Bread is life

reflecting on my journey of evolving as a consumer of food

Good morning bread friends.

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Each week as I sit to write you a note, I am reminded that a remarkably high percentage of you actually tune in to these emails each week. I often wonder if you’re reading this over breakfast on your phone, or if you’re sitting down to a computer and this is a brief muse before starting into some other work.

I never would have guessed that I’d write a weekly newsletter. Partly because I’ve long felt more comfortable speaking than writing. Throughout my career, I had become familiar with sales and marketing newsletters, and also political mailing lists. The reality that more than half of all subscribers to this newsletter regularly read these emails actually makes this list quite distinct from your average marketing e-blast.

I choose to believe that our distinction is that we are a community. A group of friends or would-be-friends that have been brought together based on some common interests. Our shared desire to find opportunities to make our world more just… as well as perhaps an unusually high level of concern for where our food comes from.

When I think back 15 or 20 years, I actually think it has become much more common for Americans to be conscious of where their food comes from. Compared to today, I don’t recall nearly as much acknowledgment of the ingredients in our food when I was young. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 80s and 90s, and it seemed like canned and frozen foods were common to eat and also commonly marketed for their convenience without much regard to their quality, or freshness, or how local or sustainable the production was.

Yet even amongst a potentially larger societal shift to care deeply about the freshness of one’s food… it seems to me that bread is still an afterthought for many. Speaking from anecdotal observations… I know several people who have proudly taken up growing their own fruits and vegetables as the final step on their quest to eat fresh food. “I want to know where my vegetables come from and I know I’m not spraying weird stuff on them”, is a paraphrasing of a common sentiment that I’ve seen.

And still the idea of knowing where their wheat comes from, or knowing “what weird stuff” goes into one’s bread does not yet seem to be a common concern in our society. Commercial bread is readily available, it is cheap, predictable, and has been a constant for most Americans’ lives.

This is a community of people who just may be ahead of the curve on an eventual turn to acknowledge that bread is food with nuance and that wheat is an ingredient like any other that we can understand and prioritize the quality, freshness, regionality, and sustainability with which it is produced.

I say all of this to preface my acknowledgement that even as our family has been on this journey to understand and appreciate locally sourced flour in our naturally leavened bread… we too have been known to carve out a special exception for hotdog and hamburger buns. Something about those squishy 99 cent buns really rings of nostalgia for us. And while my wife has made buns from scratch several times, we were still hardly over the idea of using buns from the grocery store.

But recently I made hamburger buns that may have put me over the fence finally. Inspired by this recipe from The Perfect Loaf, on the 4th of July, I made wheaty sourdough brioche hamburger buns. Even my kids voluntarily told me that these buns were super tasty! I made them with flours from Meadowlark, which is the same local farm & flour mill that I source most of my organic flour from for my weekly sourdough loaves.

I say all of this to share with you all a great recipe for buns and also to acknowledge that we’re all on a learning journey. Not just regarding food… but emotionally and mentally and spiritually. As we are learning new things in this life we’re all finding opportunities to hold on to or shed things from our past. Hopefully, as we progress on our journey we are getting slightly healthier and maintaining grace for those who are on different parts of that journey for themselves.

As for me – I won’t say that I’ll never buy these stunningly soft poppy seed hot dog buns from the store again. But I now better understand that we could learn to make something similar with fewer ingredients, and I’ve come to appreciate that in a whole new way.