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‘Flour Shaming’ is the latest lockdown trend

As the UK experiences widespread flour shortages with more people taking up baking to pass the time in quarantine, social media has become a hotbed of arguments over who is most deserving of the staple kitchen ingredient.

Several weeks into lockdown and the days have become indistinguishable. Every morning you wake and reach for the only thing providing you with some form of connection to the outside world — your phone. Eyes only half open, you instinctively begin to scroll through your various accounts and, amidst the isolation memes, increasingly incoherent posts from friends and family, and the frenzied news stories you actively try to ignore, you notice a recurring theme.

Whole, sourdough loaves wrapped in tea towels looking as mouthwatering as something straight out of Bake Off. Banana bread oozing with perhaps one too many chocolate chips, posed artistically on a wooden board. Scones, muffins, cupcakes — you name it. Everyone and their mother seems to have taken up baking, but why?

With the world stuck indoors, we’ve a great deal more time to kill than we’re used to. It’s unsurprising, then, that new hobbies would be forming. Especially hobbies that somewhat fill the void left by our favourite bakeries (*cough* Greggs *cough*) which have sadly been forced to close their doors to the public until further notice. And, with every journey to the shops an increasing risk, it also makes sense that people would be wanting to avoid unnecessary trips in favour of a little culinary exploration.

However, as practical and wholesome as this is, with baking being the ‘thing to do’ during quarantine, supermarket aisles across the UK have been emptied and the scarcity of flour in particular — alongside an already heightened national anxiety — has lead to a new phenomenon: flour shaming.

Paired with an ever-rising demand for more, the continuous lack of the powdery white gold on store shelves is bizarrely leading to some serious upset. So much so that, with the country confined to their homes, those unsuccessful at getting their hands on the stuff have no choice but to take their concerns online.   

Facebook flour shortage screenshot

Specifically on the Mumsnet forum and Facebook, angry groups have begun to viciously express their outrage towards the flour shortage, starting a bitter war of words about who is most deserving of the staple kitchen ingredient.

Hotbeds for abuse, these internet sites are being flooded with posts from seasoned bakers targeting the so-called ‘sourdough brigade’ (new bakers) and parents who simply wanted to entertain their children with some homemade Play-Doh.

‘F***ing crafts,’ said regular baker and mother of two, Jen to Vice. ‘That could obviously be used to make bread and you can still buy Play-Doh on Amazon, but you can’t get flour for love or money. It’s hugely wasteful and irresponsible. If it was already in their cupboards, fine, but actually going out and buying something that’s in shortage to make Play-Doh is tomfoolery!’

Then there are the novices, the younger generations who’ve decided to learn a new skill to keep themselves sane and ‘stop themselves from crying in Sainsbury’s,’ (said one user to an Instagram cooking group). Understandably defensive about their ‘flour rights,’ with tensions high, violently kneading a giant lump of dough is proving to be a great stress-reliever and source of distraction during these trying times.

‘If people want to take up baking, let them,’ said owner of a celebrity management and PR agency, Mayah Riaz to Vice. ‘I understand the uproar with a shortage of toilet paper, but why aren’t the ‘old school’ bakers having the same reaction to pasta shortages? Everything is in short supply and at the moment and who cares? It’s keeping people busy and happy, surely that’s what matters most during a crisis.’

Mumsnet flour shortage screenshot

What’s strange, however, is that there isn’t actually a flour shortage in the UK whatsoever. 

The UK is in fact very self-sufficient when it comes to producing the ingredient, with 51 mills currently up and running around the country (this is according to the National Association of British and Irish Flour Millers which I didn’t know was a thing either). The problem unfortunately lies therefore in that the commercial chain — where the majority of flour output tends to go — has either shutdown completely, or is incredibly restricted right now.

Basically, with the unexpected events that have transpired since the beginning of this year, millers are struggling to reroute their products into supermarkets and bakeries, the shelves of which remain empty as the supply chain endeavours to keep up. And, although other frequently panic-bought items like pasta, toilet roll, and hand sanitiser have been relatively quick to return to the shelves, the absence of self-raising, rye, and strong white due to these complications is only truly problematic for some people: those with dietary restrictions. 

While regular flour depletion persists, people have been heading over to the ‘Free From’ sections of their local grocery stores and, at the expense of those who depend on it, filling their trollies with as much gluten-free flour as they can.

‘For those of us with dietary restrictions, we can’t just order a takeaway or make use of whatever we can find in the supermarket,’ said nutritional therapist, Jenna Farmer to Vice. ‘So many people in the gluten-free community can’t get hold of the basics, like gluten-free pasta and flour, since it’s been snapped up by those who don’t need it.’

Regardless, what it all really comes down to — the shaming, the arguing, the name-calling, the  outrage — is boredom. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not really about who’s made the perfect pastry is it? It seems rather unlikely that in any other circumstance people would care so much about a flour shortage because in a ‘normal’ reality we’d be too busy doing other things. What it is, is that everyone is getting progressively more fed up having run out of Netflix series to binge or new places to discover on the one government sanctioned walk of the day so they’re channeling this frustration into online hate.

‘At the moment, many people are bored and have little to do,’ says web psychologist Graham Jones. ‘So spending time on social networks and forums moaning about any trivial thing gives them a sense they are doing something and contributing and being helpful to others. It’s a psychological manifestation of the national mood in a time of crisis.’

Boredom isn’t all bad, it can lead to surprisingly amazing things. People are making their own food a lot more, they’re coming to the realisation that perhaps they don’t need to rely on Deliveroo quite so much, they’re saving a lot in the process, and, most importantly, they’re becoming a lot more appreciative of the hard work associated with the complexities of baking.

‘Before coronavirus, selling a cake was like pulling teeth,’ said professional patissier Hannah Halliday to Vice. ‘People take us for granted. They see that they can buy a cake from a supermarket for £10 and expect handmade/artisan bakes to be as cheap. It’s always really mentally destroying for someone to say your art form and work isn’t worth that much.’

But, at the end of the day, no amount of ‘flour shaming’ is ever going to deter British citizens from making apple pie or a beautiful crusty loaf to be served with fresh raspberry jam. So, with that being said, why not instead reflect on just how lucky we are to even be worried about these things and avoid stockpiling where it isn’t essential? Oh, and although baking is lovely, do you genuinely need flour that desperately to merit swearing at a teenager on Facebook? Maybe not eh?