The Brexit Loaf
Just to be clear, this blog is not about Boris Johnson, well, not so much!
It is common knowledge among the House of Commons catering corps, that one of the driving forces behind Brexit, is a peculiarly British uprising, led by our distinctly unlovable arch Brexiteers, against the never ending continental criticism and debasement, of our sliced chemical loaf. The French arrive, and spend half the day scouring the streets of London, looking for something they recognise as bread. The Polish arrive, but are too busy working to scour the streets, so buy their bread from Greggs and the supermarket, and then spend the rest of the day telling everyone and anyone willing to listen, that Polish bread is the best in the world. All of this is hurtful to those brought up on the fare of a British public school canteen, who think that sourdough is some sort of acronym for a fall in US bond yields. Cut our ties from Europe, go long on Greggs, and then all these un-British sounding places like ‘Le Pain Quotidien’, will be acquired by something recognisable, a Woolworths revival perhaps. Places like St Johns Bread and Wine off Smithfield, which is not so obviously foreign (however one of them is called Fergus, so he must be Irish), present more of a problem. I once went there for supper with a conservative minded colleague, who looked at the dish two gentlemen were eating on the next table, and thought he recognised Lancashire Hot Pot. He was about to order the same, when the waiter pointed out that they were not potatoes jutting out of the stew, but pig’s ears. A Bill to outlaw the other continental scourge of under cooked vegetables, will probably be good enough to see them off.
Enough friendly raillery. This Rotten Blog is about proper bread, breads made with moulds that have been bubbling away and regenerating for years, breads you can make a meal out of, breads to accompany a fine cheese and a bottle of organic Gevrey Chambertin Purple Mustard, breads that are too substantial and unbending, to accommodate the contents of a bumper burger. Proper, glorious, chemical free bread. Breads made by master artisan bread maker, Andrew Whitley for example, or closer to home, La Petite Chambertine in Gevrey Chambertin, which makes a perfect organic sourdough from their tiny artisanal premises at the cross roads of the Route Nationale.
As well as making bread, Andrew is the author of a book called Bread Matters. You can buy it on his web site www.breadmatters.com It includes recipes for making your own bread, and a comprehensive synopsis on why British bread is the cheapest and most disgusting in Europe. The manufacturing process, described as a ‘model of ‘industrial efficiency’, is capable of turning out vast quantities of radioactive goo, which still tastes of nothing, but maintains the same harmful ingredients in a neutral state, for several weeks after it comes off the conveyor belt.
While Brexiteers would like to free British manufacturers from what they perceive to be the yolk of compliance with EU regulatory requirements, this is not something that has ever troubled either British industrial bread makers, or the larger French wine makers. There is in fact a gaping chasm in EU regulatory requirements, which for some surprising reason, exempts some innocuous sounding things called ‘enzymes’, from the obligation to be identified as an ingredient on the packaging at point of sale. Well it turns out enzymes are not innocuous at all, in food processing, they are just another word for chemicals. Enzymes have been surreptitiously purloined by the Food Corruption Laboratories, and turned into some really unwholesome, disgusting little perverts.
“For the food enzyme industry, all of nature is a chemistry set. No organisms are too exotic or repulsive to be investigated for possible active agents. The dough that goes into a loaf of bread, may contain the strangest stuff - a reducing agent derived from animal hair or feathers, or enzymes from the pancreas of a pig.” Thank you Andrew! No thanks to EU regulators. Any chance the EU controls will be replaced with something more effective post Brexit? More chance of the pigs pancreas learning to fly!
So our age old accompaniment to good bread, has sadly not fared any better. Industrial enzymes are now found in virtually all non organic supermarket wines. They are applied to enhance colour, flavour, and increase the shelf life. If winemakers were required to specify all the different industrial enzymes their wine contains, there would not be enough space on the label for the name of the wine.
But I suppose at the end of all this finger pointing, the enzymic question, is whether these chemical additions actually do us any harm. The gut answer is probably yes, but there is little empirical science to prove it. Which is why the food additives industry gets away with it. Sometimes our Food and Drug Watchdogs get it dramatically wrong, and allow some dreadfully poisonous substance through the gates, but these are the ones where it becomes apparent within a relatively short timescale, that they are cancerous, or otherwise harmful to our health. But what about the significant increase in allergies, gluten intolerance, diabetes, skin defects, and obesity, all of which curtail or shorten our enjoyment of life, and which have positively mushroomed since industrial enzymes became part of our daily diet? Coincidence? The exact effect that all these chemicals have on our intestines, the function of which is to prevent harmful substances entering our blood and nervous systems, is difficult to prove. However horses were not made to eat meat, and perform perfectly well without it. It is difficult to see how humans were made to consume industrial chemicals as part of our daily diet. Hippocrates, a Greek doctor who lived to the ripe old age of 90 without ever ingesting an industrial enzyme, died in 360 BC, and is known as the ‘Father of Modern Medicine’. He concluded that all diseases start in the gut. More than 2,000 years later, our knowledge of how our insides work, has not materially evolved, beyond being able to draw the only logical and sensible conclusion - do not put things into your stomach, that are not meant to be there. And the benefits of eating five fruits a day, may be overall negative, if the fruits are all contaminated with potentially gut harming pesticides.
But to close on a positive note. back to Brussels, the place where it is rumoured the youthful Boris Johnson, tried in vain to find some sliced bread for his marmite sandwich, providing the starter for fermenting his anti EU sentiments. Anyway, now, just outside Brussels, is a company called Puratos. Founded in 1919, the web site describes their activities as ‘an international group offering a full range of innovative products, raw materials and application expertise to the bakery, patisserie and chocolate sectors’. Sounds like more industrial solutions to food problems created by industrial production? Well actually no. One particular part of the enterprise suggests an altogether different and more natural approach. A gentleman by the name of de Smedt, is responsible for their ‘Centre for Bread Flavour’, which is a very far cry from the industrial enzyme chemistry practiced in other large food companies. A library of 110 starters for sourdough, which they study and nurture to determine the different flavours that they are capable of imparting into bread, was recently visited by 12 bakers from different parts of the world, sent by the University of North Carolina. The University had provided the bakers with the same sourdough starter, and the object of the exercise, was to analyse the influence on the starter of the individual baker and his location, and the resultant flavour differentiation in the finished bread. Bravo Puratos, Andrew, and La Petite Chambertine.