NOWOn the heels of a long assault on wheat and bread by makers of both industry and culture, the last few months offered a huge return to it, and a subsequent fall out of view. Bread, through a long history of ideology and seizure of the means of production by the powerful, is a commodity as much as it is a living artifact of the human experience. This bread boom and bust is not unexpected when we consider how typical such swings are of commodities and trends (things that can be bought and sold, literally or figuratively) in a capitalist economy, especially when a future is opaque.
But since Spring 2020 we’ve become certain of our uncertainty. The sudden threat or experience of instability that surged in March is now the air we breathe. And a different, more visceral and vital social uprising was brought forth by George Floyd’s death. Bread’s brief heyday as the armor many clutched is over, and we can learn a lot from its transition into and out of such prominence (in American kitchens in particular). Such a dramatic rise in home bread baking throughout the pandemic exposed just how urgent making, distributing, and consuming necessary goods outside of a commodity marketplace is. Our estrangement from these processes had many feeling inadequately prepared to sustain themselves. Whether this concern was actually relieved by baking bread, or just emotionally soothed by it, is a question of its own. But in any case, bread once again, as in so many other eras of crisis, rose up as a symbol of sustenance, comfort and security. Many regional and small-scale farmers, millers and bakers were standing by to provide for this resurgence, and still are. Flour is the commodity that requires humans to produce. It’s a product of labor and technology. It reflects history. A return to bread then logically coincides with a moment when human life feels unprecedentedly precarious. All metaphorical intonations of bread as livelihood, bread as money, as body, bread as life, melted pretty quickly into the real.
I’m sending sourdough starter to anyone interested in the process, and encouraging other bakers to dehydrate and share their own with their communities. Instructions for that, as well as sourdough maintenance, can be found here. Please contact me if you’d like to partake in either of these initiatives. All questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
***Stay safe, and let this time remind you that bread is only a threat when in the hands of few, and power when in the hands of many.