Fri 24 Apr 2015
This Saturday at Behaviour Festival, for our first #ArchesCommons session, Andrew Whitley and Veronica Burke of Bread Matters present their provocation to change the way we do bread, for good, and all. The session is free, so come along to share a lunch of soup and good bread and exchange stories about what bread means to us. Bread Matters teaches real breadmaking and helps communities to take control of this important food. Their provocation asks ‘Who stole our daily bread?’ and provides the essential tools to reclaim it. They invite you to take home a Sourdough Starter, pass it on and join a community in ferment. Ahead of the event, we spoke to Bread Matters’ Veronica Burke and asked her about the significance of bread, and what makes sourdough so special.
Bread is not just a food that we eat every day, it is also a metaphorical symbol for food in general; for example in the Christian prayer ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. What cultural significance does bread hold for you?
Bread has a role in many cultures and traditions. It’s often used as a symbol of welcome and hospitality; in some climates, giving a stranger or a traveller bread and water could mean the difference between survival and starvation. It also represents the harvest and the food that has been grown during summer to feed us over another winter. Breaking bread together is a potent symbol of giving and sharing. It can be reverential, even sacred, and it can be as simple and spontaneous as tearing a piece of bread from a shared loaf and enjoying it. Every time we provide food for someone we care about, we are nurturing as well as nourishing. It’s part of our capacity to care for others and for ourselves; part of what makes us human. Breadmaking also brings us this sense of connection, when our hands are in the dough, when it slowly transforms into bread and when we work alongside each other, making something we can share and take pride in. When we know what is in our bread, and who has made it, the meaning it holds for us changes completely.
On Saturday, you’ll be sharing some of your original recipe sourdough with us. Where does the recipe come from, and what makes it unique?
Andrew is making two breads to share on Saturday. One is Borodinsky, a rye bread, made with a sourdough starter he brought back from Russia in 1990. Andrew will tell some of the stories behind that bread on Saturday. We’ll give everyone a piece of the sourdough starter to take home and make their own bread with – and to pass on, creating another strand to the story, another part of the sourdough culture. We’ll also share a simple sourdough country bread. It is fermented slowly to make it tasty and easy to digest – and to keep in all the minerals that are important for our health. The wheat is an old Scottish variety that was grown and milled into flour right here in the Borders. It is part of Scotland The Bread’s quest to grow better grain and bake better bread.
Growing numbers of people struggle to feed themselves, and food banks are becoming increasingly commonplace. What are your thoughts about a society that leaves so many dependent on charity to feed them?
Food banks are necessary; they get food to people who need it and can’t afford to buy it. They are also a symptom of our broken food system and of growing inequality between those who can afford nourishment and health and those who can’t. Bread is an important part of our diet. Five million Scots consume on average four million loaves each week and it doesn’t seem to be doing us much good. Scotland grows enough wheat to feed its people seven times over, but imports almost all of its bread flour. We have some ideas about how to make this staple food do us much more good – and how we can get it to those who have least access and least choice about what they get to eat.
The word ‘artisan’ has become something of a cliché, with artisan beers, artisan shoes, artisan coffees wherever you look. Do you embrace the term ‘artisan baker’ and what does it mean for you?
It’s a useful word. It tells us that the bread we’re eating is made by a person, using their hands, their skills and their attention. True artisans have knowledge about, and control over, what they put into the bread and where it comes from; they can be part of an unbroken chain of trust between the farmer who grew the grain and the person who eats the bread. Sadly, like many terms that can tell a true story, ‘artisan’ can fall victim to corporate capture. Giant corporations are always poised to grab a bit more shareholder value by making some of their food a bit healthier, special, posh and pricey. Whatever we call it, making bread to feed our fellow citizens well is worthwhile, meaningful work and making the best bread possible out of fresh, locally-grown flours requires skill.
Finally, what kind of discussions do you hope to open up at this weekend’s event?
We’ll be sharing some of the stories and the meanings that bread has for each of us. Our provocation asks: ‘Who stole our daily bread?’ We’ll be looking at what our bread is, what’s in it and how much good it’s doing us. Most importantly, we want to open up debate about how we can reclaim and re-imagine bread as part of a healthy and fair food system. Imagine eating bread made by a local baker, from flour freshly milled near the bakery, from wheat grown by a farmer you’ve met, in the fields nearest to where you live. Now imagine that bread is full of important nutrients and tastes great and that it doesn’t bloat you or hurt your gut or leave you feeling hungry. What if everybody involved had been paid fairly for their work and nobody was slicing off an unfair share?
Bread Matters previously collaborated with theatre-maker Catrin Evans of A Moment’s Peace on the project I Could Eat A Horse – on Saturday 25 April, Evans presents her own #ArchesCommons session, At The Heart, reflecting on her own work and the importance of a socially engaged arts practice. Read our interview with Catrin Evans here.
Part of Behaviour Festival