Interview with the Founders of “Baking Without Borders”
Note from Peter: I’m not going to say much here other than to implore you to read this interview with two of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met, Nadezhda Savova-Grigorov and her husband, Stefan Grigorov, who live in Sofia, Bulgaria. I guarantee that after you read about the work they are doing you will feel a newly energized hope for the world, which is just what we need at this time of the year. Enjoy!
Pizza Quest (PQ/ Peter): Thank you both for doing this interview. When I first met Nadezhda, she was working on her doctorate and had already begun establishing her first “Bread Houses.” Can you explain what a Bread House is, how it is connected to your doctoral work, and about the insight that sparked it all and why is bread your central metaphor and image?
(Nadezhda (NSG): Yes, when we met I was in the midst of my doctorate in anthropology at Princeton University, which I completed in 2013. My research took me around the globe to so many places, 76 countries, that I was nominated and awarded the National Geographic “Traveller of the Year with a Mission” for 2012. Imagine how much travel that is (laughs)! … And that mission was to explore breadmaking traditions as a process for community building, uniting, and developing my own methods for peacebuilding and healing around bread making. I traveled from Mayan tribes in Mexico, and their corn breads, to the injera in Ethiopia, to chapati breads in the desert in India, from rice cakes in South Korea, to one of the last descendents of the Inka who knew how they made their potato bread. So many amazing places and people taught me the unique value of bread not as a simple food staple, but as a rich carrier of meaning and memories across generations.
And then one day I met Patch Adams – the father of humor therapy – in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon for a global conference on the link between well-being and creativity. He inspired me to try the community baking gatherings I had been organizing as a form of therapy, the way he tried with humor. And it really worked! It worked so well, to my amazement, as a new kind of art therapy, indeed Bread Therapy, which is by now proven by psychologists and social workers in various countries who have taken part and analyzed the methods (we created a specialized web platform, www.breadtherapy.net). We have tried Bread Therapy with very different people, from people with mental and physical disabilities, to war veterans, women victims of domestic violence, people suffering depression and addictions, and many more in need of healing and hope. And the reason why bread is so special and successful as a tool for therapy is because it inspires in people associations with the most valuable things in life — with home, family, friends and, for Christians especially, with God — and it is also a very pleasant material to work with, unlike for example wet clay or simply drawing, as in other art therapy forms. Bread is multi-sensorial, from the touch to the aroma and the taste. It is simply unmatched!
Now, you asked me what is a Bread House? In addition to the methods, I created a concept and a model for a social enterprise, a bakery Bread House, which also functions as a community cultural and social center. At the Bread House we hire as bakers people from disadvantaged groups (we have Roma orphans, people with multiple sclerosis, unemployed person with serious depression, etc.), and in addition to this we offer regular free Bread Therapy sessions for people with disabilities and with other needs. We also have at least once a week a community baking open to the whole neighborhood and city, and we also have paid educational baking events for schools and teambuilding for companies, which we call Breadbuilding. Here is the website of our model bakery Bread House in Sofia, Bulgaria, called NadEzhko (translated as HedgeHope in English): www.nadezhko.com
PQ: How and when did Stefan enter into this work?
SG (Stefan): The last ten years of my life passed in study and research in Trento (Italy) and also in Brazil. I was developing Ecopedagogy as a new form of education that can help us deal with the most alarming problems of the world, from climate change, to the incessant wars, the industrialized food complex, and consumer society culture. Drafting a project for cooperation with Brazil, one day I saw in a newspaper that a Princeton student met with Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff in order to launch cooperation between Brazil and Bulgaria. That is the way Nadezhda and I met, first by email and then in person, and the spark was ignited (laughs).
I liked her a lot, but at that time she was living mostly at Princeton, and so we kept cooperating in academic writings. I invited her to write in the International Handbook of Ecopedagogy for Students, Educators and Parents, which I organized and edited, as it united more than 25 eminent authors from around the globe (by the way, anyone can download it for free). Nadezhda’s chapter about the Bread Houses inspired me, and I said to myself, “That girl is so sweet and she found such an innovative way to help people and to also try to be independent from donors — I will be so happy to both marry her and with work with her!” (laughs)
So, long story short, we finally got married in 2014, and with the money collected as gifts from our marriage ($5,000) we decided to open our own sourdough social bakery, also with the help of my brother, who is a psychologist. As a child, I had a farmer’s experience, we had a small family bio-farm where my brother and I raised chicken, ducks, geese, quails, rabbits, and various kinds of trees and vegetables. We were very poor and we often made our bread ourselves. That was where my inspiration to change the world came from! I was studying and working on international ecological and social politics, but one day I said to myself, “I will leave all these ‘big words’ and theories.” I decided to get rid of computer work and have a hands-on job, developing our family bakery and the Bread Houses. I love the motto of the Bread Houses: “Better than high-tech, we offer high-touch solutions!”
So, I started exploring sourdough, and for 5 months I was developing different starters at home, and testing various bread making methods and subtle bread flavors. Finally, I achieved what I believe to be the perfect balanced flavor and texture. We use 100% organic flours with no additives or preservatives, and they can last you for a road trip across the USA, for 14+ days! (laughs) Our own sourdough is made from a special starter that I have not, so far, heard from other bakers to have used, and at first we kept the sourdough recipe as a secret, but now decided to share it in our game Bakers Without Borders…
PQ: So now, the original idea has grown into a movement and even includes a board game called Bakers Without Borders. How does the game work and how are you using it in your work?
NSG: Yes, it did grow world-wide, also, with my academic research travels, is now in more than 18 countries on 5 continents, and I started calling it the BREAD Movement, with the acronym standing for “Bridging Resources for Ecological and Art-based Development”. When we got married, Stefan was the one that came up with the idea of the game. Well, he was actually wise, because it was the best way to help me cut down on my enormous travel and have more time for the family.
SG: Yes, at that time Nadezhda was in a different city every day, and in a different country every other week, if you can imagine that! She was travelling so much in order to train people and organizations in the methods and organize events. So, I thought, the only way to have time for kids but to also be able to spread the methods more efficiently is to summarize them all, but instead of a handbook, it would be much better in a format that is more interactive, interesting, and entertaining – and I came up with the idea of a board game.
The game summarizes all of the know-how of the Bread Houses Network over the past 7 years, and it transmits it to both children and adults with many inspiring stories and images from around the globe, and a very beautiful, all hand-made design with photographs and illustrations.
NSG: The box actually includes 3 games in one:
The game has a primary social mission because, in addition to families, it is perfect for people with disabilities, traumas, depression, and in various social institutions (orphanages, elderly people’s homes, hospitals, rehab groups and centers, etc.). Also, kindergartens, schools, and universities can greatly benefit from it. Also, any public library, YMCA, municipality, or any public institution can use the game for various social, community, and festival events, for educational and social programs, etc.
So, the box includes 3 sub-games in the form of 3 booklets: “Play Theater of Crumbs”, “Build a Bread House”, and “Become Bakers without Borders.”
In the first game “Play Theater of Crumbs” you get to be creative and get your hands into the flour and dough, as baking inspires you to imagine metaphors of life, to create unique stories and characters drawn into the flour, then shaped out of dough, and played out with the baked bread puppets. The goal of this game is to teach children important life lessons and inspire adults with moral virtues and a striving to do good. It is also a perfect method for therapy – the Bread Therapy we talked about — for people with disabilities, traumas, depression, and also, it has proven successful for the social integration of refugees and immigrants.
The second game “Build a Bread House” is a strategy game that teaches you the skills and spirit of a social entrepreneur, inspired by our experiences creating two social bakeries – a kind of social franchise. It is played on a board; you learn to cooperate and invest together, with love, both your money and your talents (symbolized in this game as grains placed on the board). In addition to a game teaching all ages entrepreneurial skills and social responsibility, it is a practical guide, step by step, for starting your own Bread House social business, where we share all real-life lessons we learned along the way.
The third game, “Become Bakers without Borders,” takes you on a world-wide adventure, inspired mainly by my travels as a cultural anthropologist, and it is the first time real anthropology is presented in a format for children. You play on another board with the image of the globe, with cards using images from my photographs and, as you read my own stories from travels across the globe, you learn about diverse cultures and their intriguing bread-making traditions. Then is your turn to imagine solving social problems by creating poems and using the “Kitchen music” method to develop songs for a better world. This game teaches and inspires love for geography and anthropology. It also develops creativity in writing, composing, and playing music and, ultimately, the game inspires people of all ages to always travel with a mission, helping the world, with small steps, to become a better place.
Well, it sounds like a lot, and it actually is, but this is precisely why this game is so unique and, we know from experience, it is really a powerful tool to help transform people, communities, societies – well, really — to help change the world at least crumb by crumb! (smiles)
PQ: What are some of the obstacles and challenges you’ve run into trying to implement your vision?
NSG: Frankly, we created the game and printed it before making a marketing strategy as big companies do. So we now have 1,800 games and we are waiting for the right people to open at least 1000 Bread Houses using the games.
The promotion and diffusion of the game is already growing, especially after the game won the global “Intercultural Innovations Award,” given by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Also, many people find us online just by typing in Google words like “bread” and “social change” or “therapy;” we are the first and actually only organization that shows up. And, also, we have our own contacts and networks to whom we have so far sent info about the game and they keep spreading the good news, from charitable organizations to social businesses, universities and schools, to church congregations and cultural centers. But we definitely need more and more people to help us promote it – and we thank you truly, Peter, for being such a supporter!
SG: And then, of course, our work is not only related to the game. We have the bakeries and employees to look after, and this is in itself hard work, especially because our mission is to hire people from disadvantaged groups, and with them it takes much patience and time to create a healthy work ethic. But ultimately, it is worth it and really a joy to see a person’s life and attitude transform in front of your eyes.
PQ: There’s, obviously, a fire burning within each of you to cause you to dedicate yourselves to such a difficult work. What are the next steps in growing the Bread House movement, and Bakers Without Borders, in order to serve more people?
SG: At the moment we are re-making our social enterprise model, and we are opening a second sourdough bakery in Sofia, where we can produce more bread and have it distributed to bio stores and chains of organic groceries across Sofia. Our mission is to make healthy bread available to as many people as possible, and also not only to the educated and the rich. We bought and read all of Peter’s books and they helped us a lot to create our new bread-making technology with long proofing time, so that we and our employees will not have to work at night, because we wanted to ensure a good quality of life for them, with time for their families. We make the dough daytime, proof it during the night and bake the bread from 6 am -10 am. So our workday is from 5:30 am to 7 pm, and we are proud that we spare the night shift to our bakers.
Also, we are organizing Sourdough courses in order to teach mothers how to make healthy bread at home, and we are launching free courses and training for students from disadvantaged groups.
We also recently launched a scholarship program where we give poor, talented children a scholarship for 7 months, which is about the amount of a minimum wage for this country. We are currently having our first supported child; she is a little angel!
NG: And I am very excited about our pending project, something I have been dreaming about since the first time I worked with blind people. We are about to open a new social enterprise employing blind people called “Bread in the Dark (BIND)”. Our idea is to organize a 100 percent dark space, where sighted people would come for paid evening events led by sight-impaired facilitators, and all together will experience the amazing sensory world of bread – its touch, texture and making, then its aroma, then the multiple varieties of flavor and texture, including a wine tasting together with the bread tasting, and during the whole process people will also talk about how breadmaking creates associations and metaphors with issues in their lives. Our hope and vision is that the dark environment will set people free – free from inhibitions to share, free from their own prejudices and judgements, because they will be unable to see those they talk with and the eyes will be free from judging. We believe these will be deeply transformational experiences, both pleasant to the senses and enriching to the soul!
We are now structuring the space for these dark events with a darkening curtain in one area of our first Sofia Bread House, and you can see more how things evolve at the specialized website www.breadinthedark.com
PQ: I’m sure we could talk all day about this work, about bread, and about building communities. Thank you so much for sharing this time with us. Is there anything else you’d like to say that hasn’t been addressed in the questions above? And, how can people reading this help to support your work?
SG: Yes, the best way for people to support our work is to simply order the game and share about it with their friends and networks! Of course, they can also directly donate to our paypal account on the website of the Bread Houses Network: www.breadhousesnetwork.org
To order the game: www.thegame.bakerswithoutborders.net and the facebook is https://web.facebook.com/thegame.bakerswithoutborders/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE&pnref=story
The best way to sense the power of the game is to watch the video about its applications and what people say about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvgYb_dZ8Tk
NSG: And also, on the game website, when people click the section, “Books,” they will see my most recent project: the creation of a series of children’s books with my text and illustrations, called “The Adventures of NadEzhko, the Hedgehog Baker Without Borders”. The books follow the adventures of the hedgehog baker, NadEzhko, which if you remember is also the name of our bakery; this name in Bulgarian is a play of words with my name, Nadezhda (hope), and means “the hedgehog who does not get angry/does not prick”, thus in English we call him “HedgeHope” (laughs). NadEzhko’s stories are inspired by my own travels around the globe, and my plan is to have, one day, as many books as the countries I have been to (for now 77). Each book also contains a recipe of a traditional local bread or pastry I have come across, and it is a great read for both children and adults, as families can also prepare the baked goods and enjoy them together with the story and illustrations. The first two, maybe even three, books should be ready to order by the beginning of December, so I hope they would be a great Christmas present for children around the world!
Oh, and last but not least, I just completed another, long, long-time book project of mine, which is a book about various Christian traditions related to bread, from diverse readings from the Bible to intriguing lives of saints who regularly made or shared bread with the poor and with animals, to stories and photos from monasteries from around the world, and recipes for different Church holidays. The book builds on my personal faith background, the Orthodox Christian tradition, but I am sure it will be an interesting and useful read for any Christian, who has at least once in her or his life wondered, “Why did Christ say, ‘I am the bread of life!’?”
When the book is printed and ready for sale, I will announce it on the website of the game and of the Bread Houses Network, www.breadhousesnetwork.org.
Well, we can surely talk more and more, but let us for now thank you, Peter, for inviting us to share about what we love so much – the astonishing ways in which breadmaking can unite and transform us! You have also written about it, and we thank you also for being an inspiration for us – and a supporter of what we do!
SG: Yes, thank you so much, and please, come visit us in Sofia and taste our NadEzhko breads created with the inspiration from your books! We also wish you much joy and success in your cause spreading breadmaking across countries and social classes!
Nadezhda, Stefan, and their daughter, Lyubov (which means Love in Bulgarian)
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