I love baking bread. I enjoy kneading the responsive warm dough. I salivate as the comforting aroma of baking bread rises from the oven. When the timer beeps, I immediately cut a thick, steaming slice for myself.Nothing seems so pure and so satisfying as home baked bread topped with butter and strawberry jam.
However there are days when I don’t want to bake bread. I don’t want to wait hours for it to rise nor do I want to scatter flour over my kitchen floor. On these days I wonder if it is cheaper to make my own bread or simply buy a loaf at the store.
In college, I studied economics where I learned about specialization. If a person is very good a producing something, then he should only produce that thing and trade that thing for all the other things he needs in life. This way, economics claim, we can optimize our productivity. Afterall, Sara Lee bakes more bread faster and cheaper than I can. In order for us both to benefit, I should buy bread from her instead of baking my own. Sara Lee gets my money, and I have more free time to do other things — like play with the baby or write blog posts.
Yet I have also read Wendell Berry. I know that while specialization might be good for my wallet, it might not be good for my soul. My life would be less culturally rich if I had never smelled the sweet scent of baking bread or learned about the actions of yeast. There is intrinsic value in learning to produce one’s own food. You can know the history behind a meal — how each grain of wheat has been handled and how the yeast operates on the sugars to produce a rise. All of this contributes to my appreciation of the food before me.
Yet still I wonder, does baking bread or making granola or culturing yogurt make economic sense as well as spiritual sense?
I’m going to explore this question in this series of posts. I will calculate the cost of the ingredients used to make foods at home that could be purchased and then consider what economists called opportunity cost — Is the outcome worth the effort involved or could my time be better spent elsewhere? I also want to note whether the resulting product improves on the commercial variety in flavor and health.