“Time is my ingredient”, a baker called Martin explained to me during my five-year research on the work of small-scale craft bakeries in Britain. The modern world of speed, uniformity and mechanisation has delivered many cheap products—from clothes to medicines or cars—that have arguably improved many lives. However, to consider food as having value because it is cheap bares a great cost to society. In every mouthful we eat it is our relationship with time that we experience. Oliver de Shutter, United Nations ex-Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, believes that time poverty is a significant cause of cooking skills disappearing, and with that disappearance the dependence on a industrial processed diet expands and the disconnection between us and food and those who prepare our food grows (de Shutter, 2013). From the soil in which the wheat grows to the plastic wrapping around an industrial loaf, each stage has been planned and engineered to speed up and increase productivity. The societal and health costs of an industrialised staple food are great. Numerous additives and large amounts of sugar speed up the proofing process, a de-skilled workforce push buttons instead of shape dough and consumers never meet the baker who provides their daily bread.
Against –and within—this background of haste and artificial taste the power of bread to bring us together challenges industrial eating. The power is evident in the solidarity of grassroots craft bread movements that further the work of the international Slow Food Movement, the British Real Bread Campaign, and local and organic food organisations. The craft or artisan bread movement is most noticeable in the countries that embraced the industrial bread of the Chorley Wood Process in the 1960’s. Britain and the America can claim the unfortunate accolade of the most significant in this industrial trajectory. These two countries—alongside many others like Australia, Japan, Denmark and Canada—are now experiencing the greatest shift in the form of thousands of small-scale bakeries and bakery social enterprises that seek to redress the negative impact of the past 50 years of industrial bread. Examples such as social enterprise ‘Luminary Bakery’ in London, England that is “transforming women refugees’ lives, one slice at a time” or Scottish ‘Freedom Bakery’ who “welcome applications from people with convictions without prejudice” (Guardian newspaper 2015).
The craft bread movement brings a vast range of people and groups together with a myriad of motivations. From health conscious consumers who demand bread fermented naturally over two days so as not to cause their stomachs to bloat, to those who revere the craft of the hand-made as a signifier of post-capitalist food systems.
Most craft bakeries are “communities of practice” as the bakers learn and share skills that re-imagine new traditions through sensory engagement, observation of others at work, creativity and ‘espirit de corps’. Their baking skills include craft by hand, the harnessing of the ethereal ingredients of the wild bacteria of natural fermentation and the respectful patience that gives dough plenty of time to become wholesome bread. Therefore, the ambiance within a craft bakery is one of togetherness—with the ingredients, the fellow workers, and the consumers—parallel to this is the therapeutic feeling of the total absorption of making.
This powerful ambiance nurtures the cohesiveness and well-being of togetherness and is evident in many craft bakeries embedded in their communities and social enterprise bakeries. The premise being that the simple act and art of making slow fermented bread gives skills, trust and confidence—and consequently companionship grows too. And as the Latin root of the word companion is cum (with) pane (bread), ancient knowledge confirms “with bread” is togetherness—whether it is making or eating it—and so recognises the importance of patience and consideration as all good things take time.