Recently I was asked to talk about bread and baking to a group of Transition Town activists here in the UK. It got me thinking about the importance of bread in creating and shaping society and community. I had much to say, the difficulty was in what to leave out. I came up with the title, “Bread as a Ferment for Social Change.” I believe Jesus would have known exactly what it meant. Just as Jesus threw the money lenders out of the temple he would probably through modern bread out too. With “Occupy” demonstrations springing up all over the world in response to the crisis in global capitalism/materialism I feel that the simple act of companionship needs consideration.
For over seven thousand years bread has been the staff of life in Europe and the Near East, the staple food of our ancestors. The domestication of grain in the fertile crescent heralded the transformation from nomadic to semi –urban pastoralist society. When disparate groups came together to form small villages, then large towns (the first of which is widely agreed to be Chatal Hayuk in Turkey), the new communities needed organizing. Farming was easy and agricultural laboring was the natural way to be. On the societal and ceremonial level the new urban rulers needed to create larger and larger communal forms of worship in order to keep control.
This is when I believe our ancestors expanded and developed the ancient forms of fertility/Goddess worship practiced throughout the ancient world. Instead of honoring and sacrificing to a pagan God/Goddess they came up with ceremony and ritual based on grain and bread.
So it is only a small leap -- five thousand years or so -- to Jesus’s brand of bread worship. In the West we have largely accepted the modern Christian idea of ceremonially honoring bread through partaking of the “blessed” sacramental host. In the Near East both Islam and Judaism also have deep respect for grain and bread. In my view grain built community, and bread ordered it. Hence bread has become deeply embreaded (sic) in our psyche and symbology. Bread, dough, and crust are “seen” as pecuniary compensation; so in our current economic, political, and societal crisis it seems very apposite that bread is once again being taken seriously. The Roman Empire declined when its wheat basket around the Medditerrean was lost, creating bread inflation and social unrest in Rome. Let them eat bread. Give us this day our daily bread. As more citizens near “bread line,” the queue for free food grows longer. How long before the Christian church starts to hand out panis benedictus to the poor?
The good news is that people are beginning to wake up, to sense the change. They no longer want to buy plastic wrapped industrialized pap that ne’r a human hand has touched; through self empowerment and action they are “baking it for themselves.” They want to eat a holier bread made in an honest way; some want to earn an honest crust through baking at home. We should welcome the rise of the home baker. Eating good bread is a symbol of how you respect yourself and the earth; baking bread is a metaphor for one's desire to change the way one lives, and in my opinion the simplest, surest, and safest place to start to make that change. The more that people wake up and bake the better. Symbolically they are throwing off the chains of the Walmartopoly. I just hope that the Occupy Wall Street protestors are not having to make do with gifts of out of date supermarket factory pap, but are getting the chance to eat real food and bread.
Bread is as good for community today as it’s always been. Companionship is literally the breaking and sharing and eating of bread with your community. Now, more than ever before, we should be baking and sharing. Jesus may or may not have fed the five thousand with his bread, but the seeds of ideas certainly did feed their bodies and minds.
Any campaign or movement that encourages people to eat or bake good bread should be congratulated and supported. Here in the UK we have a burgeoning Real Bread Campaign. In America I understand you too are having a renaissance in real, or artisanal, bread. Perhaps in two thousand years time our descendants may even measure time as BAB (Before Artisan Bread) and AAB (After Artisan Bread). Now that would be a legacy.
Pizza Quest Members: Your comments are welcome.