St Anne’s College was the venue for The Rise of Real Bread Conference a place where the Gandalfs and Aslans of all baking things, philosophic and prophetic, gathered.
Sheila Dillon, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, chaired the proceedings and kicked things off by rhetorically asking "Why does bread matter?" I’ll now paraphrase the rest of the day and Dillon’s answer: it is the staff of life and essential to health; the Chorleywood Process was a scientific triumph, but belongs to the era of processed food that also includes MRM (mechanically reclaimed meat) and water-injected meat, she said; and if we can start by getting our bread right, we stand a chance with the rest this latter assertion followed by enthusiastic hand-clapping.
The baton was then handed to food writer, historian and Sunday Telegraph food columnist Bee Wilson, who told us that, from a historical perspective, the 40p loaf she held up was very odd a sad example of a loaf, made with bulk fermentation and mechanical kneading. Why is no one punished for this ’bread’? she asked. Her assertion was that good bread is dependent on the people who make it and, traditionally, bakers would have cut a signature mark into their loaves, both for traceability and as a badge of honour.
Vision of the future
Over to Bread Matters author and co-founder of The Real Bread Campaign Andrew Whitley aka the Boil on the Bum of Big Boy Bakeries who opened with a vision of a future where everyone would be within walking distance of real bread. Whitley answered his own question, "What’s so good about real bread?" by exclaiming that it is a question met with gross indifference. The notion of real bread is a difficult one, but is fundamental to gaining a better food culture. Indeed, the state of bread is a matter of social justice and public health.
Inspiration of the day went to the real bread bakers, who are the cavalry of the battle to bake better bread for Britain. Ground is being won in communities, quiet as a dough rise, but equally enchanting and fulfilling. We witnessed the testimony of Dan and Johanna McTiernan of The Handmade Bakery, based in Slaithwaite near Huddersfield, who proved how the community bakery model could work with great bread, little capital and no waste! Allowing the community to have control of how its bread is produced is empowering and gives people ownership of the bread baked for them.
Sooo, what to do? Biologist and author of Feeding People is Easy, Colin Tudge, gave us six action points: take food very seriously; be a good consumer; invest ethically; promote community and supported agricul-ture; have trust for real farming; and become a farmer.
The clarion call was for action: petition government to lift punitive laws and promote the things that support the rise of real bread; fund research into the differences in real and commercial bread; bring together the good and real food movements, initiatives and groups, while also maintaining diversity.
The feeling was we must catch up with Europe. We must find real bread’s part in addressing this country’s annual £6bn obesity problem. And finally, we need to find a Jamie Oliver-style baker with street cred and real bread to champion the cause.
The conference bore witness to great ideas, encouraging anecdotes and learning from our shared and magnificent heritage. The stomach punch of negative realities can be eschewed in the celebration of real bread.