Bread as Background
Dear bread, what would we do without you?
The foundational-ness of bread has been on my mind. I've been writing more, thanks to 1000 Words of Summer, an invitation to write from Jami Attenberg that’s been invigorating. More time with words, however, means less mind in the kitchen.
I've made sure there was bread and cheese for sandwiches, and kept the fridge filled with beans, greens and rice. It’s interesting to take sustenance more for granted than I usually do.
Bread and other staples allow us to background food, and put other efforts at the front of our minds and time. This sounds simple but it feels important to notice again and again. The habits of agriculture and food processing free us for other pursuits. Try not to read food processing as negative, because it has to happen between the ground and our mouths. Picking a leaf of spinach from the yard, washing and cooking it is processing. There’s many levels of participation in the feeding cycle, and the food systems we have are wrong in many ways — from exploiting farmworkers to formula monopolies, from ethanol boondoggles to pesticides — but not having to scramble for food is a luxury, and freedom. (I know I’m lucky to have this liberty — for those of you just meeting me, I ran a soup kitchen and food pantry for 6 years. We used to buy milk gift cards for people, and I wonder if any food pantries are now offering gas cards too.)
As I watched two dozen birds explore a corner of my yard for the first time, I thought of the ability to focus on other aspects of life than food. My neighbor’s incubated many eggs, and kept the chicks indoors for six weeks. New to the landscape, the chicks grubbed for worms and grabbed at weed leaves. They had crumble in the coop, but they were eager for other stuff. Chickens may never hit the keyboard and muse about eating, but here I am, thinking in your inbox.
From my perch of plenty, the ordinary can be extraordinary. Last week, I toured gardens downtown with my family, and afterwards we went to a no-nonsense Italian place. The tables are put together to fit as many people in as possible; this is not a suave game to make people sit together, just a functional use of space. I wanted to take pictures of every family and friend group I saw.
Many of them had also been looking at the gardens, and were enjoying carafes of red wine and glasses of beer. I wondered about the connections between people. Who were sisters and who were friends? I kept sneaking peaks at a pair of couples, one in their late 20s and one in their 60s; looking at noses, I tried to figure out who was the child of the older couple.
The place was busy but everyone was relaxed. Diners had chosen this spot as a place to enjoy each other's company. Yes, the food was good. We had an antipasto salad, and two pizzas, but the food was almost incidental to our togetherness. I had a sense of precious pedestrian-ism, an everyday love for life. If the world ended just then, and we all turned to dust, we would've left at a good moment.
So what, my bread friends, are you foregrounding and backgrounding? Bread, butter, smores? Are you celebrating Pride? Appreciating Juneteenth? Planning for graduation parties? Whatever is on your plates & on your minds, I hope you have something ordinary and extra to celebrate soon.