Observation on shopping myths. The good old days everyone went to little shops for things? Our regency town. Local history accounts. If you had any money you had everything delivered. Often from a largeish groceries firm. Butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. They’d have understood Amazon completely. Secondly nutrition. WW1 photos. Officers often a foot taller than men. Working class men averaging 5′ 5″ ( their rifles and bayonets almost as tall as them). Really shockingly bad teeth in pics of smiling soldiers. Obviously I agree with issues with processed food generally but avoid ‘good old days’ myths.
Very true. We are entering the age of artificial foods and it will bring problems requiring solutions. But we have escaped the ages of malnutrition that preceded this age as far back as you can go.
Is’nt obesity a form of malnutrition ?
Various metabolic dysfunctions have arisen because of our deranged food supply. It is conjectured that it is why American death rates from Covid are so high. But no one wants to talk about how we have handicapped human health with our processed and unnatural food supply.
Agriculture is not ‘natural’, and not is anything very much about human life. Why not go back to the Paleolithic age, where modern human beings have spent 99% of our time on Earth?!
Yes but we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The regenerative agriculture movement is reviving centuries old practices that will restore top soil, otherwise we are headed into a slow starvation of nutrient poor food. From a premier science journal. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/
You are right about working class men being so small, but these were from the cities and a result of the time saving Mary talks about imposed on their families, the workforce of industry.
The rural working class men and boys were not small, even if their diet was mainly wheat and pig based, it was healthy and satisfactory.
The average German soldier captured by the allies in Normandy was 5’6″ and 25 years of age, so born in 1919. While I am sure you are right that the rural types were beefier and better fed, there just weren’t that many of them in the comparatively industrialised society in which this sample had grown up.
If this is just based on data from the June-September 1944 campaign then it was pretty well known that the vast bulk of the German Army at that time were second-rate reserve units. All the data on the preferred frontline units showed them to be well alongside the average of British and US soldiers.
Germany then had been starved out by our blockade. In WW2, Dutch kids conceived around 1944/45- the starvation winter grew up to be a bit shorter than normal.
I was referring to British men during WWI not Germans during WWII.
The 1910 census (British) shows that our rural population at that time was still quite large at 54%.
Interesting. Still, born just after the ‘turnip winter’ of 1918, the mothers would have been malnourished, and the economic collapse/inflation followed after. I yhought of France, where the condition of the short and unhealthy conscripts of 1914 caused great anxiety. Must have been mostly rural, in those days.
I have read, but can’t recall where, that if you look at a chart of British male mortality for a 100-year period but with the dates removed, you can’t pick out WW1. It’s partly because although there were over 200,000 killed per year, everyone who joined the forces was properly housed, clothed, given four decent meals a day, and looked after by doctors and medics whose job was to keep them fighting fit and to treat them if they fell ill.
This was so much better than the conditions most previously experienced that the mortality uptick caused by combat is significantly ticked down again by improved general health of the millions in uniform.
I looked this up recently. In 1900 the life expectancy at birth was about 47 for men and 50 for women. It is now about 80. The infant mortality rate was 165 per 1000 in 1900 and it’s about 4 per 1000 now. I’m sure there are many reasons for this huge improvement but my theory is that in part we have to thank the availability of low cost energy from coal, oil and gas. This has driven a great improvement in the standard of living, clean water, heating, sewage handling, better housing, ample quality food and so on. I think it’s wrong that very poor countries are being told that they must not use fossil fuels.
Oil companies get a lot of stick but we have a lot to thank them for too.
That’s true. I follow some ‘dissident leftists’ who’ve argued the case that modern environmentalism is detrimental to the developing world.
As Michael Crichton (pbuh) noted, we need an environmental movement, just not the one we’ve got.
FWIW the soldiers of WW1 were almost all children of the late-Victorian period. Compare and contrast to WW2. Metabolic health was universally better amongst all ranks and these were children of the WW1/post-war era.
The Soil Association,Eve Balfour, Henry Williamson, and others, all had the same mantra: processed white bread is bad for you. Unprocessed whole grain bread is good for you. . Very strong in the 1920s and 1930s, partly as a result of what you describe.
Great observations. It may be that we have to go back further to get to the real ‘good ole days.’ Weston A Price’s research shows real health benefits in pre-industrial societies, especially dental health, which was his focus.
Also, it’s interesting to see the differences in real time. Many years ago, in my soldier days, I spent some time in north and southeast Asia. In the cities, you’d often see 3 generations of a family together, grandparent, parent, child, and the height differences were dramatic, with the child often towering over their elders. I suspect that was much the result of nutrition improvements, but I also suspect it was other chemical induced growth. For instance, for many years now, we’ve seen puberty/pubic hair growth in children younger and younger.
But, to Mary’s point, yes, time has been stolen from the process. Our own experience on our farm proves that breadmaking involves a lot of time; grains are sprouted, dried, ground, mixed, proofed, baked, etc. It’s labor, but the result is vastly superior, not just tactile-ly, as Mary suggests, but in great advantage to smell, taste, appearance, and to emotional and yes, even spiritual, satisfaction.
Mary, I think what I took away from your piece is that it really isn’t about food at all. I think you are challenging us to stop seeing time as some sort of background or field upon which we live our lives, and instead, to see it as a necessary and very important ingredient in our lives.
If we see it as the field upon which we experience life, then of course, we can “save” time with very positive results: we can cram more “life” into the constant of time.
But if we see time as you suggest, as an essential ingredient of life, then we are not “saving” time by excising it. We are actually losing it and the benefits of “touch, practice, faith, good judgement, intuition and dreams” it brings.
This changes everything. It is as profound a paradigm shift as one can imagine. If we understand the cost of what we are trading time for (because we aren’t really saving it), then perhaps we will see the value of the time we invest in things rather than devaluing it and trying to minimize it.
Thank you for such a thought provoking piece. Who knew bread could be so instructive?
Excellent comment! That’s what I took away from this (typical of Mary) thoughtful, educational bit of original thinking. It reminded me of the Robert Frost poem “October” that says in part:
“O hushed October morning mild
Begin the hours of this day slow;
Hearts not averse to being beguiled
Beguile is in the way you know –
Release one leaf at break of day
At noon release another leaf [etc. ]”
In the rush to get to the next task we lose the moments of the current task, lose the know-how and are alienated from the moment and the thing itself.
When I was a boy the standard snack for a hungry child was a slice of bread and butter. It was important that it was folded over, not cut. It is still my favourite gap filler.
The best time for food started after rationing finished and ended sometime in the 60s when all the processed food kicked off.
Mine was bread and dripping, which I loved as a child – cholestero lbe d*mn*d.
Yes! with a sprinkle of salt on. Lovely.
I do remember an article from a few years back arguing that point, backed up by a study. It also may have been on one of those living history type TV shows. Interesting.
In my last year at college, studying hard, we were advised to balance our intellectual efforts with something down to earth, breadmaking, baking, gardening. It worked, I found breadmaking kept me sane, just about, and there was a delicious reward for all of us. Funny thing is I’ve never been able to make such good bread since.
I like the practicality of making and doing. I can’t get that from shopping.
I enjoyed Mary’s musings…. everyone was baking bread during the first lockdown, including my husband. Days of life lost while one combs the internet for sourdough starter hints, eventually lengthy trips to businesses who provide proper tools, trying to find extra places in the kitchen to store the (large) ingredients and paraphernalia.
The mess is indescribable. While Mary was just washing gunk down the sink, I was chiselling the hardened glue off kitchen bowls, utensils, counters and even the floor.
Bread making is a relationship killer and I don’t even eat wheat – except for the occasional slice of cake.
You should have married me Lesley! I always clean up after breadmaking. I still use the old Cranks recipe, which doesn’t require kneading – very straightforward and, as Mary says, uses just four ingredients (some people add sugar, which is quite unnecessary, there’s enough in the flour naturally).
I’m sure the abundance of additives in shop-bought sliced bread is responsible for many of the so-called wheat or gluten allergies.
I confess, I use a bread machine and have done for decades; I can even do sour dough bread in it.
I find kneading bread one of those activities where you can let your mind wander and forget about what your hands are doing. Very good for getting creative – The Zen of breadmaking.
I love reading everything Mary writes. ‘Time’ well spent.
This is so true and the sad thing is that we do so little good with the ‘saved’ time. Watching TV, drifting through social media and so on eats up that time saved by not doing often satisfying creative acts like…making bread. Thank you for the reminder!
Fine article, as always. My husband and I make Lithuanian kaldunai, a lighter, delicate version of the more robust Polish pierogi. It takes us over four hours to construct about 130 of them – by hand – after Hubby makes the dough (and that takes a lot of time, too, as the consistency has to be just right and batches have to be rolled out very, very thin). I’m sure commercially produced pierogis can be bought in stores, but when you’ve had real kaldunai, every minute making them is time very well spent.
Today, thanks to Mary, I’m going to go buy some yeast and a bread pan . . .
Many years ago I decided to “price” an hour of my free time.
This generated a significant reduction in time/effort spent on activity that “wasn’t worth it” and created more personal space to try other more interesting things.
My experiment with a home bread making machine has lasted 20+ years.
This is why I can’t be bothered to grow potatoes in the garden even though it is very easy. If you price the time involved, it’s not even minimum wage.
Yeah, better to grow stuff like asparagus, if you can. I’m sure dealing with a glut of it wouldn’t be too much bother.
Sadly, it requires 3 years of growth before you can start harvesting properly.
And it tastes utterly revolting when eventually you do.
The last butchers in my village closed down twenty years ago because commuters bo longer made time to cook.
My husband and I have found a butcher that we drive to once every two weeks and stock-up. They deal with a discreet number of farms in mostly upstate NY. It is a wholly different quality of meat.
A very interesting article. What she says applies in so many other areas, some completely different to bread making! Her article made me think of telephones. I find it amazing that the world seems now to prefer talking on a mobile phone (quicker, I suppose, as you can do it walking down the street) to sitting at home and talking on a landline (now becoming almost extinct!). It may be difficult to hear what’s being said on a mobile, but at least it’s quicker.
And food doesn’t taste as good as it used to.
I agree. But it is us I’m afraid. It ain’t just food that doesn’t taste as good as it used to.
Mine does. In fact it tastes better because I’ve taken time to learn how to cook better.
(Or were you being deliberately funny?)
I couldn’t possibly comment.
Go sourdough! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950244/
I once worked out what it would cost to make lasagne from scratch using organic ingredients and a Marcella Hazan recipe, versus what it would cost to buy a bog-standard lasagne ready meal. It was a bit like the economics of Wheeler Dealers: if you price the time properly, it’s not worth it. It was very significantly cheaper, like £2 as opposed to £4, but it would take a couple of hours to do it.
AIUI the issue with CBP bread is that it’s made before the yeast has fully activated. Once you eat it, you put into a warm and moist environment – your stomach – and it reactivates and starts rising again. I don’t know what other effects this has, but an obvious one is that you over-eat, because you’re eventually going to be fuller than you now feel.
I totally agree about the importance of time, but not with the shallow negative references to processed foods and chemicals.
Unless you pick or kill your own food and eat it unwashed, raw and uncut then it will be processed. Preparing, cooking and combining ingredients are all processes essential to our way of life. The only difference between home-cooked and factory-produced food is one of degree.
As for chemicals, all food is made of chemicals and we add further chemicals both in the most basic home cooking and in food factories. We don’t question cooking with fats and oils . We use vinegar, salt, sugars and alcohol as preservatives.
Yes, the processes and chemicals used in factories are often time saving, but they’re also ensuring consistent palatability and longevity. Yes, factories often use more chemicals and more complex processes, but they are strictly regulated to maintain safety far beyond realistic risk factors. As in so many things, issues around the nature of foods are not black and white.
Yes, but amongst the humanities grads and associated enviromentalist nutters ‘chemicals’ simply refers to some magical quality that inheres in some socially curated villain molecules that are taboo, and not others. This is because their understanding of how such molecules works at the sophistication of belief of an animist tribe.
There’s quite a good SF film called “In Time” with Justin Timberlake. In this future everyone has a gadget fitted at birth which limits the amount of time you have to live. After the age of 16 the timer starts counting down and when it reaches zero you drop dead. People get paid in time. After a day’s work your timer gets bumped up. When you buy stuff such as food, it is paid for in time which knocks the timer back down. A great way to boost productivity perhaps.
Brilliant article even by Mary’s standards, the best short article I’ve read on the mechanical v soulful duality. ( I.e. Logic & analyses v imagination & intuition, conscious v unconscious knowing , what Spengler calls Time (blood) v Space (intellect) or what McGilchrist calls Left Brain v Right brain.)
Left brain thinking is arguably the biggest separator between ourselves and animals. The shift towards analytical thought helped drive the industrial revolution and its undeniable benefits. But we also lose a great deal, albeit some feel this much more than others. It was apparent to the romantics as far back as the late 18th centuries. As Mary suggests, the ill effects of our excessive shift towards left brain thinking have intensified since the digital revolution. If the trend can’t be reversed, then unless something unexpected happens (like data driven AIs getting so good they can compensate for the lack of right brain holistic thinking among humans), then civilisation is doomed. Unfortunately, one of the characteristics of extreme left brain thinkers is denialism, so they wont be swayed by any amount of evidence. (Not even the thousands of references in McGilchrists’ new ‘The Matter with things’ book. In it, he records many warnings far sighted people gave against the dangers of excessive Left brain thinking even before Christ)
At least millions of people still value the old ways and try to install soul based values in their children, there are countless different movements along these lines (dozens just under the ‘slow movement’ umbrella.) Perhaps enough to turn the tide some day soon.
I like cooking and generally making things from scratch but bread is the last thing I’d choose.
One of the best pieces of writing I have come across in quite a while.
Bread is evil, retvrn to Caveman
Return to monke.
There always different opinions on any article, always well debated in the comments. I must say I am surprised at the many commentators who approve of the sentiments here. To me it’s just another in a long boring line of “ things used to be so much better” despite all actual evidence to the contrary. And, of course, I discount any article that includes the phrase “ according to the UN”. Also not keen on the use of prove instead of the common proof. Seems a bit twee. Or is prove more common in the UK?
Unless one saves time during the day, how can you have enough time for the phone?
And how exactly do you propose to support the world’s current population without industrial agriculture?
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