Writing | Research | Consultation | Presentation

Re-dressing the bread balance | An anthropological perspective on the de-commodification of a staple food

There is compelling evidence that British bread is being re-imagined by resourceful bakers and bakeries. Some are setting up mills at their bakeries, using closed loop energy loops to power their ovens, running community projects and training programmes and reducing their waste. These bakeries strive to work directly with organic farmers who grow culturally indigenous grains to displace the harmful dominance of wheat, bake with mixed grains that are grown using agro-ecological methods, offer greater opportunities for livelihood economic models and utilise urban patchwork and city regional farms. The benefits are wide ranging, resourceful and value led. A solidarity of a virtual and physical community of bakers and bakeries has grown from the ‘bottom up’ in many countries such as America, France and Denmark through social media and campaigns that value the social reproduction of sustainable food skills, a healthier population, greater carbon neutrality, closer knit communities, agroecology and less packaging and food waste.


Romanticising the past | A case study of a Tide Mill

“Twice a day the mill takes a gulp of the incoming tide”, is a popular lyrical description of the ancient technology of the Woodbridge Tide Mill in Suffolk as it harnesses the physics of the natural world. The human exploitation of the rhythm of the tide cycle demonstrates to an energy challenged modern world a sustainable method to power a food-processing machine. It encapsulates the fundamental dependence of humankind upon natural physics and demonstrates an example of how to decouple ourselves from contemporary dependence on fossil fuels and globalised food systems, and reduce our ecological footprint.

The miller utilises the tide timetable as it ebbs and flows with the gravitational pull from the moon, and has an intimate knowledge of the tidal river and the workings of mill machinery powered by centrifugal and gravitational forces. Twice a day the millpond fills with high tide water through a non-return pipe, this water is then saved until low tide. At low tide, sluice gates holding back the millpond water open and the force of the escaping water is sufficient to turn a five-metre diameter oak wheel at up to five revolutions per minute. This force then powers the millstones via a system of cogs to produce a regulated five tonnes per annum of locally grown high protein flour.




The power of bread to bring us together

The power of bread as a tool to bring us together is well rooted in the word companionship - in ancient Latin cum pane which literally translates as “with bread”.  The trade routes, climate and terrain of Europe determine that cereal grains are the basis of every western loaf. These grains are indigestible in their un-milled state, hard to digest if unfermented or unrolled and unpalatable when raw. Many hands were therefore needed to produce bread: from the farmers’ to the millers’, to the brewers’ or the vintners’ - and the hands of the bakers working to supply the local community. A togetherness was inevitable in the making of bread from soil to slice.

But, does modern bread still hold the power to bring people together? A daily wait in a chatty boulangerie queue in a French market town feels like bread is still a central part of French traditions and rituals. Yet is it an idealised model challenged in France today as daily routines change? Since the middle of the twentieth-century, this feeling of boulangerie togetherness had all but disappeared in many countries. But there is compelling evidence that crafted bread is again a conduit for togetherness, as seen in the popularity of community bakeries, performing in social theatres of communal eating. 


Seeking to define the craft baker | A comparative case study of British craft bakers

My masters’ dissertation sought to investigate the culinary practices, representations, traditions, valorisations and fetishizations that contribute to the definition of the British craft baker from the perspective of ethnographic food anthropology. Additionally the bakers’ loaves of bread were viewed as objects of material culture and were analysed as symbolic of cultural hybridisation, reinvention of tradition, socio-economics, identity, and of culinary style.

Integrity of the flour | Respect for the grain

“The baker must crown all the work,” said Per Grupe, a Danish organic wheat farmer, during the Farm to Loaf Symposium held at the e5 Bakehouse in October. He was referring to the visible activity of the artisan baker and the unseen web of plant breeders, farmers and millers who are fusing heritage grains and ecological know-how with modern thinking in the production of non-industrial bread. Radio 4’s Food Programme presenter Sheila Dillon co-hosted the Symposium and described the day as about a “group of remarkable people, who are here to share what they know.”


Changes, choices and contradictions | A case study of bakers and yeast

The unruly and wild Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) has more than a 5000 year old symbiotic relationship with us. The magic of combining airborne and human borne bacteria with warmth, water and the dormant bacterial microbes in the wheat bran, form a natural starter culture for leavening bread. An ancient process of harnessing nature. Described by scientists as, “one of the oldest bio-technological processes” which ensures that an ancient bacteria such as Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis does not become extinct (Rollán et al, 2010, 1168) . 


Back in time | Retracing the path to diversity

Most industrial bread production is based on speed, scale and uniformity. To supply this system, industrially grown grain is limited to a few, highly controlled varieties. But greater diversity would make grain crops more adaptable and therefore more sustainable in the long run. How are some plant breeders, farmers, millers and bakers retracing the path to ancient, diverse grains that will see us eating healthier, tastier bread into the future? 


Ancient food processing systems and contemporary heritage food culture

Tide Mill waterwheels depend upon natural estuarine environments and a miller’s local knowledge to enable them to grind wheat-human and nature extricably linked. It is an example of ancient technology when humans consumed the physics of the natural world to process food.  For over 800 years a Tide Mill has been situated on the banks of the River Deben, laying claim to being the oldest food business in the market town of Woodbridge. The natural environment dictates the type of accessible power most effective for a mill, the Woodbridge Tide Mill benefits from the most reliable natural power source available to it-power derived from the tide- situated close to grain grown in the flatlands of East Anglia.


Bagging History | The Woodbridge Tide Mill Flour and the Heritage Economy

An exploration of the relationship between cultural heritage and food tourism through a sociocultural analysis of a bag of Tide Mill Flour as an item of foodways material culture. As a ‘living museum’ The Woodbridge Tide Mill (Suffolk, UK) is funded to promote and undertake activity with volunteers, education and tourism. Running parallel with the Tide Mill’s role as this ‘living museum’ is its enterprise as a working mill producing artisan flour.  Within this context the flour can be seen as a blend of food tourism and heritage food.

How does a bag of tide mill flour embody aspects of agricultural tradition, local culture, non- industrial food, sustainability and healthy eating? What markets the flour and make it desirable to the consumer. The perception of the flour through its packaging and story becomes more complex because of the reality of the flour’s actual production using both water driven and electric driven stones. The medium does not always communicate the complete message. Through this analysis I propose that the food tourism industry is dependent upon the image of heritage and its underlying nostalgia.


Shortening the Food Chain: Re-intergating Food into the City"

“Being able to grow and store surplus food, established our first cities, and communities decline or develop depending on their independence in land, food and water. Until the nineteenth century, most food chains were short; we knew the farmer, the herdsmen and the miller. Their reputation dictated the success of their livelihoods and trust between consumer and producer was built on first-hand knowledge of their safe and healthy food practices. But, the long food chain of growers, processors, packers, traders, distributors and retailers has made us vulnerable. Short food chains are more secure, safer and may also be healthier and more economical.”

Bee Farrell, quoted in http://www.cityplanter.co.uk/out-and-about/shortening-the-food-chain-re-integrating-food-into-cities

Gingerbread Moulds

Most gingerbread moulds are not used as functional pieces. Instead they are now seen as decorative hangings that " hang in museums, or as ornaments in the kitchens of people who never use the, quite detached from their original purpose-the making of festive or celebratory cookies” (Riley: 2001: 193). Conversant with this aesthetic is the strong belief that the arrangement of kitchen utensils act as provocateurs to mnemonic strategies or create a kitchen landscape of tool and task. So the hanging up of a gingerbread mould makes prominent the opportunities for transmitting and engaging knowledge.  This is highlighted by anthropologist David Sutton who similarly describes the hanging tools on the blacksmith's workshop as an important element of the necessary stimulation of memory in the making process. Therefore the object as a visual trigger has the potential to actualise embodied skills and physical practice.