Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Would you like a frozen, sealed, crustless sandwich? If you responded on the affirmative side, then you’re in luck! The J.M. Smucker Company makes Uncrustables, which are just that. They make peanut butter and jelly on white or whole wheat bread, but also peanut butter and honey. They were invented as a) rivals to Lunchables and b) as a way to save parents time. We all know how making a pb&j is quite the involved, lengthy process! I was surprised that such a product was created and has met great success. The sandwich is many ways seems to epitomize the dominant American bread culture. As I researched them for a paper I’ve been writing I came across a range of interesting literature such as work to develop bread without a crust and that according to a survey completed by a food enzyme company, 66% of consumers judge the freshness of bread my squeezing it. (Its advertisement thus says, “Don’t fail the squeeze test.”)

I find it difficult to imagine a comprehensive future vision of bread culture in the United States because of the varying economic statuses, geographic locations, and diets of those who live here. I found myself wanting everyone to make his or her own whole-grain bread, but having to remember that that is not realistic. I also began to think that as nutritionally deficient and nasty as some of the bread products sold in stores are, they’re nothing compared to soda and candy, thus I ended up thinking that we ought to pick our battles and not pick one with bread—at least it fills you up somewhat. On the other hand, bread is different because if you choose to eat a candy bar you know (I hope) that you are eating something quite unhealthy. I sense that many unhealthy bread products, however, are perceived as being healthier than they are. The peanut butter and honey sandwiches, for example, contain honey spread instead of pure honey and both contain added sweeteners. It’s a quandary as to how to realistically improve the manner in which people consume bread in the United States as well as its nutritional value, while also addressing larger issues of hunger and more destructive consumption habits. As a start, let your lunch not come from the freezer!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wrapping things up back in Bar Harbor

sA couple of days ago I was on the phone with a really good friend of mine from home. This was the first time we’d gotten to talk after I returned from Our Daily Bread, and she was asking me about my trip. She asked me what was the coolest thing I learned, and it struck me that I did not  yet know! This got me thinking how is it that I don’t even know what the most interesting things from the course were for me? I decided that because of the massive amount of knowledge that we all gained on this course in a short period of time I have not had the chance to sift through and process all of it for myself yet. This is a process that always takes a long time for me, no matter what the subject, context, etc. So, I decided that I could speed up the process by brainstorming about all the interesting things that I learned in the course. What were the coolest things that I learned?

~I learned that its ok to do things your not supposed to do because someone high up there in the government doesn’t like it as long as you know why you are doing it, why its important to you and to society, and as long as you can prove that it is the right thing to do and that person up there in the government maybe just can’t see why.

~ I learned that in countless examples industrial food processors making all kinds of “food” will sacrifice our right as humans to health in the name of profit.

~ I learned that inspired individuals who aren’t afraid to stand up against the status quo are empowered to make a difference in their lives and the world around them

These are really just a couple of the things that I took away from this course. It was an amazing learning experience and I know that the things I learned will continue to serve me and be inspiring.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

When the Origin of Bread Meets the Dumpster

Finding bread in the city is like finding produce in the city, it is possible but questions of origin arise.
Here in Amsterdam now, Jake, Heather, and I have been surviving on bread and falafel. When camping out as we had been doing for the majority of the week, bread became an essential. It is easy to undermine the sacredness of bread, as here the need for bread demotes it down to somewhat of a commodity. We eat it daily. Is it realistic to know all the answers of origin in the supply chain- field to mouth- when we eat as traveling students do? We aren't about to turn down food because it wasn't grown around the corner. Here we have an exception to our ethics we built up over our month long course.
This past Monday through biking through the city of canals, we took shelter under a willow tree in the park. We broke bread and ate carrots with another fellow by the name of Daniel, a young mexican musician with such beautiful dreds, perhaps even up there with Tracy Chapman's. After mixing the sounds of his latin guitar with Jake's Ukulele, he toured us around the city some on our bikes. Thankful to be with a local to help us navigate the bustling bike lanes, we accompanied him to a bakery where he picks up the bread that would be thrown away at the end of the day and distributes it to friends living in the city. This happens at most bakeries, all around the world- perfectly good bread that didn't sell is thrown away after one day. In this form of dumpstering one faces the baker or the bread seller directly- hand to hand. Taking this bread, not paying for the production, do we have the right to question origin? Is it enough to help in the chain by recycling this bread one more time before it ends up in a sewage waste system? We didn't ask questions, we feasted.
Even if we have momentarily lost some of our self proclaimed bread conosiour stati over the last week, however, we still remain incredibly- if not more- grateful to the sustainance bread brings. Looking into Daniel's trash bag of treasures the other day was like beholding thousands of tiny suns in the form of rolls, croissants, and loaves. Some had seeds, others just loads of butter, some with thick crusts, browned to perfection. Sometimes we sacrifice part of our values, but we will never sacrifice the gratitutde we have towards a good meal. Sharing bread with strangers and friends alike extends beyond the wheat growing methods and baking process.
The spirit of the bread lives on!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Houses of Laughter, Houses of Slaughter

The carnival was in town this week. I rode the thunderbolt again and again until I felt so close to vomiting that I resolved to stumble home.

Earlier this week we went to an organic dairy farm. That also nearly made me vomit. A former DDR collective farm, the operation is now a private one that sprawls across 1,700 hectares. Their immense herd spends some time in pasture, but is often in confined feeding barns. Even though the operation goes beyond the EU's animal welfare laws, I felt a deep sadness as I watched the animals lean through the bars and eat their organic, closed-system silage. The barns smelled foul. There was a parallel system for these humble bovine to be fattened up for slaughter.

It all is entirely unnecessary. We often hear this same argument from vegetarians: about how a huge amount of arable production going to animal feed could much more efficiently go to feeding people plants directly. The same is absolutely true for dairy. But somehow the rejection of animal exploitation cannot overcome cravings for animal fats. Cheese and butter compel us, regardless of its necessary intertwining with meat systems. Moreover, dairy extraction operations are at least as tragic in and of themselves.

It wasn't just that farm either. The next day we visited another certified organic facility, this one at an establishment training adults with handicaps. I saw the same tragic scenes, smelled the same awful smell, and could feel the subtle stress of the mama cows as they shuffled around on cement floors.

Although heifer husbandry doesn't appeal to me in any fashion, I can definitely see when it would be appropriate. As accessories to arable systems, large ruminants can really help soil fertility. Many farms have fine systems of free-roaming cattle. What really turns me off is a system that is clearly exploitative. The industrial model, no matter how 'organic' it claims to be, is devoid of the essential element of intimacy. I refuse to support the treatment of animals as production systems. When any organization industrializes, our diverse and incommensurable values are dominated by production motives. This is not healthy for cows, children, and other living things.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Adding Another Day Into Your Life

What does it feel like to add an extra day into a week?  Well, we all found out this morning (or was it yesterday?). This morning we woke up at 1:45 in the morning to travel to ‘Das Backhaus’ which is a certified organic bakery in the nearby town of Gottingen. It was a bit surreal to be awake then, to have a tour and watch bread being made, and then to go home and sleep for four hours, only to wake up and feel as if the bakery visit had been a dream. I just cannot make the connection that today was the same day as when we were there, and yet, it all happened on August 24. Date confusion and tiredness aside, going to the bakery was a valuable experience! On one hand we learned what it feels like to be a baker on any scale larger than just making a loaf at home (i.e. getting up so early), and on the other hand we got to see some of the things we’d been talking about such as quality dough and different baking processes.
In the afternoon we talked about life-cycle analyses (LCA)  for bread, and so having seen the working bakery just previously was very good. Das Backhaus is different from the bakery in the LCA reading though, because instead of buying flour from an industrial miller, they buy whole grains from five local farmers and mill them at the mills in their building. Thus the transportation energy required in the production is especially different from the bakery in the LCA model, but it was still useful for me to have a real-life example in my mind.
We had a lot of discussion about both the good things but also the shortcomings of life-cycle analyses. What seems on the surface like a very good tool for assessing the impacts and sustainability of products and production cycles is actually quite simplified and depending on the boundaries of the assessment put forth the outcome could potentially tell very little, if it fails to account for the complexity of system. I think that the LCA model is very useful and actually can tell a lot, if the assessment parameters appropriately take into account aspects at deep enough levels. Whew, that was very theoretical, and hopefully not too dense, but after writing these past few sentences I now understand how Ifeel about LCAs as an assessment tool.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We woke up at 2 AM today

Meandered our way out of cozy beds into the cool night air.
The moon was bright and almost full.
Drove ¾ of an hour to a shining building.

Knocked on the door, we’re early. Grumbling

thinking what did we come all this way for?

A smiling man came to the door, brought us in and gave us blue plastic slippers to put over our shoes. We left our jackets in the lounge/dining room and went through a set of doors into a hub of activity.

Das Backhaus, die Biob├Ącker

(Organic Bakery)

Mechanical arms were gently twisting large amounts of dough. Delicious smells and warm wafted from the large ovens. Six men wearing white shirts and checkered pants moved around quickly with ease and confidence. My bone weary body could not relate.

We went on a tour of the facilities, starting in the back room where the flour is milled. My hazy mind began to clear – they mill their own flour here! Backhaus buys all the grain from about 5 farmers from the region and each morning, they use their small stone mill to grind it into flour.

Next, we went into the storage room. They purchase as many ingredients as possible locally, but many things still have to be shipped from far away. I was standing next to a box of dried apricots from Pakistan.

One hour passed in a mix of weariness and amazement. Then, the man giving us the tour (his name has slipped from my memory) offered us a selection of the bakery’s products: hearty sourdough rye, yeasted sesame rye bread, a white bread with some lovely spices, a cheese and spice twist to die for, and cinnamon buns that tried to further convince me that I was still dreaming.

Afterwards, we watched two bakers pour the slow-moving dough from its large bowl into a machine that splits it and spits it out on a conveyer belt. They took these pieces of dough, stretched them out and deftly twirled them into donut-shaped loaves. They were olive bread, I watched one olive escaped its dough encasing and fell onto the floor.

I was astounded by the amount of bread being made. I can’t recall the exact number of loaves made each day but I remember that they produce over 1,000 buns per day and buns are not Backhaus’ main product. Needless to say, a vast quantity of beautiful, local grain, onsite milled, properly fermented (the dough is allowed 20 hours to rise) and delicious bread is made 6 days a week in Gliechen, Germany.

All this bread is baked and packaged by 6:30 when the truck comes to bring the bread to 35 (ish?) local shops. We left before the bread did though, at about 5 AM. We took off the blue slippers, trundled back into the van, drove home, and fell asleep until the late morning hours.


Questions a Human Ecologist asks when visiting another country for specific intensive study of a particular subject:

Whoa, I've never seen rocks like that before, I wonder what they're called.
(Answer: flint)

Do you have bears in the UK?
(Answer: no)

I wonder if men wear their beards that way because it's in style or because the gene pool makes it physiologically necessary.
(Answer: It's rather attractive, either way.)

If I throw my gum in the woods on a visit to an organic farm, am I negatively impacting the ecosystem? How would I feel differently if I were on a "conventional" farm?
(Answer: Michael Marriage's pigs will eat it.)

How old is that tree?
(Answer: A few hundred years.)

What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor?
(Answer: Make me one with everything.)

How do you say beer in German?
(Answer: bier)

How did they come up with such an ingenious design for canal locks?
(Answer: Hundreds of years of experience.)

Can we hitch a ride to the next village on your canal boat?
(Answer: Would you like some pork pie?)

Isn't it interesting how water buffalo can sense fear, and they'll pick on you if you dont act confident? How does that inform the way we act when we visit Berlin after two weeks in the English countryside?
(Answer: Especially when you don't speak the language of words, speak confidently in the language of the body.)

Do you know any myths about...
(Answer: lengthy)

Is that a blueberry? Can I eat it?
(Answer: No, try it.)

Why does the sky look so deep?
(Answer: I want to study clouds.)

What am I going to do with my education?
(Answer: Spread joy.)

Please add to the list, because how could any one person ever be comprehensive?
Answer: With the help of others.