Bread Metaphors

The heavy lifting of words

Dear Bread Friends,

I found a new path today. Every morning I try to walk, and today I found myself at the golf course. Spying a man standing on a bridge, I decided to go where he was. I stood where he had stood, looking at and listening to the water. At the end of the bridge, I found and followed a path that ran along the water. A few months ago I had walked on the other side of this stream, skidding my way down a steep slope, but I didn’t know there was an actual path! It was lovely to walk on stones and twigs and dirt rather than sidewalk or pavement.

Of course, I want this literal discovery to cast a metaphor on the day. If I found a new path, I’m thinking new thoughts, and everything will be better. Right? Maybe not. I’m growing suspicious of my desire to cover life with poetic phrasings and snuggle under them, like blankets.

I can remember learning about metaphors and similes in elementary school. The ability to make words mean more than their definitions, to compare things and create links seemed like tools I would use the rest of my life.

Now that I’m in the rest of my life, I’m looking at verbal comparisons and seeing them as crutches. This feeling arrived last week, when I was taking a class with Lexie Smith. The class was about flatbreads and I loved how she talked about the big, broad topic of bread – how it’s made, and what is made of it as a cultural object. “Bread is a myth, it’s a million myths,” she said, adding that so many of the ways that we discuss bread are unrelated to its material form. Grain has become invisible, she said, and bread has become an ideology. Indeed.

This started me thinking (again) about the social and emotional weight we ask bread to carry. Bread is a symbol of communion and sustenance. It’s the air we need to eat. Yet we expect our bread to be cheap, nutritious and important. How can we wrangle so many intentions into a single food? Bread is motherly love and human affection. It represents the work of bakers, and sometimes, the work of a particular mill and farm. Bread is bad for you, and bad for the environment because of monocropping and glyphosate used during harvest; supermarket bread is carrying shame cast by health hierarchies. Are we asking too much of bread, or at least of our bread metaphors?

Mother is another word and metaphor forced to carry too much. The idea of mothers and mothering is so idealized that we hardly attach the real labor involved in child rearing to the concept. What would the world look like if we changed our ideas about bread, and about mothers? If we supported the material conditions of mothering, and for making a bread that’s a true bridge to the land, and to each other?

Words are boxes. We are boxing bread into corners and mothers into corners with our expectations, but I’m still in love with the fluidity that a metaphor can lend. Today, I felt bright and open, partially because of that new path I walked, and also, because I’m baking new recipes, the Piedmont Loaf and the Piedmont Miche from “Southern Ground”, Jennifer Lapidus’ great cookbook. The instructions are very clear, but I feel scattered as I stray from Adrian Hale’s Communal Loaf. I know that recipe inside out and it’s unsettling, in a good way, to do something different. I’m stepping out of my bread box.

In his newsletter, Wordloaf, Andrew Janjigian wrote a love letter to one of my favorite bread learning places, The Kneading Conference. His words are so open, I close this bread meander with them.

Your flour pal, Amy

“I’ve long held that bakers are among the most generous cooks there are, freely willing to share their recipes and ideas with others. Maybe that’s because bread formulas are more akin to musical scores than recipes, as much about as how they are interpreted and performed as how they are recorded, making them less in need of being kept close to the vest. Or maybe it’s because bakers recognize that there is little in the bread world that is novel or unique, except in how something is executed. Whatever the reasons for this generosity, it is on full display at the Kneading Conference. After every one of them, I leave energized and excited to get back to baking, my faith in humanity restored anew.”  —Andrew Janjigian, from “Bread Friends Are the Best Friends”