We must stop with our busy schedules and think things through for a while. Our choices as consumers have a profound effect on how the economy works. You keep buying a product, then the company selling it grows stronger. Lower your demand for it and the producer has to adapt accordingly or go out of business.
You as an individual control a fraction of the total power consumers can wield. So if you alone change your ways, nothing noticeable will happen. But if you can coordinate your efforts with your local community or people online, things will start moving.
This is another way of thinking about the re-institution of society. Not everything needs to be done by politicians at the national or supranational level. We too can enact reform in a bottom-up, gradual, sustained and more resilient way.
This is not just about bread
Allow me then to introduce you to the idea of real bread and why preferring it will have far-reaching implications on economic organisation. We want to fight against large corporations that seek to control food supplies. We also wish to strengthen our local lifeworld: give work to our neighbours, engender a sense of belonging to our immediate locality. And we wish to improve our health by eating food that has no preservatives, artificial flour conditioners, sugar. Gaining control over our health is a parallel struggle against the interests of large pharmaceuticals and their assignees.
The items you buy on the supermarket labelled as “bread” are anything but. These are bread-like flour products enhanced with a mixture of chemicals. The intention is to maximise efficiency for factory scale production at the expense of quality, both in terms of taste and health. These products include a series of dubious additives that no average consumer can identify and that no one ever keeps on their shelf: propionic acid, sodium lactate, calcium propionate, acetic acid esters of mono and diglycerides of fatty acids…
The industry has a number of incentives for using those:
- Accelerated leavening to speed up production.
- Rapid adjustments to the dough’s texture to ease the pressure on the machinery that does the ‘kneading’.
- Enduring soft touch, so that the loaf gives the false impression of freshness even days after baking.
- Addictive—yet still poor—flavour.
The immediate effect of the massive supply of fake bread is to alter the expectations of consumers. They are made to believe that this is the genuine food people would always eat. So they buy from the supermarket or suppliers who only care about short-term profits. The small bakery cannot compete at that level. It lacks access to the machinery and the additives, or can only get them at a premium. As such, there is a built-in tendency of the system to concentrate power at the top. It becomes oligopolistic, as with most other sectors in developed economies.
Small and confident steps forward
Industrial loaf favours big business, which means that their creditworthiness improves in the banker’s eye. With cheaper credit comes more R&D, more market manipulation, more lobbying, with the ultimate end of re-invigorating this cycle. All at the expense of our health, the erosion of our local communities and sense of belonging with our neighbours, and indeed our power as citizens and consumers.
Instead of lamenting the inertia of politicians, let us take the initiative. I suggest this three-fold course of action everyone can follow or support:
- Bake your bread. Start by reading on how to make real bread at home. Search for the simplest recipe. You only need water, flour, and yeast. Perhaps add some salt. Nothing else is necessary. Try baking your own bread for a while. Get a hang of it to understand how the process unfolds. I have been doing so for more than a year—the results have always been vastly superior to fake bread, even on first attempt.
- Inform your community. Offer your friends some of your produce. Tell them about the merits of real bread and why they should never buy industrial loaf. Also explain to them how didactic and therapeutic the experience of making bread can be. You learn to take things in, slow down, be patient, more deliberate. Basically the opposite of the busy and boisterous archetype that modern capitalism wants you to conform with.
- Help establish a support network. While always talking about real bread, make sure you identify like-minded people. We need to build networks of support. To share information and enlighten the public. Also to point consumers to their closest real bread bakery or cooperative venture.
I am at stage two right now. Trying to convert people over to real bread. In the meantime, I am learning to make sourdough so that I may eliminate my dependency on dry yeast. My hope is to make an even better product, something that is more distinct, more genuine.
This all translates into political action. I am making a stand against the powers that be on this front (just like I do on many others, e.g. boycott all sorts of food brands, partake in free/libre software, de-google my life, reject social media, etc.). I am actively choosing communitarianism and togetherness with my fellow people over individualism and rootlessness. And I am making a case of how to use knowledge for the greater good, instead of taking advantage of others.
If there is enough momentum behind this initiate we will see tangible results. Our health improves as our food gets better. We no longer take in all those dubious additives. With a more robust constitution, comes a decreased dependency on medicine, doctors, and the like. Let us make the big pharma complex at least a bit smaller. Meanwhile, we support our community, give job to people we know in person, to those who would never be able to compete against fake bread. By offering employment opportunities, we reduce brain drain—we should not be immigrants for all our life as per the interests of the plutocratic elite.
Real bread cannot be coerced: it is an art that takes skill and patience. The process of making it will always be involved. Not everyone needs to bake their own. What we do require though, is to cooperate. Changing our ways is the first step to upsetting the establishment. I firmly believe in the importance of incremental improvements to one’s life, whose cumulative effect is a reformative impulse on institutions. I call them “continuous, small victories”. We need lots of them—all of us together—to make an impact in our world.