Letter from Barry – June 2019

Our Daily Bread

You could call it the best thing before sliced bread: the pop-up toaster. It was invented by Otto Rohwedder, from Iowa, in 1912. His toaster pre-dated the invention of the single loaf bread-slicing machine by sixteen years.

Bread, toasted, sliced or otherwise goes back a long way. The ancient Egyptians hit upon the idea of a grinding stone, called a quern, and the first grain was crushed upon it about ten thousand years ago. The modern Indian chapatis and the Mexican tortillas bear the closest resemblance to the bread produced by the Egyptians.

Ten thousand years is long enough for bread to have become not only the staff of life but also the stuff of legend. For example, an old Russian fable gives a new twist to the biblical ‘bread of heaven.’ The fable has it that when we arrive at the gate of heaven, whether or not we are allowed in depends on how much we have used our loaf. Literally. All the bread that we have wasted down here somehow magically appears up there. Then it is weighed by an angel. If the amount of our wasted bread comes to more than our body weight we get turned away from the Pearly Gates.

Somebody holy, I’ve forgotten whom, once said that there is no such thing as my bread because all bread is ours. It should therefore be fairly shared among us. Perhaps that weighing angel could be persuaded to off set the bread we’ve shared against the bread we’ve wasted. Certainly the distribution of bread falls a long way short of equitable. For far too many people being out of bread is more than just an easily remedied short term inconvenience, and to them the term ‘bread winner’ is incomprehensible. Knowing that to be the case ought to prompt us to take bread gratefully rather than for granted.

According to one ‘Food and Drink’ website, ‘handling bread gracefully is the test for a well-bred diner.’ But handling bread gracefully is more than just good table manners, as this old Scottish meal time Grace acknowledges: ‘Be gentle when you touch bread. Let it not lie uncared for, unwanted. There is so much beauty in bread. Beauty of sun and soil. Beauty of patient toil. Wind and rain have caressed it. Christ so often blessed it. Be gentle when you touch bread.’

Barry Overend