In Defense of Bread: A Love Story [Elbows on the Table][Best of FaN]

Author’s Note: When you want to cause a stir in politics, bring up government spending.  No one is right and everyone is wrong.  We are taxed too high, spending’s too low, too much money goes to parks, not enough on research… the shouting will never subside.

If you want to stir up controversy amongst everyone else, bring up bread.  The ultra fit, meathead marathoners will tell you to eat as the cavemen did.  The le pain snobs will tell you about the ONLY boulangerie where you can find a decent baguette.  Then there are the folks who like their bread fluffy, airy and tasteless and would sooner eat dirt than multigrain.

I loved this column because ever after 30,000 years, bread is still sexy as hell.  My lifelong love affair with it burns like the fire of a brick pizza oven.


I am not really a fan of dieting. I usually gain five pounds in the first week because my brain and body become convinced I am secretly conspiring to starve myself to death, so they conspire to send me into insatiable pizza and ice cream urges.

But like it or not, dieting basically becomes a must at some point after you hit twenty five and everyone’s metabolism hits the wall. Whilst having dinner with friends last week, one of my dining companions regaled us with ins and outs of his newest low carb fad. The idea is to deny yourself of all carbs so on your one day off, all you want is strawberries for your cheat food. Thinking about it, I said that was pretty much how I naturally gravitate in my eating. I focus on healthy proteins and my indulgences are generally a bunch of grapes here and there. I sat back, gnawing on edamame and congratulating myself for naturally being perfect and healthy. My smug self-kudos were cut short by a burst of laughter from my dearest love next to me. In that adorably irritating way someone who knows and loves you completely can only do, he informed everyone that it was indeed my diet, if you discounted the full baguette I eat every day. Well, there is that.

If I could make a timeline of my life, bread would be the easiest mile marker. Growing up, there was fresh baked bread everywhere. Most of my generation grew up on Wonder Bread but my mother, an ex hippie, believed in home made bread–the real kind. She bought thousands of pounds of dry wheat (it was one of countless numbers of extreme purchases to which she was prone). Every day she would grind the wheat into flour and make our daily loaf of bread and treats. Snow days she spent making dozens pastries and loaves of wheat bread we would trudge in knee deep snow to deliver to neighbors (a very clever way to get us out of the house and keep from getting cabin fever). I didn’t have store bought bread until I left for college. Nothing seems like a homecoming more than a thick slice of hot bread, sourdough or honey wheat, with a thick pad of butter.

As a young adult, even without my mother filling my home with the enticing smells of baking, I still centered my meals around getting to a bakery as soon as the bread came out. In my early twenties, I spent some time in Cali, Colombia. The breakfast most workers eat are slightly sweet buns called ‘almohaminas’, which are paired with a small eight ounce Coke. Being committed to getting the full Colombian experience, when the bread came out of the oven, I would walk down the street to El Molino (The Mill) to get two before I started my day. I haven’t had them since I left Colombia but I think of them constantly.

When I came back to the states my bread intake was focused on bread baskets at the bourgie restaurants that made up my daily haunts. The ruthlessly competitive chefs in DC looked at bread as potential works of art and used its creation to showcase their skills. Warm and soft with crunchy crusts, when the bread came out and they asked if I wanted more, I could never say no. There were many times I would go for a glass of wine (or four) after work and leave having also consumed two baskets of bread. Bread is the first thing most people will taste at your restaurant and stale, bland bread can be a chef’s biggest shame.

This fall, for the very first time, I experienced the Xanadu for all bread lovers, PARIS. The French do not suffer poor bread. Every morning our hotel rotated freshly baked rolls and baguettes of which I ate several (and snuck in my pockets for later) smothered in fresh jams and creamy cheese. Every afternoon, after wandering around the city, when the smell of the open ovens wafted into the streets, I dragged my love to the nearest crowded bakery for a baguette and a $10 water.

There is no food that is more political, more controversial or more soul stiring than bread. French women marched the streets of Paris and sparked a bloody revolution for BREAD.  BREAD is the body of Christ. BREAD is sacrificed during passover. Jean Valijean served five years in prison for stealing BREAD. Panem et circenses. You are the BREADwinner of the household. Friendship is the BREAD of life but money is the honey. Lennin promised the new Soviet Union “Peace, Land, and BREAD.” Bread is universal. All cultures and all socioeconomic backgrounds hold it, in one form or another, more than a food but as symbol of who they are. Challah, lavash, naan, roti, pita, pancakes, matzo, ryes and rolls. We are related universally in this one food.

So people of the world, let us break bread.

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featured image credit: SchroederDaniel