Friday, January 11, 2013

Bread, considered

I discovered  remembered this morning that I'd neglected to buy bread yesterday. Contemplating ways to  make breakfast and pack lunches without the staff of life is an annoying way to start the day. I knew my problem-solving skills wouldn't up to it without coffee, and thankfully there was just enough milk to have some. Though I vaguely noted, in my 5:30 a.m. haze, that making breakfast without milk added to my challenge.

So I sat in the dark for a while, waiting for the caffeine to pummel my brain into some semblance of functionality. I thought about Little House on the Prairie. Back when people had to make their own bread, they didn't forget to do it. I can forget to buy bread because it's a matter of running an errand. It's barely on my to-do list.

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It takes a lot more time to make bread than buy it. Still, 150 years ago it got made every week. How much bread did the Ingalls' eat? How many loaves did Ma bake in her small, makeshift oven?  I tried to visualize that massive lump of dough -- three feet by three feet? -- and the arm strength it would take to knead. How many hours, from start to finish?

Where, in that tiny log cabin, did they keep the bread? Where was it safe, free from little hands, insects, mice? Didn't it get stale by the end of the week? How does one figure out how much flour to buy if you're only going to the store once every six months?

When something is a major priority, one tends to figure out the logistics. If I lived on the prairie in the 19th century, I would not wake up at 5:30 and realize we had no bread. I couldn't afford to forget.

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I manage generic gratitude for food, but I daresay that I am more grateful for having choices than for having bread at all. Don't you ever wonder what percentage of your brain is dedicated to keeping track of who in your family will eat what? Even on a very limited budget, we are not deprived of food, but of options.

When I read Poor Economics (a book well-worth reading), I greatly appreciated the authors' exploration of why those who live on a dollar a day don't behave the way we think they should. If every moment of your life required thinking about how you're going to get the next meal, if your brain were perpetually weary of making hard choices and maintaining momentum, you simply would not make decisions in the same way as a middle-class American.

Consider this, merely from an American perspective: if you have not eaten out in nine months, have foregone all creature comforts, have exhausted yourself coming up with dirt-cheap meals, and someone gives you $25, do you save it, or take the family out for pizza? 

It's pizza, of course. Because what you are buying is more than pizza. You're buying the luxury of convenience, of not-having to plan, of not-having to feel poor. For once, you don't have to think. For once, you have a stress-free option. There are times that is worth more than anything else $25 can buy.

The thing is, you have genuine gratitude for that pizza. I don't have that kind of thankfulness for bread. I wish I did. Though I wish it carefully, in the abstract: deep down, I do not want to endure the kind of hunger that would open my eyes fully.


  1. This reminds me of some of the Lois Lenski books I read as a child.

  2. Yay, you are back posting...very thought provoking stuff by the way... I was starting to worry about you!


  3. So glad you are back, Julia! I have missed you, Friend. May The Bread of Life feed you today.....biggest hug.

  4. I am also happy you are back! I enjoy reading your blog and wish you and your family a joyful new year. Love, Beth