Everyone (and their roomie, mom, and neighbor) is baking bread right now, flour is selling like hotcakes and suddenly gluten isn’t a threat. We couldn’t help but wonder what this sudden spark in bread enthusiasts means. We went to bread artist Lexie Smith for answers.
Eating or baking bread, art is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. If you haven’t seen Lexie Smith’s work that is. The artist from NYC uses bread’s potential as a social, political, economic, and ecological barometer – not your average baker. Lexie is exploring bread’s potential as an agent for change, publishing the findings of her experiments on a website called Bread on Earth. She made it to both Forbes and The New York Times’ “30 Under 30” lists. She teaches workshops, for example at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam on the sociopolitical history of bread and its relationship to peasantry and power: “It’s fun to see the different colors that have represented wealthy people’s bread over the years. It was white bread—as white as you could get. Now we want sourdough, local heirloom grains, freshly milled, $15-a-loaf, slow-fermented,” she says. “You see the spectrum bending back on itself. This is why I’m interested in bread as a barometer of social change. If you look at bread, you have to look at subsidies and revolts and taxation. Bread has never really been simple.” she tells Vice.
In times like this, of great uncertainty, crisis even, however big the consequences might be – from being utterly bored in lockdown to losing jobs or even loved ones – what we share is a need for comfort and security. Lexi decided to start sending out sourdough starter to anyone interested in the process and received over 400 requests in the first 24 hours. She encourages other bakers to dehydrate and share their own with their communities. Providing instructions for that, as well as sourdough maintenance, on her website. Lexi writes: “Some folks who wrote have lost their jobs and are looking for ways to keep feeding themselves and their families, others are looking for distraction, a hobby, a way to provide for their community, or just therapy.”
If this spark in baking break shows us one thing, it’s at least this: “Such a strong interest in bread making over the last week clearly underscores the necessity of revaluing our ability to make, distribute, and consume necessary goods outside of a commodity marketplace. We’re so estranged from these processes that many people’s relationships to sustain themselves feels urgently inadequate, and the powerful, the gatekeepers of wealth, are officially not coming to save us. Because of or in the face of this, bread has once again, as in so many other eras of extreme insecurity, risen up as a symbol of sustenance, comfort, and security. How do we get to it? Many non-commodity farmers, millers, and bakers are standing by to provide for this resurgence. Bread is the commodity that requires *humans* to produce. A return to it logically coincides with a time when human life feels unprecedentedly precarious. All metaphorical intonations of bread as life, bread as livelihood, bread as money, as body, have melted pretty quickly into the real.”
“Sourdough is an accumulation of the air and your direct environment and feedings over years and years and years. Really, it’s an accumulation of knowledge or experience,” she says. By giving it to strangers in dried form, she hopes people will be less afraid of killing it and more inclined to use it. “We have more access to information than we’ve ever had and less access to knowledge. I look at both the recipe and the experience of making bread as a means of tapping into intuition, taking your time and attention away from a market that can use it.” Want to get your hands on a bit of the fermented stuff? Find Lexie’s instructions on making and maintaining a sourdough starter on Bread on Earth.
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13 students made their own sourdough olive oil challahs and bound them up in each other’s, now they’re being fed to strangers. They wrote the recipes themselves throughout the process. To: consider how an expansion of language can expand our experience, revisit voices of control and our complicity towards them, question assumed form and vocabulary, and size up feelings of ownership thru personal production and subsequent loss of those fruits. Squiggling our way to individual representation of shared work, without influencing or quieting one another. Also just into making good bread. At @illustration.school with flour from @paodaterramatosinhos and support from @epocaporto and all the willing participants, thank you 🕯all versions of the recipe will be printed beside each other at the end of the week🕯