Thoughts of bread- the need to kneed
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Recently, I watched the Michael Pollan documentary on Netflix ® “Cooked.” I have read most of Mr. Pollan’s work over the years and like his writing style, and subject matter. This was the first time I had seen one of his films – and it is inspiring, not only to eat better but to eat real food and enjoy those ways of cooking that bind us to our history. Some reported it as a guilt trip, a sermon on food and one that holds the expectation that, we all have time to spend “slaving” over the hunting and gathering of our daily meal. That was never the point of the documentary, nor was the politics of food ever more than a brief mention. Personally, I think the reviewer in the Oregonian was just a whiner.
We are in an age when the millennial generation doesn’t eat cereal because it involves having to clean up dishes – albeit it is a bowl and spoon, just the same this household drudgery is just too much of a time consumer. When I read the article in the Washington Post, I thought it was a joke, then I saw it was one of my concerns manifest to print. Next up to come to my awareness was Whole Foods®, stating they would no longer carry per-pealed oranges in convenient plastic boxes – hummm, as someone on Facebook stated – “too bad nature didn’t come up with a protective covering for oranges so we didn’t have to use plastic”…. The youngest adult generation is now so far removed from the raising and producing of what we eat, that even though they are “clean” food eaters, they want all the convenience including cleanup to happen automatically for them.Their push-button world has no time for the messy parts of life, the not so fun or pretty parts of life. But wait, I thought to myself – food is messy. That is part of the fun, the energy, connection, flavor and the mastery of food.
The artistry of food is far from “clean” as any cook worth their salt will tell you. The abundant microbes of the soil are what feed and inspire the germination of seeds. The active cultures of bacteria are what form cheese and yogurt into the creamy goodness we seek out. And the yeasts of the air are what allow the fermentation, the breaking down of proteins found in many foods to create the chewy tang of bread along with the bitter froth of beer and fruit flavors of wine.
All of these foods and acts involved with growing and producing are tangible living links in part of a continuing chain dating back to the dawn of human history. Our survival has been dependent on food and the hunting-gathering and preparation of it. Through its incorporation into our cells, we have developed into communities, cultures, and architects of the modern world. The likelihood we will continue to remain on the top of the earth’s life chain is precarious as we distance ourselves from the foods that our complex bodies require for thriving.
These microbes are central to our health; they provide essential nutrients for us in our digestive tracts. When we look at the DNA of man, we find 98% bacteria to our 2% human. The highly processed foods prevalent everywhere are devoid of these vital symbiotic microbes that keep us healthy. Our immune system, brain function and digestion all fail to work when we kill off the bacteria by consuming dead foods.
While the Millennial generation is making an impact on the availability of healthier food choices for all of us, they also have lost touch with just what happens to our environment when we place convenience above sustainable and practical. My grandparents like many in their day, were the king and queen of reuse/recycle. Why use paper when cloth will work and can be washed? Why use tin cans and plastic when you can use glass? And why routinely purchase food from sources that add to the food waist problem when you can cook and prepare for yourself in a more responsible manner?
Now this doesn’t mean I’m anti-restaurant by any means, there are some foods I have no idea how to prepare or that I have never tried. This adds to my adventures when I travel. But at home, I value the ability to feed myself and my friends and family.
Over the last few weeks, I have made and cared for a sourdough bread starter that was inspired by Mr. Pollan’s documentary. Seeing the visual act of bread making, done by a woman in Syria, or the artisan baker in New England, awoke the need within myself to make a mess that involves movements done by women throughout time – movements that my mother and all the women in my history encoded into my DNA. The kneading of the most fundamental of foods ̶ bread.
There is a retrospection, slowing of time that opens the heart to meditation and prayer that comes about with the simple and connecting acts of dusting flour on a surface, and the kneading of dough along with the chopping and slicing with a knife; which connects us farther back in time than any other food preparation method. These are the movements of countless members of my family; they are the actions of a young and old, that formed us into who we are today.
To Real Foods that tie us to our Family.