My finals as a first-year college student were as expected: drawn-out, emotionally taxing and physically demanding. Taping my eyelids open in the library on late nights completely altered my circadian rhythm so that my sleep patterns began to resemble that of the nocturnal ocelot.
After a nine-hour, overnight bus ride home for the holidays, I self-prescribed a remedy of oversized sweaters, ginger tea and Netflix shows — specifically, my well-known obsession “The Great British Baking Show.”
The show is a competition where a diverse group of bakers from all corners of the British Commonwealth display their culinary finesse under a white marquee in the picturesque countryside. It is hosted by a duo of female comedians, judged by a pair of professional bakers and adored by fans of all ages.
It seems almost cliche — an overwhelmed young adult turns to Netflix to numb her senses. Yet my parents, my neighbors and millions of others all find the show uniquely calming. What makes comparing attempts at Spanish windtorte such a balm for the soul? What have we lost that watching amateur bakers sweat over shortcrust pastry can help us reclaim?
Kindness. Or just a bit of human decency.
The bakers assist each other when they drop pans of dough or offer words of encouragement when biscuits are burnt. No one surreptitiously slips butter into someone’s egg whites or tugs a cameraman into a corner to disparage another baker. “The Great British Baking Show” is a competition, but prize money is not at stake. Nor is self-esteem or generosity of heart.
Like so many other young people my age, I feel constricted by daily pressures — the pressure to excel socially, impress academically and succeed professionally. I believe that this pressure causes us to ravenously crave kindness. We want to savor another’s tenderness or drink in a moment of peace. We yearn for an atmosphere where it is all right not to receive an interview for every internship or beat the curve on each test.
Sometimes we feel as if everything is at risk. Our relationships, jobs and GPAs. The national debt, the global economy and our changing climate. One wrong move could spoil everything. This pressure can be so strangling, tempting us to act against our better nature or tear down a peer.
The example set by the competitors on “The Great British Baking Show” demonstrates that one can temper this bitterness and survive the heat without imbibing the bitterness like burned almonds.
There’s no denying that the show is a competition for which the contestants work incredibly hard for weeks. Healthy competition that creates constructive friction is how innovation occurs, and few would wish for a sugary sweet yet anemic society. But it is important to be aware of how this competitive nature can become destructive.
A television show might not change the world, but appreciating kindness in others is the first step to cultivating it within ourselves. Watching “The Great British Baking Show” may not make us all incredible bakers, but it can remind us that some material things are not worth sacrificing our humanity.
A pie can be underbaked. It can be bone dry. The baker can swap the sugar and the salt, causing a judge to spit it out, but a dessert does not rob her of her integrity, only a little flour.
Pie can just be pie.
Claire Zalla | firstname.lastname@example.org