I used to buy a twenty-five pound bag of flour and bake all my own bread. While it pains me to say I “used to” do this, it has been months since I’ve baked a loaf at home, and I don’t feel the right to claim this as a regular practice. Work is busy; an awesome new bakery opened ten blocks away; and, perhaps most importantly, I have a job that allows me to afford to buy bread. For me, buying bread again is a sign that the Great Recession is officially ebbing away.
I stopped buying this common kitchen staple for a while because I knew I could bake it cheaper at home, and while I was a graduate student who counted every penny, I could tell you the exact amount per loaf, including the energy cost of baking it (it was $1.08, including electricity). I was meticulous, methodical. It was thanks to the Recession that I learned to bake and to cook. Without the painful lack of cashflow, I might remain convinced to this day that putting cold, hard, raw vegetables into a pan and adding a little heat will make them edible. I say I like cooking, but let’s face it, since the economy has picked up, cooking has been the first thing to go.
You might be surprised, but there are a few things I miss about harder economic times. I had a feeling like everyone was in it together. There seemed to be less competition because there wasn’t much choice. It was okay that I wasn’t where my parents were at my age because those circumstances didn’t exist anymore, and they were beyond my control. It was okay that some people were getting married and making babies and buying houses and I was still here—single and in my pajamas and eating homemade bread by the loaf—because the economy sucked and things would work out in time.
Now, I’m single and in my pajamas and eating bread that I didn’t even bake but instead bought for $4 down the street at the bakery—but hey, for every tenth loaf I buy, I get a free one!
Life was different back then, when we were all just biding time, going from one unpaid internship or pathetically-stipended position to the next. Maybe I just like a little adversity to keep things interesting, but I used to search for jobs on the internet and all searches turned up empty. Now, I see plenty of jobs that I think could make me happy, and I hear this sinister whispering: “So, what are you going to do about it?” and I feel the pressure, now, to give up some of my uncertainty, to “grow up.”
Bread has long been a metaphor for money; the rising cost of this staple is still the rumored reason for the French Revolution. In the case of our Great Recession, we can see that artisanal bread, hand-kneaded by some hipster, is a symbol of our return to excess. It’s interesting to watch something change from necessity to hobby or even just a party-trick as the economic times get a little easier. And just because we can afford a little luxury, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should; your financial goals can and should grow with you as you get older and your income increases. If I still baked my own bread, I could put that extra money toward something more useful, something that would make me feel like I am making a little progress.
Still, all this talk about planning for retirement leaves me longing for a simpler time: a time when I was just a single girl, eating a whole baguette, feeling like my prospects for employment were pretty low. I’m still that girl, only now I’m eating a whole baguette that I didn’t even bake myself.