Making bread as an act of revolution

The act of breadmaking connects us to our ecological roots.

BREAD IS BIG BUSINESS, but whether it is any good for us, we can no longer be sure. One thing is certain: a loaf of bead contains more pollution than nutrition, more profit than nourishment and more chemicals than taste.

Gone are the days when we had the time to bake our own bread, when the fresh smell of wholesome bread filled the kitchen, when every loaf of bread was different and when making bread was a creative and aesthetic experience.

Also gone are the days when we could walk to our local bakery and enjoy the sensual pleasure of seeing and smelling the freshly baked bread arranged on the wooden shelves, to chat with the baker and others from our neighbourhood. Those were the days when the bakery was the centre of the local community. Now only 4% of bread is baked in small, neighbourhood bakeries. 86% of bread is mass-produced in factory conditions.

Bread diversity was a symbol of cultural diversity. Regional varieties represented grain diversity as well as diversity of style. Now, wherever you are, you buy the same kind of bread under a limited number of brand names like ‘Mother’s Pride’ – but no mother would ever be proud of that ghastly stuff. Where is our mother and where is her pride? We not only have corruption of our food, we also have corruption of our language.

Thirteen big manufacturers control the bread market of over £3 billion a year. They sell nearly ten million loaves every day, involving neither ‘mother’ nor any ‘pride’. Our nation as a whole should be ashamed of such bread – not proud! Perhaps Mother’s Pride should be renamed Mother’s Shame? We should be ashamed because the quality of bread has dramatically deteriorated over the years. Our bread is stale and sterile. It is so devoid of any life that bread manufacturers have to inject vitamins and minerals artificially into the bread they sell. Yet, with massive advertising, people have been fooled into eating what is a national disgrace.

I am constantly surprised that a Christian society should tolerate such desacralization and degradation of bread, which was considered so sacred that Christians celebrated Holy Communion with it. Now, since there is no real bread around, the ceremony is wafer-thin.

Lorries full of factory bread rush up and down the country on our motorways, polluting the air so that they can provide the nation with cheap bread. But no intelligent mind would see this kind of bread as cheap. The price we pay in terms of environment and health is very high. The loaf on our table has travelled hundreds of ‘bread miles’.

If we eat good, wholesome, fresh bread, baked locally or at home, the cancer rate will decrease; the rate of heart disease will fall. The nation will not have to be taxed so highly to pay the huge amounts of money for medicines and hospitals. There will be less depression and more joy in life. Less congestion on our roads and cleaner air to breathe. Good bread is an essential health measure. The nbs (National Bread Service) will make the nhs (National Health Service) more successful.

By paying attention to good bread we can combat companies which produce genetically engineered wheat, multinationals which patent seeds, and we can support small-scale, local and organic methods of wheat production as opposed to the monoculture of the us and Canadian prairies.HOW CAN WE LAUNCH such a bread revolution? Perhaps we could have a Campaign for Real Bread, like the Campaign for Real Ale? We need to organize a boycott of factory bread. How about a car sticker: ‘Bring Back the Local Bakery’?

Our schools will be a good place to start. Good education cannot be provided on bad bread. Let every school teach children the art and science of baking. Let the school lunch be based on good bread. Baking bread is not a waste of time; it is the foundation of good education. Let learning be led by bread.

Secondly, every environmentalist needs to make time to bake bread. Mahatma Gandhi in India made spinning an act of defiance against oppressive colonialism. The spinning wheel became the symbol of the independence movement. Similarly, good bread should become the symbol of environmentalism. There should be no white bread sandwiches in the offices of Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.

Bread made with stone-ground, organic flour should be easily available from the village bakery. White flour which is bleached with chlorine dioxide is toxic. This fact should be made known to the general public. White bread is the bitter bread of sorrow.

Once, E. F. Schumacher was invited to a prestigious dinner party. The hosts served him ultra-white bread. Any sign of a crust was neatly removed. Next to the bread was a white serviette. There seemed hardly a difference between the bread and the serviette. To make the point, Schumacher started to put butter on the serviette. The embarrassed host pointed out the actual bread to Schumacher. He appeared surprised and said that when we are unable to differentiate between the bread and the serviette, we have lost something precious.

We need to begin with good bread if we wish to restore the physical as well as the mental health of the nation. When we are mindful of the quality of bread, we will be mindful of the quality of food. When we are mindful of the quality of food, we will be mindful of the quality of life in general.

The quality of bread is too important to be left to the bread factories and bread manufacturers – their prime motive is to make profit, rather than provide bread for health. Baking your own bread and bread baked at the local small bakery are the only two options which can free us from the monopolistic stranglehold of big bread business. The first step towards the autonomy of the individual and of the local community is to take back our basic right of access to good bread. A healthy loaf is everybody’s birthright.

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