Photo by Vincent Talleu

In 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder created a machine that would change the way we buy our bread — sliced and wrapped in plastic.

In the sixties, the trend continued as fermentation was replaced by machines pushing air in the dough through intensive beating. Bread factories greeted this as a step forward: bread making, once a time-consuming process, could now be completed much faster — and without relying on experienced bakers. Factory bread invaded our homes and the art of a slowly fermented, hand made loaf was almost forgotten.

Now, this is about to change.

I interviewed Chris Young, the coordinator of Real Bread Campaign, an initiative dedicated to putting bread back to its rightful place at the dinner table. He talked about the campaign, his appreciation for bread, and shared interesting facts about bread and its place in history.

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Chris Young. Photo by Kath Dalmeny / Real Bread Campaign.

Jarkko: How did the Real Bread campaign get started?

Chris: The Real Bread Campaign was the brainchild of Andrew Whitley who, as an organic artisan baker, has been highlighting since the mid-1970s the state of bread in Britain, and sharing with people how we can all help to make a positive difference.

He knew that in order to bring Real Bread back to the hearts of our local communities in significant numbers, a national organization was needed. This would bring together everyone who was sick of industrial loaves as a mutually-supportive network, sharing ideas and experience; championing positive steps in the right direction, and challenging legislation and other obstacles to the rise of Real Bread.

He brought this idea to the charity Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, which, as a campaigning organization, was happy to take on the task. We launched the Campaign in November 2008 and the open-to-all membership scheme in September 2009.

Jarkko: How did you get involved with the campaign yourself?

Chris: My first attempt at bread making as a student resulted in a brick, which I still use as a doorstop. Thankfully, I tried again and soon got the hang of baking a basic loaf. I got more interested in 2004 when I found Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf. It was the first bread book I’d seen that didn’t just take one or two basic recipes made with instant yeast, then throw in a handful of herbs or cheese or just make a load of different shapes, then write “Contains over fifty recipes” on the cover.

Then in November 2008, I went on a course with Andrew Whitley at Schumacher College. Reading his book Bread Matters and listening to him talk about the issues and his proposed solutions literally made me say “How can I get involved?”

He told me he was about to launch the Campaign, so I signed up for the newsletter, which a few months later advertised a vacancy for a volunteer…

“There is also a growing body of research that has concluded a variety of health benefits of longer-fermented real breads, especially genuine sourdough.”

Jarkko: What is “real bread”?

Chris: We define Real Bread as being made without the use any processing aids, artificial additives, flour “improvers,” dough conditioners, preservatives, chemical leavening or, well, artificial anything. Well-made Real Bread that’s been given time to “ripen” and develop flavor naturally tastes delicious! There is also a growing body of research that has concluded a variety of health benefits of longer-fermented real breads, especially genuine sourdough.

Even better if it’s Real Bread made by craftspeople at local independent bakeries, as this helps create more jobs-per-loaf than industrial loaf manufacturing plants.

Jarkko: What goals do you have for the campaign? Have you seen signs of progress so far?

Chris: In our first four years, we’re being funded by the Big Lottery’s Local Food program. The aims we’ve agreed with them are to run a membership scheme for everyone who cares about the state of bread in Britain, encourage bread making to be taught in at least 100 schools in England, provide support for at least 100 people wanting to bake Real Bread for their local communities, and help to get more Real Bread being made available in public sector canteens and through food access schemes.

It’s just over two years since we launched our membership and already nearly 750 people have joined us, in a wider supporter network of over 4,500. We sold all 500 copies of Knead to Know, our book for would-be bakers, in a few months and have since sold most of the second run of 500; and our bakers’ forum has more than 400 subscribers. Lessons in Loaf have been taught in 75 schools, and we’re organizing workshops for teachers, schools cooks, and people in food access projects, as well as making introductions between bakeries and organizations wanting to supply Real Bread.

On 23 January we launched Bake Your Lawn, a scheme to show school children how to take a handful of wheat and grow it, mill it, bake it, and eat it. By the end of the following day, more than fifty schools had applied for packets of wheat seeds from us.

“The people of Britain need to be reminded that bread isn’t just something to keep your fingers dry when eating a sandwich.”

Jarkko: What should bread’s role be in today’s world, in your opinion?

Chris: I have quoted a writer called Andrew Wheeler many times before, but I’ll do so again: In his book Eat Britain! 101 Great British Tastes, he writes:”The people of Britain need to be reminded that bread isn’t just something to keep your fingers dry when eating a sandwich.”

It’s a cliché, but Real Bread should be the staff of life. We believe that the vast majority of what is sold in the UK as “bread” has been so altered by chemicals and no-time processes that it shouldn’t be allowed to bear that noble name.

We’re finding ways to make Real Bread available to more people, and calling for an Honest Crust Act so that if a loaf has been made using added enzymes or other artificial additives, or has been baked twice, or isn’t genuine sourdough, or has not been touched by an artisan baker, shoppers know this.

Jarkko: How about the role of a baker? Why is it important to support local, small-scale producers instead of the supermarket in-store bakers?

Chris: A Real Bread baker on the high street isn’t just a quality food producer. By setting up his or her business in the heart of a local community, he or she is providing a valuable service to other people in that community: a bakery is a place to meet and catch up; money spent with a locally-owned independent business is more like to be re-invested locally than if spent in a multiple store chain; and surely walking to a bakery is better all round than climbing into a petrol-guzzling car to drive out of town to buy something that was produced at the other end of a motorway.

Jarkko: What would you recommend people who love bread and would like to see it rise again in their own countries to do?

Chris: Contact Real Bread bakers, independent millers, teachers and anyone else who you think is doing the right thing, then get out there and say: “Here are the problems; here’s how we can make a difference – who’s with me?”

The internet makes this so much easier to do than in times gone by, and social media helps you to reach out to make contact with potential allies, who you can then meet in the real world.

In “Bake Your Lawn,” children learn where bread comes from. Photo by The Bridge Mill.

Jarkko: In the past half a year to a year, here in Finland, low-carb diets have become a big phenomenon, and now big bakeries are starting to artificially manufacture breads low in carbohydrates in order to survive… Have you seen this happening in the UK and what’s your take on it? How can Real Bread respond to this attack?

Chris: Sadly, yes. I think it’s a shame that some people choose synthetic alternatives to delicious natural food, perhaps paying a premium to do so, rather than simply looking at everything they eat and the exercise they take and balancing things out.

Carbohydrates have always been a key element in a healthy, balanced human diet. Unless you’re diabetic or have another professionally-diagnosed condition, there seems to be little evidence to the contrary.

People have been eating and enjoying Real Bread for thousands of years and there’s a good chance that low-carb might well be another short-lived fad. Sooner or later, I have a feeling many carb curbers will say “Hang on, I’m missing out on crunchy sourdough toast here. Why don’t I cut back on some of the fatty stuff, walk a bit more and enjoy a crumpet every now and then!”

Jarkko: And finally, why is bread worth preserving as part of our culture, and as more than just something you eat to quickly fuel your body?

Chris: Real Bread has been a central part of people’s diets in many countries around the world for so long it’s interwoven into the fabric of life. As well as being one of the most basic foods, it is also one of the most luxurious – just think of all of the celebrations that have one type of bread or another at their heart, from English hot cross buns, to Jewish challah, to Mexican pan de muertos, to Finnish traditions of laskiaispulla and giving rye bread and salt as house-warming presents.

Perhaps more significantly, bread has made its way into our language and so the way we perceive the world. The word companion (and several similar words in other European languages) comes from the Latin cum panis (literally “with bread”) meaning one with whom you eat bread. Even the English word lord comes from hlafward (loaf ward) meaning the person who guards the bread. In English, loaf is a slang term for head, as in “use your loaf”, and both bread and dough are synonymous with money.

“The word companion comes from the Latin cum panis (literally ‘with bread’) meaning one with whom you eat bread.”

Imagine any of this being true if the history of bread had started with an additive-packed, fluffy, arguably bland, wrapped-sliced factory loaf, and not what we see as the real thing…

As a part of its efforts to make “Real Bread” available to everyone in Britain, the Real Bread Campaign has published an introductory guide to becoming a Real Bread baker who produces great bread for her local community.

Knead to Know covers a wide range of topics from baking Real Bread to marketing the bread and from opening your storefront to finding funding to locating the best second-hand equipment for your bakery.

At first sight, these topics may sound like they are far from a regular home baker’s interests, but I believe many of us — at least secretly — dream of sharing our passion with the people around us. Knead to Know will give you a better idea on what is involved in making that dream reality.

So, if you ever feel the tiniest itch to find out if you have what it takes to make it as a producer of Real Bread, this book is worth the small investment. I read Knead to Know shortly after it was published a year ago, and although I still haven’t started my own bakery (and most likely never will), for many weeks I found myself vigorously browsing the internet for more information about famers’ markets and the legalese required to sell bread at one of them in the summer. In other words, this is an inspiring book.

The business related information in Knead to Know is naturally very UK centric, so if you live elsewhere in the world, you will have to do more searching to get your country specific details — but the book will serve as a good starting point, giving you ideas on what to look for.

Buy your copy of Knead to Know on the Real Bread Campaign’s web site as a PDF download for £10. For British residents, there is also a print version available for £15.

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