The humble loaf has become a fashionable badge of identity. But do we really know our sliced white from our sourdough?by Dan Hancox / July 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
At the Brick House Sourdough Bakery and Bar in Peckham Rye in south London, an 850g loaf of artisanal multigrain sourdough will set you back £5. Brick House loaves are handmade with organic flour, slow-fermented, naturally leavened and stone-baked over a period of around 48 hours in their converted east Dulwich warehouse. A former World Bread Award winner (in the coveted best baguette category), the baker also offers “sourdough in a day” classes for £150. The hum of commuters trundling into the train station next door, like the arrival of the bakery itself in 2017, reflects the rapid gentrification the area has undergone in the last decade. They do not accept cash.
Like many inner-city areas deemed to be “on the up,” Peckham is increasingly polarised. A five minute walk around the corner from Brick House, next to Poundstretcher, is a busy branch of Lidl, where an 800g loaf of sliced white bread costs 36p. These loaves are machine-made in one of Britain’s 150 large-plant bakeries in a process that takes only a few hours, thanks to the addition of flour treatment agent and emulsifiers. With the addition of the preservative calcium proponiate, the loaves will last on the shelves for a week or so.
We break bread with others as a gesture of friendship, as Jesus did with his disciples, so it might seem as if it should be a unifier in our culture, rather than a marker of difference. And yet if the loaf is becoming an icon of class division then history suggests that we should not be so surprised. As the most basic of foods, bread has been found on the frontline of social conflict, from the Roman Empire to 18th-century France and on to the Arab Spring. While no one has gone to war over an ice cream, in 1917 the Bolsheviks’ historic rallying cry was “peace, land and bread.”
If there is a battle of sorts over bread in Britain today, however, it is a battle with a twist. The most -zealous partisans are not hungry peasants about to storm barricades, overthrow governments or raid grain stores. They are middle-class foodies anxious about the industrialisation of food, keen to choose a loaf that demonstrates…