[Superstruct] The Hunt for Bread

First, I want to point you over to my wiki, where I’m posting some specific responses to the questions raised by the GEAS videos. I thought about doing it as a blog post, but eventually decided that me going on and on about food and oil was less interesting that just telling you what I’m eating, how, and why.

I’ll start off with a story about bread. Sandwich bread, even. You know, the kinda squishy big square kind. A while back I started paying more attention to how far my food was traveling, and what else was being added to it (notably lots and lots of HFCS). It’s all Michael Pollan’s fault (though I’m sure he’d be happy to hear that). For a lot of the foods Lucas and I eat, this wasn’t a big deal. We buy produce from New Seasons or the farmer’s market, where those questions are easy to answer.

Bread turned out to be more tricky. While I can (and do) make it from scratch, it takes several hours from mixing to final product, so it’s hard to create it on demand throughout the week, without making it a central part of my schedule. I tried to demonstrate that this was feasible, but even with my enthusiasm for cooking, it proved hard to keep up.

[Here I will omit a long digression on what makes sandwich bread suitably sandwichy, and whether the bread I make from scratch even qualifies. I will also skip a discussion of whether bread, let alone sandwich bread, is an important part of one’s pantry. We just want to get to the next part, about trying to buy bread that doesn’t suck.]

We went back to the grocery store and started reading labels. The store-brand loaves we normally bought didn’t work. Pretty much everything seemed to have corn syrup. There are a number of local bakeries that offer sandwich bread with more reasonable ingredients (i.e. some combination of grains and yeast and water without tons of extra sugar), and some of their offerings are delicious, but also more expensive than we were comfortable paying for a staple food, especially given their tendency to go moldy before we reached the end of the loaf.

We tried a number of things before landing on our current choice, Franz Whole Grain White, which is maybe a little dry but otherwise fine. The bakery is within walking distance from where I live.

This process of finding something healthy and practical for us was much more complicated (and frustrating, and occasionally absurd) than I expected. It might seem like a small thing to obsess over, and that’s exactly the problem. Something is very wrong when a food as basic as bread only comes in industrialized (under-nourishing and over-processed) or upscale (and priced accordingly) varieties.

I know I’m fortunate to be able to make this sort of choice at all, instead of buying whatever I can afford. For much of my life, the food budget has been much tighter. (Ask me sometime about gleaned bread and mold removal.) But maybe that’s also why I believe so strongly that those of us who can afford to demand better food options should do so. None of this exists without a market.

6 responses to “[Superstruct] The Hunt for Bread

  1. I suspect that my favorite bread (Dave’s) falls into the “too expensive for a staple food” category.

    I don’t make nearly as much money as you do (I can pretty much guarantee that), but between my food snobbishness and Jeff’s (which is different), a lot of my budget goes towards things like ridiculously expensive foodstuffs. Dave’s bread, the ingredients for homemade granola (which isn’t actually cheaper than bulk manufactured stuff), tea, good ice cream, schmancy cheese…

    I find it’s easier to get things like fruits and veggies, which we get mostly from the yards of Portland (including our own), either via friends, our impromptu hippie CSA, or wildcrafting. Since that makes up the bulk of my diet, it’s a good thing that it’s cheap or free. (Food Not Bombs has also historically been a great source for veggies.)

    Sometimes I think food is too complicated and takes too long, but then I remember that, actually, since I don’t spend all day working towards my next meal, I’m doing pretty well.

  2. Yeah, Dave’s was definitely more than I expected to spend on bread. You’re the second person to mention to me today that that’s the one they buy, so maybe I’ll give it a try at some point. I do frequently spend more to get foods I care about. Right now the biggest chunks of money seem to go toward dairy and wine, and meat every couple of weeks. I guess I need to make friends with dairy farmers and winemakers.

  3. Also: “Sometimes I think food is too complicated and takes too long, but then I remember that, actually, since I don’t spend all day working towards my next meal, I’m doing pretty well.” could easily be a long, interesting conversation in itself. I’ve been pondering that a lot lately too.

  4. I’ve found several brands at Safeway/Fred Meyer that have no HFCS. Several, in fact, proudly advertise it.

  5. I suspect you and I could probably have a really interesting conversation about food…hmm…we may need to engineer that one of these days.🙂

  6. Perhaps the cost of wholesale organic flour, yeast, honey, oats, etc maybe worth the prep time in financial savings and knowing what’s in your bread.

    Love your wiki entry BTW.