News

You, Me and Bread

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | November 21, 2009

"How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?"
Julia Child

I love bread. I love the smell of it. I love the feel of it. I love the sight of it. I love the taste of it. I love everything about it. 

I love it warm with melted butter dripping off the edges. I love making sandwiches out of it. It doesn't matter if I use tomatoes and mayonnaise or turkey and ham or subs or a plain old hamburger, I love all kinds of bread for all kinds of sandwiches. 

My mother didn't bake bread but we did eat a lot of it at home. I can still remember the taste of her world famous bar-b-ques between fresh hamburger buns. If we were in the middle of putting up hay or filling the silo or combining wheat, I could easily put away three or four of them in one sitting. And, I still like the taste of two pieces of warm buttered toast with lots of delicious Lebanon bologna between them. 

Most of the bread in other countries tastes different than ours. I will never forget that delicious taste of bread and cheese at that hotel in Halle, Belgium or the options of thick, dark bread for breakfast in Helsinki, Finland. I will never forget the smell of bread in the markets in the old city of Jerusalem or along the sidewalks in Nairobi, Kenya. 

For most of us here bread is easily accessible. Our grocery shelves have enough options to slow down the most experienced shopper. Evie and I have often taken a long time just choosing a loaf of bread.

Today it takes nine seconds for a combine to harvest enough wheat to make about 70 loaves of bread. A family of four could live 10 years off the bread produced by one acre of wheat. With our machines and systems and grocery stores and bakeries, the options for bread are abundant. However, for us today, bread is just that, an option, not a necessity. 

But in antiquity, bread was a staple. It has sometimes been called "the ancestor of all prepared food." As far back as we can research, we find the evidence of bread. It was a reliable food source which kept our ancestors through the winter months and multiplied itself in the summer. 

Kingdoms rose and fell on its availability. The Egyptians controlled their people with the production and distribution of bread. In France, the shortage of bread helped start the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette was to have said "Let them eat cake" when told how her people were suffering due to bread shortages. 

It is unquestionably the principal food of the East. Even throughout Biblical culture the growing and harvesting of grain for bread was a part of the seasonal life for the average person. 75% of the people lived entirely on either bread or upon that which is made from wheat or barley. 

Because bread has had such a powerful influence on human history, it has even found its way into our conversations. We speak of "putting bread on the table" and being a "bread winner" as describing a household's main economic activities. A country's "bread basket" is the area of its primary agricultural productivity. We even use "bread"and "dough" as slang for money. 

Mahatma Gandhi declared, "There are some people in the world so hungry that God can't appear to them except in the form of bread." One religious leader even said, "Religion is meant to be bread for daily use, not cake for special occasions." 

The more I am writing these words, the hungrier I am getting for fresh bread. Perhaps it is time to start up our bread machine. And, when I do, I will be participating in a tradition which will connect me with just about every generation and just about every person who ever lived. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu