We’ve received a nice thread of comments on Michael Hanson’s Guest Column, To Be a Sacred Baker, so I think he may have touched a nerve. One thing I realized after reading the article is that we’ve been using the word “artisan” very liberally here at Pizza Quest to help define what our website is all about, which we characterize as, “A celebration of artisans and artisanship.” Frankly, though, I am concerned that the word artisan has lost some of its ooomph or mojo in the food community, through overuse and clever marketing by supermarkets and advertisers (“Try our new artisan bread…”). So, when Michael coined a new identity for himself, sacred baker, I immediately liked it because it’s too new to be diluted by the marketplace and, because it is so new, it causes us to stop and think and maybe to even ask, “What does he mean by that?”
Michael described himself in his article as someone who transitioned beyond artisan baking into what he now calls sacred baking because that is what he felt called to do with his life, to stop making compromises, and that the concept of artisan no longer took him to that deeper level of connecting with his sense of personal mission. I remember a number of years ago when I was
interviewed about one of my early books, I described bread baking as a very spiritual act and said that I thought bakers were, for this reason, a very spiritual group of people. I received a letter from a baker who took offense at this, as she said her goal as a baker was to make beautiful, delicious bread and not to attain some sort of religious experience; that she was decidedly not religious and didn’t want people to view her as such. I wrote back and apologized for offending her but also said, “I did not mean to say that bakers were any more or less religious than anyone else, but that I consider spiritual to be different from religious; it's more like an intuition that creation is built upon universal principles, and that these principles manifest as energies or emanations of the Creator, often identified by words like Truth and Beauty. And by making a beautiful loaf of bread one is, in fact, participating in that energy, maybe even communing with it. I can think of no more spiritual act than the crafting of something beautiful.”
Not everyone knows this, but the word religion actually comes from the Latin word religio, which does not mean God but, rather, translates as, “To be connected to.” When I read Michael’s column I thought about that notion of religio, of connectedness, and realized that I often use the word spiritual or sacred to describe that human urge to connect, to be connected to something greater. I use those words, sacred and spiritual, because the original word, religion, has lost its own connection to its original intent, just as the word artisan may have lost its connection to the notion of crafted by hand (with the emphasis on crafted). So it is connectedness, I think, that this site is really about, even as we explore it through the lens of pizza and other foods, and as we celebrate artisans and artisanship. And, I think it is the human desire for a deep connection, in this case through the shared love we have for something as simple and humble as pizza, that compels us to come together, to gather around the proverbial, metaphorical table, and to seek out deeper meaning and purpose or, as we say at the top of the page, "A journey of self-discovery through pizza." .
One of the challenges that we face here on Pizza Quest, and that we may each face in some fashion, is to not let important ideas and concepts lose their mojo, or connection, to their own deeper meaning. Every once in a while we may need to articulate a new way of saying what we mean and feel, but it’s also important, I think, to reclaim the original intent, meaning, and power of certain concepts--to keep that connection alive. So we will continue here on Pizza Quest to celebrate artisans and artisanship and, also, to deepen what we mean by these words. But, hey, this site is also about pizza (which we will never forget or abandon), which means it’s going to be fun and joyful too. In fact, I think joy is, along with beauty, the key universal expression of spiritual, sacred, and even artisanship--but that’s a topic for a future posting. In the meantime, a S’mores pizza anyone? (Check back on Wednesday for the posting of that video!)
Michael has promised us more guest columns in the future, so we’ll save space for continued explorations and conversations on the topic of sacred baking. It is but one of the many emanations that emerge from Pizza Quest.com. Who knows what other places this quest will take us….