Baking queries are popping up all over Google, which reported that a top trending search was “how to make banana bread.”
As millions of people across the United States are ordered to stay at home and shelter in place, many have found they have a surplus of free time on their hands that was once filled with commuting, socializing and generally being somewhere other than their house or apartment. So what to do? Of course there is enough content on online streaming and gaming services to keep us enthralled for many lifetimes, but a lot of people are trying to make the best of the hand they’ve been dealt by using the time to learn a new skill, create something, or better themselves.
The activities we are filling our time with while confined to our homes show just how monumentally global our influences, choices and opportunities really are. While restricted to our small slices of the world we have the opportunity to cook food using ingredients and make things with materials that have traveled huge distances. And we can learn the skills and practices that are part of cultures thousands of miles removed from our own, all thanks to trade – both historical and present.
Whipping up delicious baked goods is comforting and rewarding. Little is more satisfying than making your own bread from scratch – it’s the nearest most of us will come to alchemy, and it’s utterly delicious. In fact, so many Americans are turning to this source of comfort that flour and yeast are running low and producers are fighting to keep up with demand.
Bread isn’t the only option available for home chefs. Trade provides a gateway to international culinary influences, allowing us to import the knowledge of grandmothers the world over. A few simple ingredients such as flour, yeast, fat and sugar (but beware the tariffs!) are all you need to make authentic Italian pasta, fluffy Chinese steamed buns or mouthwatering Colombian arepas. A quick Internet search will help you find family recipes to master yourself.
If you fancy something a little sweeter, how about a plate of fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies – what could be more American? With cocoa beans imported from West Africa and vanilla pods from Mexico and Madagascar, you can again credit international trade with bringing you the ingredients to craft culinary magic. And for classic banana bread, your bananas are probably from Ecuador, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Colombia or Guatemala, and their complex trade story goes much further.
Knitting Together Cultures
Time at home has also reignited interest in creative outlets like painting, writing and crafting. Knitting, crochet and embroidery are some of the most popular activities we’ve been picking up to keep our hands busy, serving both as something to do and a great way to help calm anxious minds. Although only to be used when there is no other option, generous crafters in some communities are helping out by sewing homemade masks, reminiscent of the wartime “knit your bit” movement to get socks and warm clothing to front-line troops.
If you’re looking to knit up something cozy during isolation, wool from the animals of the world has you covered. The alpacas and vicunas of the Andean Highlands of Peru are a valued source of soft and squishy wool, and in South Africa Angora goats (originally from Turkey) are farmed and shorn for Mohair. And of course, humble sheep the world over offer up their coats. The many different breeds from places such as the Falklands, Spain, Australia, or the UK produce a huge variety of wool for our handmade sweaters, hats and scarfs.
Thanks to trade and innovation, numerous plant-based yarns are also available, beyond the obvious cotton. Great for crafting light and airy creations, they include materials such as raffia made from the fibers of raffia palms native to tropical Africa and Madagascar. You could also pick up yarn made from wonder-plant hemp, whose top producers include China and Canada, or yarn made from Australian eucalyptus, sustainably and ethically sourced.
Staying Healthy Inside
The closures of gyms and fitness studios and the stresses of staying cooped up mean people are trying to find ways to stay fit and healthy while they isolate, including exercising at home and experimenting with healthy foods.
Though you can no longer take a spin class or use the elliptical at your local gym, workouts that can be done at home have seen a surge in popularity, and many group fitness classes are trying to transition to providing virtual content. Many of these fitness classes and practices originally came to the United States from abroad.
Yoga mats have seen a spike in popularity on Amazon as people turn to the ancient Indian discipline to find their inner peace amidst the turmoil. One in three Americans have tried yoga at some point, and that statistic seems likely to increase even further. Perennial favorite Pilates is another way people are trying to stay healthy. It is now practiced worldwide but was originally brought to North America by German immigrant Joseph Pilates.
Another way to combat the negative effects of social distancing and lack of variety is to seek out healthy foods to consume, like superfood products that claim to boost immunity or calm anxiety.
Thanks to international trade we now have access to all kinds of foods that can help us fuel and feel better. One of these is Japanese Matcha, a green tea powder made from tea primarily grown in two regions in Japan that has been a prominent part of culture there for centuries. Purported benefits include boosting brain function and helping to protect the liver and heart health. Once almost solely enjoyed in Japan, it is now available across the United States, and even at Starbucks and Dunkin’. Another popular superfood is turmeric, U.S. imports of which have surged in recent years from $2.5 million to $35 million between 2001 and 2017. It has been enjoyed in India for over 4,500 years for its ability to fend off illness but now it’s available in any grocery store to add to a home-cooked curry or to use in a turmeric latte.
International Trade Helping Our Domestic Lives
Having to distance yourself from friends and loved ones and stop doing activities you enjoy is undoubtedly tough. However, we can be thankful for – and find pleasure in – what we can still do, thanks to international trade and a globalized world.
Alice Calder received her MA in Applied Economics at GMU. Originally from the UK, where she received her BA in Philosophy and Political Economy from the University of Exeter, living and working internationally sparked her interest in trade issues as well as the intersection of economics and culture.