can learn from them), via skype.

      Hopefully, my flour will be turned into food by kiddo baking (though not bread). If it isn’t, I need to make sure I donate it at some point before it actually becomes wasted hording.


  4. And yes, my daughter and her husband left NYC on Saturday and drove to the midwest. Not to us (see unreliable internet), but to his family’s town where they’ll be in an airbnb for 3 weeks. They can continue to work remotely (really remotely) for now.


  5. I haven’t personally read the relief bill articles, but my husband was reading me some stuff that made both of us go WHAT! Hopefully it wasn’t as bad as it sounded.

    I feel like it would have been better to just do a separate individual relief bill before getting into the business/corporate stuff.


    1. I do think the corporate stuff is about individual relief, too. If big companies keep their people on payroll the corporate relief is helping individuals. And, there are big companies (as well as small businesses) who can’t do it without the help (and, sometimes with more restrictions, since publicly traded companies can’t just decide to risk the company itself in order to pay their workers, while a family owned small business can, with no responsibility to others).


  6. “Or he could let business do it what it wants to do. Open those restaurants. Open the factories. Let people fly wherever they want. Money comes in, but the virus will spread. ”

    Really, money is going to come in? Who is going to fly? Not me.


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