Rio Constantino

In all the annals of human creativity, one of the most wondrous, awesome, and unappreciated inventions must be the use of yeast to leaven bread. Yeast lends to a baker the power of creation. With the help of these unicellular fungi, a single lump of dough, in the space of a few hours, will grow and grow until it becomes a fluffy mound double, maybe even triple, its original size, and seemingly out of thin air.

What mad genius could think of such technique? Likely one rooted in a deep understanding of home. The inventor of leavened bread probably knew intimately what was in their kitchen, knowing both the food in the shelves and the stuff which grew on them. Perhaps one day they left some dough near a batch of fermenting beer, some wild yeast jumped ship, and the dough started to bubble and expand. Instead of throwing away the funky smelling mixture, maybe they were possessed by a wild patience and let it grow, eventually throwing the nascent starter into the oven. The result: delicious.

All this is speculation borne of a newly discovered fondness for baking. With the restrictions of quarantine, it’s no wonder home care has become so popular. I have seen friends delve not just into baking, but also sewing, knitting, cooking, gardening. There is contentment in watering a plant every day, occasionally feeding it with coffee grounds and eggshells, until it glows green in the sunlight.

However, the same domestic setting can also be oppressive for others. Last 2017, Oxfam Philippines released the results of their Household Care Survey. The survey found that women, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, in Eastern Visayas and Mindanao on average spend 4.5-6.5 hours of their daily life on household chores – three or six times longer than that spent by men. Women also spend more of their time, compared to men, caring for the sick, children, and elderly. If the same survey were done now, during a pandemic, when most people are forced to stay at home or risk disease, how would the numbers change?

The pandemic has led people to find comfort in their homes, in cooking, baking, cleaning, and such. It also threatens to exacerbate inequalities which revolve around the wrongful stereotype that a woman’s only place in home is the kitchen. Beating the virus needs more than just a vaccine. It also requires upending the cultural and economic system that renders women, particularly impoverished women, more vulnerable to the pandemic and its consequences, while also dismissing the dignity and importance of care work in society.

In the end, care work is a human activity. It’s a joy to grow and make, to care and create for others. Though there’s still a long way to go, it’s a signal of feminist success that more and more men are increasingly participants in spaces that society would have considered emasculating a few decades ago, including the realm of baking at home. An entry on bakeries from the Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia states:

“Archaeologists have investigated bakery installations dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. These sites can yield a wealth of information about the communities they served. Evidence about diet, baking methods, available ingredients, socioeconomic conditions, class structure, and the social relations of production can be found scattered around the remains of an oven.”

Years into the future, as historians dig up the restaurants, delivery rooms, and home kitchens from the time of COVID-19, what kind of evidence will we leave for them to see?