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Can the bread making process be entirely restorative?

What does bread mean to us in the UK today?

Bread and Wheat are intrinsically linked. Wheat is inedible until its either processed into bread or sprouted, and bread has only three essential ingredients; flour, of which wheat is the most commonly used ingredient, water and salt.

The industry surrounding bread in the UK – which is Europe’s 3rd largest producer – is industrialised and beyond the farm gate very concentrated. Almost all the 28k farmers growing wheat in the UK are intensive.

Baking bread is a £3 billion industry. 80% is produced in bread factories, with a further 17% baked in in-store bakeries. Just 3% is traditional baked. This represents the classic dichotomy of industrial v’s hand made, beauty v’s ugliness. The UK is so far behind the rest of Europe in craft bakeries three compared to 90 in Italy Sharpe et al, (2013) the next worst is Netherlands at 21. I would refute these figures of 2006, as I have contacted at least 30. There is no definition of craft bakery given. I would describe them as any person or persons who make bread by hand, have a slow ferment and distribute locally.

Although sales of organic bread rose 21% between 1998 to 2003 to £75 million, in the UK we still love buy our bread through chain retailers, yet another monoculture industrial system. More than 76% of bread sold in the UK is white (28% of it pre-sliced) Sharpe et al, (2013) This is despite consumers expressing worry over the nutritional content Sharpe et al, (2013) maybe its that classic research bias of saying one thing, more virtuous than the thing you are actually doing, just because someone is asking you.

In Britain today 80% of the bread we consume is made with the Chorleywood process. Back in 1960’s our national loaf was transformed, out went the social, slow, rich in texture bread of our grandparents. Replaced by a quick, economic, cold, and fully mechanised loaf that we buy today. It appeals to all the lowest common denominators of taste – this is a metaphor for the way western capitalism has sucked up our time and delivered us an insipid life. It is white and light and stays soft for days and is cheap. For increasing numbers of people, however, it is also inedible, Whitely, A (2011) UK farmers currently apply 250–300 kg N ha−1 in order to achieve the 13% protein content required for the Chorleywood Bread making Process

Sharpe et al, (2013) raise a point that is a constant resonating thought, can bread have terrior? Just like wine? Why not, they are both fermented products, as long as we don’t use industrial processes or man maid yeasts. In their report they say that people don’t care about where the wheat that made their bread comes from, they see bread as a commodity. They want consistency. I hear this constantly when we talk to farmers and consumers alike. I am not sure where this consistent, commoditized, everything at all times attitude has come from, well at least I find it hard to separate; chemical company, corporate retailer, consumer.  There is hope in the report from one piece of market research:

“However, there was some sense that this might change, in the light of a perceived growth of interest in provenance and local sourcing, presenting an opportunity for farmers to add value to their product: Every farmer in the UK is within 50 miles of consumers and can store almost his total production on farm. This gives UK farmers a great opportunity to differentiate themselves to customers (Merchant)” Sharpe et al, (2013)

There is no doubt that the nutritional value, adaptability and high yields of wheat have contributed to its success, but these alone are not sufficient to account for its current dominance over much of the temperate world. The key characteristic which has given it an advantage over other temperate crops is the unique properties of doughs formed from wheat flours, which allow it to be processed into a range of breads and other baked products (including cakes and biscuits), pasta and noodles, and other processed foods. These properties depend on the structures and interactions of the grain storage proteins, which together form the ‘gluten’ protein fraction.

Bread making; growing wheat, harvesting, processing into flour, adding water to it, fermenting this mixture, leaving it to develop (giving it time), stretching and working the mixture a little, adding salt, giving a little more time to it, working it a little more, heating the oven – to an inadequate temperature if you have a conventional oven – maybe a little more working and then cutting, putting the mix in the oven, spraying a little water (to aid the crust formation) and then letting the yeast or cultures, flour, salt, and water, do its thing. This is bread making to me. This takes time, emotion, and intuition; it flies in the face of quantity, competition, and domination, assertive tendencies that Fritjof Capra assimilates with masculine power in modern society. It kicks flour in the face of the Chorelywood process ‘bread maker’.

Up to now we have looked at the physical a spiritual importance of both bread and flour, I think you’ll agree they both represent, in the current food system, essential elements. The next three sections; breeding of plants and wheat, agriculture in the UK, and food security, deal with the some of the thoughts around why monocultures have been allowed to dominate in the wheat growing industry.

The field of wheat in Devon

Planted 21st April 2014

Can bread making be entirely restorative – part II

For those that read the first part and left your mark I thank you. I hope you find the next few posts, as I unravel my ideas, interesting.

 

Introduction: The question I must answer

 

I am hoping to start something rare in the UK: a bakery that grows its own wheat, wheat that is unique and takes NO inputs to grow. In fact the whole process should be restorative, for the soil, the soul and society (a term I have borrowed from Satish Kumar). 

Can wheat be grown under a low-input system in Devon, and be of bread making quality?

Can the bread making process be entirely restorative?

This question involves enquiries around; growing grain, harvesting, processing, and marketing, of bread or pasta. The enquiry is entwined in questions of ecology, community, networks and systems.

Ensconced in the bread and sustainability question are several other questions that weave into the overall narrative and make broader sense of it. They are listed below.

  • This enquiry is important for my own ecosophy as growing a staple food is a crucial part of being sustainable. If I ask myself why again and again I discover that I am growing wheat as part of my personal sustained system
  • Is it possible for a person with no agriculture experience to grow wheat and make bread from that wheat within one year? 
  • How do you make a business out of making bread? In a world of exploitation, industry and civilisations how can bread making make a difference? 
  • I see the key battle between craft and big business driving the narrative, but the heart of the thesis is to dissect the meaning of the business in a world driven by economics 
  • I want to know the answer to this question as its important for me for my family to be as sustainable as possible, with little as few outside inputs as possible. A staple food is integral in this. In a world where traditional agriculture inputs are running out/ low, individuals need to think about how they can tread lightly on the planet
  • Is the process of modern bread making a metaphor for modern society?
  • So as you have already discovered this enquiry is part practical and part philosophical. Part physical, ecological, and part ecospohy and intuitive, but all linked through the systems of community and network.

    The physical side expresses itself like this: I am growing ½ acre of wheat mainly, with some perennial rye, bere barley, and some oats, in a lovely slopping field above a small market garden business in south Devon. I also have 11 trail plots of wheat populations and pure line varieties, also in Devon. I have 15 trial plots of wheat populations and pure line varieties in Oxfordshire on John Letts’s farm, along with a strip of mixed grain Emmer wheat and access to Johns Letts 12 acres of population should I need it.

    As Joel Salatin says in ‘can you farm’ there is plenty of opportunity to get into farming and it doesn’t have to be full of drudgery. Somewhere in me is the belief that the process of growing wheat can be enjoyable, I’d like to see if, on a small field scale, this is true. Even in the worst case of long hours, dirty heavy work, it would be better than what I used to do; toiling through endless streams of emails, dealing with moody stressed people, traveling for hours through dark tunnels, to spend ten hours a day slumped over a desk, bending my back and neck and straining my eyes to see a screen with information on it that had no connection to me, to the land, or to the health of the planet. This is why it has to be worth, with the right philosophy, at least trying for a couple of years.

    Before I start into the project I would like to set out the history of wheat and to underpin this with its social and religious importance and nutritional properties, albeit briefly. Prior to that it is important to set out my philosophy through the understanding of systems thinking, networks, and communities informed by the writings of Frotjof Capra. 

    The structures that bread making is part of

    The systems we have adopted are mechanistic, mathematical, and anthropocentric. They give reward to rational, analytical, reductionist and masculine traits and depress the deep ecological, feminine, intuitive processes and traits some of us posses Capra, F (1996). Is this true of bread making and does bread making (the whole process) in the UK epitomise this disturbing segregation? 

    As is the case more often than not, as Patricia Shaw points out, conversations away from the formality of ‘the process’ often yield more than those deep inside the process. So it was no surprise to have revelations over dinner whilst chatting to my wife about the meal she had just cooked. We both eulogised about how food is important and that it is the crux of life. “How can people eat to be full” she said and I had to agree with the sentiment; that eating to fill a part of your body and to reduce this act to a very unimaginative, scientific, reductionist, course is missing the point of food; growing, eating, tasting, socialising, rejoicing. I am sure Fritjof Capra would say that we need to see the food system as a complex one, not in isolation but connected intrinsically to the social, economic and ecological ones. In this way we need to treat the growing of wheat and the making of bread as wrapped (no pun intended) in social, religious, political and ecological significance and to understand how these interrelationships have developed and why.

    Fritjof also says that there is an inherent discrimination in many of the systems we see around us now. They are sexiest and imbued with male characteristics; linear, analytical, rational and reductionist. When reading this I couldn’t help my mind from wandering onto the subjects of modern agriculture and bread making.

    When undertaking projects I think of this: If we do anything in life we should make certain it is not only functional, fit for purpose, but should also have beauty – inspired by William Morris and Charles Eisenstein. 

     

Can the bread making process be entirely restorative?

The structures that bread making is part of

The systems we have adopted are mechanistic, mathematical, and anthropocentric. They give reward to rational, analytical, reductionist and masculine traits and depress the deep ecological, feminine, intuitive processes and traits some of us posses Capra, F (1996). Is this true of bread making and does bread making (the whole process) in the UK epitomise this disturbing segregation? 

As is the case more often than not, as Patricia Shaw points out, conversations away from the formality of ‘the process’ often yield more than those deep inside the process. So it was no surprise to have revelations over dinner whilst chatting to my wife about the meal she had just cooked. We both eulogised about how food is important and that it is the crux of life. “How can people eat to be full” she said and I had to agree with the sentiment; that eating to fill a part of your body and to reduce this act to a very unimaginative, scientific, reductionist, course is missing the point of food; growing, eating, tasting, socialising, rejoicing. I am sure Fritjof Capra would say that we need to see the food system as a complex one, not in isolation but connected intrinsically to the social, economic and ecological ones. In this way we need to treat the growing of wheat and the making of bread as wrapped (no pun intended) in social, religious, political and ecological significance and to understand how these interrelationships have developed and why.

Fritjof also says that there is an inherent discrimination in many of the systems we see around us now. They are sexiest and imbued with male characteristics; linear, analytical, rational and reductionist. When reading this I couldn’t help my mind from wandering onto the subjects of modern agriculture and bread making.

If we do anything in life we should make certain it is not only functional – fit for purpose – but should also have beauty. 

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