What a Time to Be Alive

The story of fermentation and activism from my home kitchen

It is the morning of my 36th birthday and I’m sitting down to launch an email newsletter from my basement. The basement seems to be where much of 2020 has been spent. Working remotely, while living through two pandemics. 

The first pandemic is the one we all have been monitoring on government and hospital websites since March. The Coronavirus Pandemic has hit American society hard and it seems like some things will never be the same. This week my state had to open our first “field hospital” as COVID patient numbers drastically increased. I can't imagine how terrifying it must be for healthcare workers, and for any patients transferred there. Against the odds, I pray that every single person who enters that field hospital makes it back home to their families. 

The second pandemic we’re living through predates the first. The pandemic of racism in America is also well documented. American racism however does not have a daily ticker on any government or hospital website for how many lives it has taken. 

The President of the American Psychological Association stated it plainly earlier this year – “We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens. The health consequences are dire. Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.” - Sandra L. Shullman, PhD

While we wear masks as an active step to protect ourselves and others from COVID, what can we do to protect ourselves against this other pandemic? For many years I’ve challenged those around me to acknowledge their own agency to make change in their community. Yet I must confess: there have been plenty of nights where I’ve lost sleep sitting at this computer at 2am, journaling half thoughts about the state of American racism and how helpless I feel. In the past, I’ve proactively directed my energy towards creating progress in a variety of ways. To my own surprise, for much of 2020, I’ve taken that energy and directed it towards baking sourdough bread. 

Baking sourdough seemed to be a popular pandemic hobby that people picked up during the early weeks of quarantining during the spread of the Coronavirus. This reality was made evident by the sudden shortages of flour in the grocery stores in March and April. As it happens, I actually started making bread just a little before COVID… but it was when my wife captured this picture of me this summer that I knew this hobby was actually my way of protecting myself against this pandemic of American racism. 

It was June. I had missed several nights of sleep thinking about George Floyd's murder. Like many black Americans, I was showing up to work (virtually) trying to pretend like I wasn’t constantly distracted by grief, fear, anger, and fatigue. Yet somehow I kept pushing myself each week to improve my bread baking skills. I started the year making two loaves every other week. This picture was taken the first time I pushed beyond my comfort zone to double my batch and make four loaves at once. I knew bread baking was a fun and healthy distraction from the weight of things on my mind, but it wasn’t until I saw this photo of myself that I realized it was also my therapy. I found a way to create joy in the midst of pain. Not only could I manifest joy for myself each time I got my hands in the dough, but I could share my joy with others by dropping off bread to friends’ porches when I was thinking about them. 

I was addicted to this routine. I knew I wanted to keep increasing my bread production. But with two kids, a full time job that I enjoy, and no aspirations of trying to start a bakery… I wasn’t sure exactly “why” I would keep increasing my weekly bread production. Mostly it seemed like I was increasing our grocery bill while giving bread away to a widening group of friends. Then it hit me that baking bread can be my vehicle for not only joy, but also activism! 

This summer a group of bakers in Washington DC began organizing a national bake sale called Bakers Against Racism. They were calling bakers across the country to raise funds through selling their goods and donating a portion of those proceeds to organizations working to fight racism and protect our democracy. This September, I joined their #BakeTheVote project and began baking bread to sell here in Madison. 

Currently I'm baking bread every day through election day and donating 100% of the funds raised to the ACLU of Wisconsin and Black Voters Matter. These two organizations are fighting racism, protecting our democracy, and building pathways to a more just society. To date we've raised over $500 for these organizations.

After the election I plan to take a break and figure out what groups to bake for next.  That is where this newsletter comes in.  

This is the primary place where I will share updates on bake sales and the organizations we'll be supporting together. I'll also be writing reflections about the ongoing fight for justice, sharing stories that inspire me, and offering suggestions for how you can fight for change in your own community. And of course I'll be sharing my journey of learning to make bread, including recipes and tutorials.

I’d love for you to follow along. My hope is that this newsletter goes beyond a one-way dialogue, and becomes a community.

If you'd like to be part of a community of people who are passionate about both bread and justice... it would mean a lot to me if you'd subscribe. 

Once you subscribe, the next step is to send this to a friend who wants to join. And then send me an email to say hi!