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THE UPRISING - A Conference dedicated to the future of Real Bread

By Vegetarian Chef, Julia Ponsonby

On the 12th September, Voirrey and I were in London for The Uprising - a conference organised by the Real Bread Campaign.  This gathering of 250 or so delegates punningly described as  “dough nuts” aimed to look at the future of real bread  - which means the kind of hand baked and slowly risen craft bread we bake and love at Schumacher College.   Indeed, Chris Young,  coordinator of the campaign commented we really shouldn’t grace factory baked industrial loaves with the title ‘bread’ at all - and we shouldn’t have to pre-fix our wholesome bread with the word REAL.  This  contrast was aptly demonstrated by a comment from a Swedish delegate who described her  childhood love of good crusty Swedish loaves that she had  enjoyed chewing through feeling how good it was for her teeth and how flabbergasted she was arriving in England to find a stack of soft white bread sandwiches unwrapped at a picnic, cut into triangles and then denuded of what little what little crust there was.                                                                

The conference was kicked off with a key note speech by Andrew Whitley, founder of Breadmatters and co-founder of the Real Bread Campaign with Sustain.  Ably leading the panel and fielding the questions with ready humour was Kath Dalmeny - who used to live and work at Schumacher College 20 years ago and who now heads up the charity Sustain.   In fact, the Real Bread Campaign is a good example of the potential Schumacher College has for significant and life changing networking moments to happen since Chris Young met Andrew Whitley when he came on the first sourdough bread week Andrew ran at the College some 8 years ago never guessing it would lead to a career change. Not long after Chris took on the job of coordinating the newly forming Real Bread Campaign.

The day of the Uprising at London Unversity’s School of African and Oriental Studies  (SOAS) was divided between themed conversations  during which  the delegates were divided into smaller groups and panel discussions in the Brunei lecture theatre, with lots of room for audience participation.  Among the topics covered were the practicalities of scaling up from home baker to micro-baker, the use of heritage grains, therapeutic baking and baking as a social enterprise. In my own conversation on Mindful and Therapeutic baking I was fascinated to learn from my co-conversation leader Catheriine West of Significant Seams that research had been done in the 1950s that showed sewing to be particularly beneficial as a therapeutic art - but the information ran contrary to the aims of the rising feminist movement and never saw light of day.  This parallels the therapeutic benefits of bread baking where our hands are used to engage our brains,  our breathing becomes even and we are distracted from negative thoughts or emotions, and  where at the end of the process we are rewarded with having personally created an immensely empowering  and objective result (be it edible or inedible) - and as one lady (who was both the owner of a bakery and a child psychologist) pointed out, in the case of breadmaking we’ve also engaged in being playful. With such a wealth of experience amongst the delegates, speakers and contributors the day fermented with insights of all kinds - as well as much punning!

Andrew  Whitley drew our attention to the way  since the 1940s when it was discovered that lack of calcium caused rickets etc,  white flour has been fortified with nutrients. Ironically these often do not replace the nutrients that are removed in the milling and refining process.  Shockingly, a form of iron is added back into the flour that is not accessible to the human gut - a dereliction of duty that should surely be challenged, and chucked out once the goal of an “Honest Crust Act” is achieved that gives everyone a better guarantee that the bread we eat is really long fermented and good for us - as opposed to not high speed chorley wood process fluff Britain has become renown for in the last few decades.   And which has been associated with the rise of gluten intolerance.  After hearing this, one lady artisan baker from Liverpool who had been insisting that her working class clientele only liked pure white bread so she had to make it, announced with some conviction that she was now going to  make a browner bread  that would be equally acceptable.  If Swedish children can enjoy crusts and brown bread, why not us - we really can change what we like when we believe it is better for us.

Schumacher alumni  will not be surprised that one of the most scientific observations from the floor came from our own night-owl baker Voirrey Watterson, who brought up  the subject of Phytase and Phytic acid.  This was perfectly understood and responded to by Andrew Whitley, though I am not sure the rest of the audience understood and I certainly lost thread of the conversation.  After the exchange Kath Dalmeny quipped with a big smile on her face that she would never have guessed that a simple question about using vinegar could lead to “such fabulous science”.  Well done Voirrey!

The delicious picnic lunch that was shared at midday was a tasty reflection of the conference delegates passion for baking.  Huge bubbly loaves of sourdough, obviously made with a very high water to flour ratio,  appeared alongside cheese, salad, brownies and many other  tasty morsels fished from the bottom of rucksacks and baskets - this array included a loaf of Voirrey’s sunflower seed  rye bread from Schumacher College, which was quickly sliced up and devoured.   It made me feel very at home to see Voirrey’s bread in London!

For baking enthusiasts in London who’d like to reap a bit of the insights and enthusiasm that was generated by this conference,  you’ll be glad to hear that another bread event is busy fermenting right now.  This is being planned by one of Uprising  panellist baker Ben McIntyre of the E5 Bakery in Hackney.   This is The Farm to Loaf Symposium on 25th October at e5 Millhouse, 396 Mentmore Terrace, Hackney E8 3PH.  The discussion will be chaired by BBC food programme’s Sheila Dillon and you will have a chance to hear two Schumacher teachers amongst several others.  Andrew Whitley will be talking about his Scotland the Bread project and  John Letts Archaeo-Botanist and Farmer who has taught on our MSc in Horticulture for Sustainable Food Production will be talking about his collection of heritage varieties, farming approach and milling results..    Voirrey is greatly looking forward to attending this event - on a magic flying carpet provided by our own Apprentices, many of whom have enjoyed late night bread baking and  Kim Chi sessions with Voirrey during their 6 month stay at the College.

Interestingly for Schumacher College, Andrew Whitely was greatly influenced by hearing E.F. Schumacher speak. Thirty years on, the call for human scale living still rings true as one of the most valuable paths we can tread.  But I wonder if  Andrew would  ever have imagined that he would be forging this very path through the means of bread?   It does, however, make perfect sense.   Bread is our mainstay, our most basic food - when it is threated, so is our very livelihood. We can use  bread to turn our modern economy upside down and challenge the fast pace way we do things.  Fritz Schumacher himself started making his own bread after mistakenly starting to eat a paper serviette at a dinner party which made him realise the quality of bread had deteriorated to the level of tissue paper.  As Andrew said at the Uprising, let’s pass on true stories of real bread as meaningful work, ‘each day’s attempt at perfection’.  Let’s call for more jobs per loaf, not less,  finding places to share bread, turning strangers into companions and let’s not forget “changed loaves leads to changed lives” .

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