They were all enjoying an open garden in Leicestershire, and Karen’s attention was caught by my customers’ enthusiastic chit-chat about the bread they were buying. An invite to speak at a monthly meeting eventually found its way to my inbox.
Now, almost 2 years later, I’ve just delivered the talk, ‘Sharing Bread’, to that branch’s members. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. As it seems, did the women. I was well aware that the WI is more than just ‘jam and Jerusalem’ (though they did offer me Jammy Dodgers and they did sing that tune). Likewise, I was keen to point out, Planet Leicester Bakers is more than just the ‘bread and butter’ of offering decent food. It’s a personal journey that I can share and want to use to inspire others.
It’s about a journey, from a patchwork childhood and family history, through 25 years of social campaigning – acknowledging what works and what doesn’t.
It’s about questioning the way we are, often unwittingly, being exploited and influenced by big business and food industries, from the big corporate millers to food fad industries like ‘wellness’*.
It’s about learning all the time about food, in my case bread as a starting point, what’s happened to it in our society over the past decades and what we can do to take back control over it, and with it our physical and our mental health. And build our self-esteem and confidence to boot.
Little did I know before speaking, that the WI’s Annual Meeting would, in the next few days, resolve to campaign on avoiding food waste by pushing supermarkets to do more.
As I’d said in the talk at Horeston Grange, an estimated 24 million slices of bread** are thrown in bins in this country EVERY DAY. It is, quite literally, ‘rubbish bread’. That is frankly a disgrace. For me it shows how undervalued and unloved shop bought bread is – a throw away product that, like so much ultra-processed food, has devalued food across the board. For me, baking your own bread for you, your family and friends (and customers), is an act of appreciation and love, whether using a bread machine (the few WI members who said they do bake bread have one) or hand making it by working the dough.
We have become so confused and anxious about food over the years, our relationship is truly one of ‘love hate’, if not just with the food, but also with ourselves. I am passionate about helping people to be inspired and more confident about it. After all, we all need to eat. And if it’s something you have to do, why not embrace it and enjoy it as fully as possible? Why not reject that ‘I don’t have time to cook’ mantra and realise that top of the list should be feeding yourself and your loved ones the loveliest food you can afford to muster together? Let’s learn and grow our skills. Let’s shift the culture a bit.
So I was delighted to sell a few dough scrapers, some for members’ adult children, and have conversations with women who may now try their hand with bread dough, or even return to it after many years. Small steps lead to bigger leaps.
The WI’s strap line is ‘Inspiring Women’. Well, they certainly inspired me to want to talk more to audiences at groups, gatherings, events (I’d already spoken at a few of those) – whoever will listen. If you would like to invite me along to speak then please do get in touch to discuss what would suit and any reasonable fees/costs.
* As a starting point on the wellness industry debate, check out Ruby Tandoh at https://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/ruby-tandoh-eat-clean-wellness
**Statistics from WRAP Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK November 2009
Thanks to Karen Solomon for the meeting photos!