The power of bread

Words by Bee Farrell

The power of bread as a tool to bring us together is well rooted in the word companionship - in ancient Latin cum pane which literally translates as “with bread”.


The trade routes, climate and terrain of Europe determine that cereal grains are the basis of every western loaf. These grains are indigestible in their un-milled state, hard to digest if unfermented or unrolled and unpalatable when raw. Many hands were therefore needed to produce bread: from the farmers’ to the millers’, to the brewers’ or the vintners’ - and the hands of the bakers working to supply the local community. A togetherness was inevitable in the making of bread from soil to slice.

But, does modern bread still hold the power to bring people together? A daily wait in a chatty boulangerie queue in a French market town feels like bread is still a central part of French traditions and rituals. Yet is it an idealised model challenged in France today as daily routines change? Since the middle of the twentieth-century, this feeling of boulangerie togetherness all but disappeared in many countries - though predominantly from Britain and America - with the advent of mechanised bread production.

Luckily there are promising signs to replace the push button bakers with craft or artisan bakers and charities such as the Real Bread Campaign to support them. Most craft or artisan bakeries are “communities of practice” as the bakers transfer skills and knowledge through sensory engagement, observation of others at work, creativity and esprit de corps.

The ambiance of working in these bakeries, such as e5 Bakehouse [London, England] is one of togetherness with the ingredients, the fellow workers and the customers, the commensality enhanced by the therapeutic total absorption and rhythm of making. The humanising tool of bread making has moved into social enterprise work as it has the restorative power to challenge isolation. These bakeries might work with ex-criminal offenders or women who have suffered domestic abuse or long-term unemployed or low-income families. Examples of such enterprises are the Luminary Bakery [London, England] or the Freedom Bakery [Glasgow, Scotland].

Now small-scale bakeries and social enterprise bakeries are adding a new application for bread as a tool for bringing us together to complement the traditional bakeries who continued to work alongside the industrial bread manufacturers. They provide thousands of people from health-conscious customers who demand bread fermented naturally to those who revere the craft of the hand-made, with companionship, “with bread”.


All images © Arnhel de Serra - courtesy Bee Farrell

Published: 18 Oct. 2017

#Newcomers #Food #FoodRevolution #Bread #MoreBakersLessBankers



About the author
Bee Farrell studied a masters’ degree programme in the Anthropology of Food to consolidate and develop many years working with schools, seniors and communities on funded food and heritage projects. Member of the British Guild of Food Writers, she is now based in south-west France and focuses on her writing and curating food, health and education projects that develop a greater sustainable food future. To learn more about Bee's activities visit Antropologists of Eating, Anciens, Breadear.

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