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Michael Pollan's "Cooked" | History of Bread

Posted July 14, 2019

Tagged: Bread | Breadmaking | Cooked | History | Michael Pollan | Netflix | Spelt 

By Nature's Legacy on March 7, 2016 in Food for Thought, Health, News

Still taken from the opening credits of "Cooked"

Still taken from the opening credits of “Cooked”

Michael Pollan’s new series Cooked is important. It tells us why we, as humans, cook. It tells us what cooking means and why we need to understand this basic thing that’s necessary to survive. The series follows his book of the same name, “Cooked,” if you haven’t read it this docu-series is a must watch. The third episode, Air, is especially captivating.

Why is bread so important to human life? To history? And if it is so important, why is it often painted as an evil part of the diet today? This episode attempts to answer these questions.

In the episode, Bruce German, a food scientist at UC Davis, is quoted as saying “If I gave you a bag of flour and water you could live on it for a while but eventually you would die but if you take that same bag of flour and water and bake it into bread you could live indefinitely.”

As we learn in the first episode, the act of cooking is what made us human. Then bread is what created civilization. To create bread you need to grow the grain, mill the grain and finally mix and bake the grain. It allows a people to come together and work toward creating a community – essentially creating jobs, special tasks for people to do. Bread can nourish and support a civilization, it is what allowed humans to evolve beyond the hunter gatherer culture.

Bread is so important to every culture around the globe. In so many cultures, it is the center of each and every meal. Throughout history, during the times of a spike in the cost of bread there has been civil unrest because bread is necessary for us to survive. So important that in Morocco, the word for bread is also the word for life.

Bread is really so simple however today it often seems daunting and intimidating. Because as a culture we have forgotten how to make bread – this bread that sustains our life, that allowed the creation of the civilizations we have today. It has become so processed and is really something other than bread. Up until 60 years ago bread was made with three ingredients, now a packaged loaf from the supermarket contains 31 or 37 ingredients. That’s not bread. It’s something else.

When I began baking bread I was also greatly intimidated. The fact that so many of us, including Michael Pollan, are intimidated by bread is surprising to think about. For such an advanced and industrialized society how can this food of survival that has been around for thousands of years be intimidating?

Bread is one of those things that takes practice and patience but it is inherently simple. Watching the women in the episode who today still get up every morning and make bread for their family, one thing I noticed is that they don’t have their recipe book out, or their scale, or their measuring cups. They have these beautiful large shallow round bowls into which they pour in flour and add water while kneading until their dough comes together the way they want it to, they way it has been done for countless generations. These women know and understand their dough. This is a lot of what we have lost, this simple understanding of our food. Once I finally understood what my dough was supposed to look like, how it’s different from day to day, it wasn’t intimidating anymore. In fact it was calming – the act of putting lovely, fresh loaves of bread on the table to feed my family. 

The point of this episode, this series, is to inspire you to rediscover your kitchen as a place of joy not of work. It succeeds greatly in this endeavor.  I encourage you to use this motivation to pick up your spelt flour and water and bake some bread. Your loaf doesn’t have to be pretty, or turn out perfect. It will taste amazing because you made it and because it’s real bread.


Sufganiyot - Baked Jelly Donut

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