T he milling and baking industry’s responses to my book Bread Matters (British Baker, 6 October) are reminiscent of Nelson’s tactics when he put a telescope to his blind eye and declared, "I see no ships." Much of the evidence I assembled is based on recent scientific research, that shows how changes in wheat varieties and production and in milling and fermentation technology have combined to degrade bread’s digestibility and nutritional quality.
Yet only professor Jeya Henry of Oxford Brookes University seems to recognise a problem. The industry hides behind regulations - which it has historically resisted or sought to bend to its own purposes - when the emerging evidence suggests that these may no longer serve the public health. Stan Cauvain accuses those who take time to make bread properly of basing their production on ’myth, magic and word of mouth’. But the real myth is peddled by those who assert that low price is compatible with quality; using hidden additives to make bread stay ’fresh’ for weeks is surely magic, albeit of a tawdry kind.
I believe the plant baking indus-try and the intensive farmers and millers have gone down a blind alley. But I don’t advocate tearing down the plant bake- ries. Rather, there is an enormous commercial (and moral) opportunity for a plant baker that engages with the evidence assembled and says: "OK, we may have got it wrong. But now, we’re going to use our capital, technical expertise and ingenuity to make nutritional and digestive health the top priority in all our bread, not just the added-value ’healthy eating’ ranges. We’re going to put time back into fermentation and we’re going to remove all additives and processing aids from all our breads."
Just imagine how they could wipe the floor with the competition, who would be left defending all the dodgy processes and additives which they are not even willing to disclose to their customers, let alone discuss seriously with critics such as me. Meanwhile, as British Baker’s recent article on French bakery Poilâne shows, there are craft bakers making good bread, using vital ingredients and long fermentations, who are finding ways of operating on some scale.
Whether this scale is ’industrial’ depends on what that word entails. The late Lionel Poilâne made large quantities of artisanal bread - and sent it all over the world - by assembling 22 wood-fired ovens in a large circular building outside Paris. Each oven was operated by a team of two or three bakers, but they drew ingredients and fuel from a central source in the middle of the building. So he achieved economies of scale without compromising essential artisanal handcrafting.
Ultimately, the issue is not one of scale, but one of principle and method. The industrial mentality holds that efficiency is measured by output per man or margin over ingredient cost, when we all know that other measures, such as human nutrition and environmental impact, are crying out to be taken into consideration. Healthy, nutritious bread can be made on a large scale; indeed it must, if the health of the nation is to be improved. n