BREAD AND SOCIETY
Food is more than just nutrition. It reflects the tastes, sensibilities, and values of various communities. In the same way that our language changes with location, bread evolves. Indian roti, brought to the Caribbean by Indian indentured labourers, became a Trinidadian street food.
There is also a darker side to the culture of bread. In the 15th century, Europeans believed that diet impacted physical and personal characteristics – the diet of bread and wine was supposedly made people civilized. Finding a lack of wheat in the Americas, Spanish colonizers thought they could make Indigenous people more “human” by introducing wheat and forcing food habits on the local population.
The idea that you are what you eat resulted in slave owners reserving the refined wheat for themselves to assert their supposed racial and cultural superiority while leaving slaves with corn, which was considered animal feed.
Despite this, Black cooks transformed corn into a nuanced cuisine. Learning from Native American traditions, these cooks developed cakes, muffins, dumplings, and bread. Innovative women merged their West African cooking techniques with European baking practices, creating Southern cuisine.
Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Photo courtesy of British Library via Unsplash.
Arepas are flat, round, cornmeal patties. They are baked, fried or cooked on a charcoal grill, and filled with grated cheese, ham and black beans. Arepas are made from precooked corn flour (gluten-free), water and a pinch of salt.
Originated from southern germany, the Jewish bagel truly became its own in Polish shtetls. Shtetl were small Jewish towns in Poland and russia. the bagel was inspired by the Pretzel brought to Poland by german and Jewish migration in the 14th century. Originally sold on the streets by vendors in baskets or on a stick, the shape symbolizes eternal life for the Jewish community. With mass migration of Jews to America, many people earned a living by selling bagels on the street.
Chapati is a South Asian flat bread made with wheat flour. It is not baked but toasted over a griddle, till they are freckled gold. it can be eaten with lentil soup or vegetable dishes like Indian curry.
An English muffin is a small, round, flat type of yeast-leavened bread which is usually sliced horizontally and toasted.
Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread made of (high-gluten) flour, oil, water, salt and yeast. Focaccia is often sprinkled with additional salt or topped with other salty ingredients such as olives and rosemary.
Grissini are pencil-sized sticks of crisp, dry bread originating in Italy. they are crisp all the way through and are often flavored with various herbs, seeds, and spices.
Injera is a sourdough like flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. Traditionally, injera is made out of teff, a grain native to the highlands of Ethiopia, and is a central part of Ethiopian dining. In Ethiopian cuisine, injera is put between the fingers and used to pick up or scoop food off the plate. Traditionally, Ethiopian food is served on a large injera.
Knäckebröd is a Swedish flat and dry type of bread or cracker, containing mostly rye flour. Many kinds of knäckebröd contain wheat flour, spices, and grains. It is fibre-rich and traditionally served with cheese and herring.
Lavash is a thin flatbread of Armenian origin made with flour, water, and salt. It is popular in the Caucasus, iran and turkey. traditionally cooked in a tandoori oven, it is low in fat. toasted sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds are sometimes sprinkled on before baking.
Matzo / Matzoh
Matzo is an unleavened large cracker, traditionally eaten by Jews during Passover holiday. The flour may be made from the five grains mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.
A small light and fluffy Chinese bun, bao are steamed in bamboo steamer baskets atop boiling water. Baos are rolled out flat when prepared, before they are filled with a number of delicious fillings, like seafood and vegetables. They are then folded and crimped at the top before steaming.
An iconic, long, thin, white French bread. Baguettes feature a thick, crisp crust encasing a chewy, light interior. Baguettes may have small or large air pockets, thus changing the lightness of the bread. in France, the recipe for baguettes is regulated by law, however, no such legislation exists regarding its arguably more iconic shape.
Fry bread is a traditional First Nations bread. the long-held origin story is that it was created by the navajo people of Arizona as they were forced from their traditional land to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. The rations of flour and lard given to them were combined with baking powder and used to fry a simple dough, creating frybread. the baking powder acts as a leavening agent and makes it quick to make. the small, slightly puffy discs are often eaten folded over and stuffed with fillings like meat, or covered with spreads like honey and jam.
South Asian flatbread leavened with yeast, this light and fluffy bread is traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven, a large, cone-shaped oven with a thick walls and small opening at the top. to make naan, dough is slapped onto the side from the top of the oven to quickly bake the bread. When finished, hot naan loaves are removed with a metal spike.
Pre-settler Bannock style buns were made from camas bulb, and were baked for long periods of time, dried and flattened, and formed into cakes and loaves. Today it is mainly made with oat or barley, and the Canadian variety of Bannock traditionally uses white flour.
A simple everyday flatbread eaten commonly in Algeria, kesra is an unleavened flatbread made with water, oil, flour, and salt. It is cooked either on a griddle or in a round pan and is eaten as an accompaniment to many different meals.
Pan de Muerto
Pan de Muerto, or “bread of the dead”, is a special bread that is offered and eaten during Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. the bread is a yeast leavened bread cooked in a traditional bread oven. it is usually enriched with eggs and is slightly sweet. Pan de Muerto is formed into many shapes, such as skulls and animals.
Qistibi is a popular traditional bread in the mountainous, Muslim-majority regions of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in Russia. A baked, unleavened flatbread that is usually made into a hot pocket or dumpling-like dish, qistibi is frequently filled with mashed potato but can also be meat sauce or millet. The fillings are are placed on one half of the flat cake and the other half is folded over to cover the filling.
A tortilla is a type of soft, thin flatbread made not from maize meal and/or wheat flour. they are used to prepare many Mexican dishes like tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and wraps. tortilla chips are deep-fried pieces of tortilla, often with added salt and other flavourings.
Gingerbread is a warm, delicious, holiday bread enjoyed across Europe and North America during cold winter months. Throughout its long history, gingerbread became a unique and central part of many European cultures, traditions, and stories, yet its popularity in the West is the result of years of migration.
There are two competing narratives for the origin of gingerbread. One narrative says that gingerbread was brought to Europe by a 10th-century monk who travelled from Armenia to north-central France, where he introduced gingerbread, a popular Silk Road food, to local French Catholics who then incorporated it into their holiday traditions. This is the more accepted story as the French word gigembras, meaning gingered food, is the root of the English word gingerbread. Alternatively, another narrative says that gingerbread was brought to Europe by 11th-century Crusaders who were introduced to ginger, a plant endemic to Asia, while pillaging trading crossroads in the Middle East. Either way, gingerbread’s introduction in a religious context determined its relevancy in the West.
In medieval Europe, gingerbread became popular and highly regionalized. Most countries developed their own unique versions of gingerbread to suit their holidays and festivities. For example, in medieval Germany, gingerbread took the form of sweet, dense loaves, called lebkuchen, with bakeries being governed by strict rules from breadmaking guilds. Nuremberg eventually became synonymous with gingerbread, and the tradition of making gingerbread houses emerged in medieval Bavaria.
Meanwhile, in England and France, gingerbread was a harder, less sweet cookie that was made with high-class ingredients such as rosewater. The cookies were a common treat at medieval holiday fairs, where gingerbread was made to look like people, animals, and springtime flowers to usher in new seasons. During fairs, gingerbread was traded as a love token or eaten as a charm; rabbit-shaped gingerbreads were said to bring fertility while heart-shaped pieces warded off evil.
Even royalty joined in on the fun. In 16th-century England, Queen Elizabeth I had life-size gingerbread caricatures made of dignitaries visiting her court, while 15th-century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III handed out gingerbread cookies baked in his likeness to improve his reputation amongst his subjects.
Gingerbread’s final big move was to the Americas, where it arrived with British colonists. As molasses was widely available and cheaper in America, it became a key ingredient and produced a slightly softer bread that was cheaper to make. This led to gingerbread becoming a popular year-round food. It was such a quintessential American food that George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, is said to have served her gingerbread recipe to the Marquis de Lafayette, a French military officer who fought with the Americans in the Revolutionary War.
Gingerbread is a global bread: ingredients from Asia, spread West by religion, distributed across European communities, brought to North America by traders and colonists, and popularized through Christian religious traditions and festivals: gingerbread has reached almost every continent and touches people around the world.
Photo courtesy of Valentin Vlaslov via Unsplash.
Beer and bread both share the same basic ingredients and fermenting principles. Beer is essentially gluten in an alternate form, both beer and bread rely on a delicate fermentation process, and beer’s flavouring can also widely vary based on the ingredients used.
In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that beer and bread were often made alongside one another as early as 3000 BCE.
Throughout history, bakers would obtain fermenting agents for bread from the leftover sediments that come from brewing beer. Up until the 19th century, all bakers would get their yeast from breweries.
Across Africa, bread has long been a dietary staple. Starting in the eighth century, Arab traders crossing the Sahara Desert observed bread made of tubers and millet being baked in large, underground brick-lined ovens called earth depressions.
Earth depressions are able to stay hot for days as the brick lining retains heat very well. Across the rest of the continent, bread is baked, steamed, or fried using different forms of ovens and griddles over an open fire.
European Leavened Bread
In the West, leavened bread is the norm. In the early modern era, many European health guides labelled flatbread as unhealthy, thus creating a stigma due to perceived inferiority.
European taste was made the culinary standard. Europeans equated refined food, such as bread made with bleached white flour, with sophistication.
European flatbreads, such as Scottish oatcake, were regarded as “lesser” and low-quality.
As upper classes often followed these rules closely, leavened breads were reinforced as being culinarily and culturally superior and flatbreads were kept as a low-quality food for the poor.
Food Security, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, exists when a specified group of people have safe and sufficient access to food at all times and when this food meets the groups’ dietary preferences, allowing them to have an active and healthy life. As seen with various types of bread, cultural appropriateness can arguably be considered as another factor in food security.
Climate change is one of the primary causes of food insecurity. As our environment changes around us, from floods and droughts wiping out precious farmland to a warming earth making it impossible to grow native crops, certain food sources are becoming more and more unavailable. Bread can be used to combat some of these effects as crops are being modified to grow in new or changing environments. One example is a new strain of wheat that has been modified to produce higher yields in saline soil, which is commonly found in overly-tilled farmland or near bodies of water.
Food insecurity is also affected by culinary trends. Cultural influences of what is considered “edible” dictates what is grown, sold, and bought. in the West, ancient grains and foods indigenous to other parts of the world are being “discovered” and popularized, often under the guise of being “foreign” or a “superfood.” this leads to higher demand and reduced availability, thus making these foods difficult to access and expensive. in countries where Western-style food is most accessible, immigrant communities face a new language and climate, as well as dietary challenges. For example, Fonio, a drought-resistant grain from West Africa, is becoming increasingly popular with Western foodies. For West African communities, the higher prices and increased demand for Fonio make it less accessible, which can lead to increased food insecurity, to declining mental and physical health for these communities as they are removed from their traditions.
Photo courtesy of Matt Palmer via Unsplash.
Photo courtesy of Christian Burri via Unsplash.
Food insecurity is a serious problem in our society – even simple breakfasts like jam and toast are unavailable to millions of children across Canada. in the most recent data from the Statistics Canada Canadian Income Survey (2021), 5.8 million Canadians are food insecure, with 1.4 million being under the age of 18. even in a rich country like Canada, the unfortunate reality is that many children go to school without breakfast or lunch. In Coquitlam, firefighters have responded to this by starting the Breakfast and Snack Program. Started in 2014, the program provides children with a morning meal that gives kids energy and focus for learning. the program has an inclusive open-door policy to create a sense of community, demonstrating the concept of breaking bread, or the sense of sharing and trust that happens around food.
Coquitlam Heritage Society at Mackin House
1116 Brunette Avenue
Coquitlam, British Columbia
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Location: Mackin House at 1116 Brunette Ave, Coquitlam, BC, V3K 1G2