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The trouble with bread: A country in crisis

The trouble with bread

On the back of a busy night shift I can’t help but find myself wondering where we are going so wrong.

For weeks now we have had a baker’s job vacancy advertised through all the usual channels. Yet, few have applied.

The reality is that this country in my opinion is in crisis.

“Chorley bread will do in the week, but let’s treat ourselves at the weekend”
A major issue that puts us under considerable pressure is that it seems that for most, it’s ok to buy cheap, mass
processed pappy bread in the week, and then come the weekend treat yourself to something tasty. Why are we not eating the
good stuff every day?
To me, it’s no different than saying “let’s eat caged hen eggs in the week and splash out on free range at the weekend”.
It may not be to most, as the issue of animal welfare is one that with the help of numerous celebrity chefs, thankfully is
turning a corner. So, fewer animals are being harmed as a result. But this is my point. Every single day my team and I
deal with enquiries from people wanting gluten free bread. As they sample our (non gluten-free offerings) they explain
they have an allergy and react really badly, but when we delve deeper, for the vast majority, it seems that their
condition is self-diagnosed. Coeliac disease and wheat intolerance is a genuine condition so please don’t take this as me suggesting it isn’t. I am talking about those, perhaps you, who have come to conclusions because information is not made readily available and because we are too trusting of those that sell us our food. So, we eat bad, mass-processed bread, get bloated out and tired and assume that wheat or gluten are the culprits. We have sent people home with a sample of our wheat-based goodies on many a time for them to trial, and so many have come back saying “you have given me my life back” and finally realising that it’s not just what is in the bread, it’s how the bread is made.
Chorleywood bread making process serviced a need back in the 1960′s to bring convenience and a cheaper loaf to the working
classes. I don’t argue that this served it’s purpose but just like margarine, smash and other ultra processed convenience
foods, I don’t believe they have their place today.

“Oh but proper artisan bread is way more expensive, not everyone can afford it”
Statistics show that bread comes up consistently in the top food stuffs that are most wasted. Why? Because most don’t
check their bread bin before their weekly shop. Instead, they pick up a loaf on every supermarket visit. On their return
they have a dilemma. Finish the loaf that is in there and risk not getting to the end of the fresh one, or throw the old
one away and start fresh.
How often do you eat a slice of 50/50 or best of both or whatever the current best seller from supermarket shelves is called and feel full, or even fulfilled? REAL BREAD doesn’t leave you hungry, because it has substance and sustenance to it. Furthermore when you eat Real Bread, it actually tastes like bread. This isn’t common knowledge but the proving of doughs in bread making, amongst their things, is what gives bread it’s “bread” flavour. This is why some of the really budget commercial loaves have “bread flavouring” as an ingredient, because they are produced with such haste that the flavour of bread as we know it has no time to develop.
So, take these two points and do a little arithmetic. If you have to eat twice as many slices of the commercial
convenience bread to get close to the fulfilment that a single slice of tasty sourdough or other Real Bread gives you, and if you routinely find yourself binning the remnants of your loaf because you bought fresh on your weekly shop, then you will be amazed to see that we are not that far off the mark price wise.
Also, stop and ask yourself just once why it is acceptable to pay 70p or £1 for a snack bar or such like, or even £2 or so for a slice of cake, but it isn’t to pay just a little more than that for a beautiful hand-crafted loaf to feed your family and actually put a smile on their faces.

So where does that leave us? After 6 years of growing The Thoughtful Bread Company and developing our reputation, I am embarrassed by how little bread we sell in the week to Bath’s residents and those that commute to work in our city.
This has a very real knock-on effect. I can’t afford to pay my bakers what their hard work deserves. Consider for a minute that as bakers, we work when you sleep, and our busiest times of the year are when you are on holiday such as Easter or Christmas. And all this for less than most could earn dishing out burgers at a fast food joint.

Perhaps this is why one of our lifelines for recruiting fresh new bakers has dried up. City Bristol college and others have now stopped running their bakery apprenticeships amidst government shake ups over how apprenticeships are run.

So, we are left with the very many avid Great British Bake Off watchers and home bakers, many of whom contact us each week about working for us. I usually respond asking them whether they could cope with 30 degree heat, 10 hour shifts and 25Kg sacks of flour, and most don’t follow up their vacancy enquiries.

So, next time you buy a loaf of bread, spend your money wisely. Buy from a local bakery that makes Real Bread. The Real Bread campaign offer a great little postcode finder tool on their website which will help you locate bakeries that make bread the way bread should be made.

Other ways you can do your bit:

- In hoping that my rant has opened your eyes to what the big boys such as Warburtons, Hovis and the supermarket giants don’t want you to know, help fight the fight by becoming a member of the Real Bread Campaign. Your small membership fees goes towards their costs to help campaign for decent bakeries and lobby for changes so that us as consumers are given all the facts.
- Get baking! There is nothing more rewarding and satisfying that serving a delicious home baked loaf to your friends and family, and the looks on their faces as they say “you didn’t make that!” is something that will really mark you. Go on a bread making course if budget permits as learning side by side a seasoned baker will give you real confidence. Otherwise, pick up a book or scour the internet or youtube for free recipes. You won’t regret it.
- Share this article with people within your network by linking to it from your facebook profile, twitter or other social networks.

Thank you. Oh, and if you are not put off by the heat, the bags of flour and all the hard work we put into producing our breads, we are still recruiting!

Duncan
Founder, The Thoughtful Bread Company