On Sourdough, Attachment Theory and Existential Dread
How are you? A friend texted this morning.
Can’t shake the low lying existential dread in the back of my mind, but able to make GF sourdough crepes despite it. I reply
I’d made the batter up the night before, so the batter could bubble, expand and take on that irresistible sour flavor over night. This morning, as the dull awareness of yet another day in social isolation broke over me, the thought of it sitting there on my counter, buoyed me.
I ladled it on to a hot pan, watching as the bubbles formed lacy edges to the crepes, evoking memories of my childhood, Sunday morning crepes, while my father played the classical radio station and no one was in a rush to go anywhere. It’s not Sunday, maybe it’s Tuesday?
Sourdough mania seems to be one of the more delightful outcomes of this pandemic. Like the TP shortages, this one doesn’t make any rational sense. There is nothing about sourdough that would seem to relate to a global pandemic.
Why then are we all turning to this simple practice?
Maybe it was originally inspired by a shortage in bread yeast, but I think it goes deeper than that. Is it that we remember and take comfort from one of our oldest ancestors? The humble lactobacillus?
Long long ago, our single celled ancestors formed an alliance with bacteria that made multi-cellular organization possible. Made us possible. Some biologist believe that the origin of our mitochondria was bacterial in nature. Biologist estimate that of all the cells in a human body, at least half, and maybe 2/3rds of them belong to bacteria.
Before they knew what cells were, our human ancestors were fermenting bread doughs, vegetables, meat and anything else they could get their hands on. I’m sure it wasn’t lost on them that food kept longer when it was intentionally fermented. Did they also realize it make the nutrients more bio-available?
It is possible that our current obsession with sourdough is ancestor. But it is also something deeper.
In attachment theory we talk about shared rhythm as being one of the foundations for co-regulation. Rhythm is a basic signal to our nervous system that all is well. Threat has no rhythm, no predictability, it is chaos.
In rhythm we re-establish safety. We see this in the many singing and dancing traditions that accompany religion and celebration, but we also see it in smaller ways: games, meals, greetings, walks.
My daily feeding and checking the sourdough has become such a rhythm, and I find I’m relying on it more than usual right now.
Attachment theory places emphasis on human-to-human co-regulation, but many, myself included, have been calling to broaden that discussion. We co-regulate with the more-than-human-world all the time. A call and response to the universe that tells us all is well. This is one of the foundations of animism.
These macro-rhythms exist in the seasonal rituals of planting and harvesting, honoring the waxing and waning of the moon, but also in daily micro-rhythms.
I boil the water, pour it over my tea, wait, the tea responds by saturating that water with tannins, caffeine, theobromine and a myriad of other small chemical miracles that scientists are still only discovering.
I weigh and measure the flour and water, mix it into my sourdough, and the culture responds by consuming it and producing carbon dioxide, lactic acid and a myriad of other small chemical miracles that scientists are still only discovering.
Rhythm can be a form of prayer, if you want to think of it that way. “Brew” I whisper to my tea, “Eat, grow” I whisper to my sourdough. “Eat, be well” I whisper to my family. A call and response with the universe that tells you all is well.
Or even if all is not completely well, can we still make the sourdough in spite of it?