The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Major events in the "Bread Revolution"?

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Major events in the "Bread Revolution"?

I'll start with my question, to pique your interests, and then explain why I'm asking:

The Question: What, would you say, are the major events of the "bread revolution" of the last 20-30 years?  By this I mean events which stimulated a great deal of interest in either buying or making at home high quality bread (or both).  For instance, the publication of the Bread Baker's Apprentice, or Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day are recent events that might qualify, although I don't know what the real magnitude of those are.

Why I'm asking: When I'm not baking bread, I'm working on a doctorate in economics.  For some time I've wanted to combine my two interests and write a paper on the economics of bread. Now I'm toying with the notion of examining whether home baking is a substitute or a complement for purchased bread.  That is, when people bake more bread, do they also buy more bread, or less?  Normally one would think that making anything at home would be a substitute for buying it, but in the case of fancy artisan bread it could be that making bread gives you a taste for good bread, which you then buy more of.  Dan Lepard tells that latter story about bread in Europe in The Art of Handmade Bread.

To answer this question, somewhere or other I need to obtain data on sales and pricing of bread (or perhaps flour--I've sent a pleading, long-shot, e-mail to King Arthur Flour Company).  But I also need some kind of sudden shift in either home baking or bread demand.  I'm thinking there are suitably big events in the "bread revolution" that would provide this kind of shift.

Hopefully that all makes sense.  So: What are the major events of the "Bread Revolution"?

proth5's picture

I can think back to the mists of pre history in bread and I would have to say that the participation and excellent performance  of Team USA in the 1996 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie and the subsequent win of Team USA in 1999 were earth shattering in the world of artisan baking.

Prior to this the United States was widely regarded as a bread wasteland.  After the win - after US bakers beat French bakers on their own turf, with their own flour, things changed.  I remember when it happened and I wasn't particularly a "bread geek" at the time. Not only that, but up and coming young bakers saw what a real trade show could be for artisan bakers and began to see that one didn't need to go to Europe - we could have thses things in the USA.

Some of these bakers went on to write influential books and to teach. Better teachers - better home bakers - better bakers - more demand for specialized flours and equipment (we really did have to use unglazed floo tiles "back in the day" because a "pizza stone" was unknown.  And don't even mention parchment paper - I brought my first precious stock back from France - it simply wasn't available to home bakers in the USA.)

But why listen to me?  Another source you may want to tap is the Bread Baker's Guild of America.  You can access their website at and you can access the contacts page without being a member.  You may wish to contact the staff - or one of the board members.  Todd Bramble in particular, could be a more direct way to get information from KA flour - although I have always KA to be generous with their time.

I wish you luck - looks to be an interesting paper...

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Thanks for the comment, I hadn't considered the BBGA as a source for information and data.

sphealey's picture

=== Prior to this the United States was widely regarded as a bread wasteland. ===

"Regarded" by whom, under what circumstances, where?  In the mid-1980s Boudin Bakery was expanding from the San Francisco area to Chicago (at least), and their bread was (and I believe still is) excellent.  Maggiano's was a Lettuce Entertain You venture and intended to be national chain from the beginning, but at least in the 1980s they seeded their reputation with very good baked goods including bread.  By 1996 St. Louis Bread Company, which makes very good sourdoughs, was established throughout the Midwest and its new management team (the founders of Au Bon Pain) were transforming it into Panera and taking it national.  Most US cities of any size had at least one excellent bread bakery that distributed regionally.

Yeah, there's a lot of good bread (and food) in Europe.  Also a lot of bad bread and food.  Maybe the ratio of good/bad is higher in France, but (a) I doubt the snobbery is fully justified (b) no foodie travels to Europe to eat the everyday stuff (e.g. the Belgian fast food joints); they go there to get the best - which isn't an accurate picture of the average or median.



proth5's picture

The regard mostly came from Europe (pretty much the same attitude that declared California wines were plonk and could never compete with French wines - see how that turned out.)  I didn't say it was accurate - because if you didn't have great bakers you don't go into competition - but the world was rocked when the US beat the French (although they got us back the last time...)

I'll admit to a long US tradition of great bread in great cities - but even in the late 80's I lived in a great city (guess which one...)and the only thing we were known for was hoagie rolls - not a player on the world stage.

The Mile High City - back when I first got here and until recently - had a sterling reputation for horrible bread (and not so nice but great when you came down from the mountains pizza crust) - and it was well deserved.  Different now, but that's now. It's not San Francisco or Chicago but it is the Queen City of the Plains.

I actually spent enough time in France in the late 80's to eat at regular places for extended periods of time - which is why I am a big champion of American breads and American flours and don't pine quite as much as people think I should for "real" French bread, nor do I regard certain French breads as the ne plus ultra of bread baking.

But, again, the surprise was real when Team USA won the Coupe and I think that mattered.

Again, playing on my other theory, I also think that the win showed that bread could be a competitve sport (and the crowds at the Coupe are in full "sports event mode" - trust me).  For years, home bakers were women who toiled in obscurity.  Bread baking was just something that mama did - it was expected and every day.  Then a competition came and "our team" won - kind of made the thing more interesting to the right demographic.

Not a simple subject...

scottsourdough's picture

My own two cents:

Since I've started baking I've completely stopped buying any bread from anywhere. That's partly because I enjoy making bread myself and saving money, but also because 95% of bread being sold is gross! I've even tried bread from somewhat well known bakeries, and been convinced I could make much better bread.

So why would I pay more for an inferior product that I enjoy making myself?

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Likewise, I only rarely buy bread from the store, and then mostly sandwich breads for my wife (who refuses to eat peanut butter and jelly on homemade bread).  I don't buy breads from the local bakeries, but that's mostly because I'm on a grad student stipend, and so cheap :)  I suspect geography is going to be an important factor--home baking is more likely to be a complement to purchased breads if you live in San Francisco and can pick up a loaf from Tartine.

sphealey's picture

=== Since I've started baking I've completely stopped buying any bread from anywhere. That's partly because I enjoy making bread myself and saving money, but also because 95% of bread being sold is gross! ===

I agree, but in doing an analysis one must also keep in mind Sturgeon's Law:  80% of everything is garbage.


carluke's picture

I certainly don't have the answer to your question, but it seems to me that it is a much bigger question than 'bread'.

When I was being raised in the 50's and 60's, families (mine, at any rate) started to get - and want - faster, quicker meals. We could buy packaged store-bought bread, and cakes; casseroles were made with tinned soup; we used store-bought cool whip in deserts; we had jellied salads; etc. etc. These things were considered improvements! Over time, these 'improvements' increased to the point where you now see people in the supermarket whose entire shopping cart is filled with boxes of pre-made 'food'.

But, perhaps at about the same time that artisan and made-at-home bread took on greater interest, we started seeing terms like 'buy local' and '100 mile diet' and even 'farmers market' (depending on where you live).

So, don't you think that at least part of the answer is that 'we are what we eat', and we don't want that to be lots of unpronounceable chemicals and additives?

Good luck,



ehanner's picture


From my perspective, I think the early bread machine may have had an impact in waking the US population to the smell of fresh home made breads. Many of us here started making breads in a machine and graduated to pans and baking stones as we gained confidence and skills.

As people began to want to bake the authors filled the knowledge gap with a multitude of offerings. Peter Reinhart was one of the first well received bread authors with his Bread Bakers Apprentice and many have followed.

I do believe that the single largest influence to motivate people to try baking at home came from Jim Bittman of the NY Times. He found Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery and did a show that changed the bread world forever. The method of mixing simple ingredients and letting them sit for 18 hours and dropping the un-kneaded dough into a hot kettle, brought millions of people to baking world wide. Bittman did the world a service by creating a buzz about baking that continues today. Mr Lahey is the star baker but Bittman is the man behind the "No Knead Revolution".


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I was thinking the "no-knead" phenomenon would be a good source of variation.  I'll look into Bittman's pieces.

Wild-Yeast's picture

Is this going to be part of an upcoming bread forecast model? 

Just kidding [no he isn't].

The so called "bread revolution" did not begin in the U.S. It began in Paris as a result of the French Government dropping price controls on bread in 1980 [Economist fodder for sure]. French baking entrepreneurs took it from there...,

That's enough to get you started.  Be sure to report back here with your findings. I am sure that it will prove to be of great value to the members. 

Bien Cordialement, Wild-Yeast

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Good to know--looking at the effects of relaxing the price controls is probably a whole other paper (with the data even harder to come by), but still interesting.  

flournwater's picture

The activity and outcome in making bread feeds more than the belly.  It feeds the creative curiousity of those who might not have the ability to work in other mediums.  I would suspect that, even when the interest arises out of an artistic challenge, it also affects the total amount of bread that individuals or families consume overall. 

Based on what I've read, bread consumption throughout the world has decreased over the past ten years.  Today, Americans consume about one pound of bread per person per week. It requires over 60 million acres of wheat to grow enough wheat to meet that need.  (National Geographic)

I'd be interested in reading your paper.  I hope you'll post in in blog form here on TFL.

judsonsmith's picture

I agree with proth5- our participation and victory (ies) in the coupe du monde and the attention that gave to artisan baking here in America is- in my opinion- the greatest influence on the bread revolution here. Also, while there are many many wonderful books available now to bakers, I think Joe Ortiz's book "The Village Baker" was an early artisan baking book that had a large influence on both bakers and authors of later baking books. Very cool paper idea, will you be able to share it with us on TFL?


Floydm's picture

I'd agree that The Village Baker played a huge role.  The review of it I did a few years ago tried to describe how huge a role it played in the artisan bread revolution here.

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Thanks to all for the comments--in response to a few of you, yes I'll definitely blog my results here on TFL, presuming I eventually get some results (which in turn presumes I eventually get some kind of data-the applied economist's lament).  The paper itself (again presuming its eventual existance) will be more geared toward an audience of academic economists, so I'll probably post a link to it but present a less technical version in a blog post.

flournwater's picture

OK, looking forward to it.  In another life, I wrote more justifications for budget proposals than I can recall.  Always like to look at numbers and their relationship to more tangible elements.

Occabeka's picture


Don't forget the role of new media in the bread revolution you speak of.

It has helped to to pique and sustain interest in bread baking. A lot of us polished our skills thru videos posted on youtube. Successful recipes werely reproduced in countless homes courtesy of the internet.

Print media or books could never have done that.


yy's picture

Peter Reinhart's whole grain breads has a short section on pages 12-15 called "the rise and fall of artisanal bread" that might give you some useful reference points for further research.

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

I don't know if I can make a logical connection for you at this late hour but you might also look into the wheat commodities action going on currently. The hard red winter wheat growing region that stretches from northern Texas up into Kansas is presently in a drought state and bedeviled by weather conditions as well. There has been only 30% average rainfall since planting season last fall. If there isn't adequate rainfall in the next few weeks, the crops in this region will be mediocre at best and possibly a calamity. The McClatchy newspapers had an article on this subject in the KC Star within the last few weeks. I heard about it on a farm crop and commodity report on a "classic rock" radio station last week while driving between Emporia and Wichita. Keep your ears and eyes open for information on this. You might also do some reading on the commodities aspect at the web site for the KS Wheat Commission.

If you haven't set your heart on the topic you've already considered, this might be worth your time also.

dmsnyder's picture

I think our current situation has not developed suddenly but step wise over a generation or more with several threads that may have converged somewhat.

I would go back to the 1970's, at least, with the publication of Beard on Bread, as part of the early freeing of at least some from the trend towards very highly processed, "convenience foods" of the 1950's. Another thread was a growing awareness of the role of diet in health and illness, and, in particular, the importance of whole grains. I think of The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book.

Julia Child's introduction of French bread in The Art of French Cooking and, especially, in From Julia Child's Kitchen first brought the ideas of Professor Raymond Calvel to the American Public. I recall that Peter Reinhart's introduction to bread baking was, indirectly, from Julia's writings.  On a personal note, my own first experience baking bread (and croissants!) was around 1972-73, as I was working my way through The Art of French Cooking. Julia demystified bread for me, thanks to her straight-ahead "You can do it!" approach, just as she demystified boef bourguignon and quiche.

I think that the increase in international travel that occurred in the 1970's and 1980's exposed more Americans to European cuisines and good breads. This may not have motivated very many to start baking themselves, but it increased the population's receptiveness to artisanal breads when they began to appear.

I do agree with the points others have made about bread machines and about the publicity following American showings in the Coupe du Monde, but I think earlier events made the population more receptive to the message.

I guess I see it as more evolution than revolution.


saltandserenity's picture

When I read the title of this thread,"Major Events in the Bread Revolution", I immediately thought of Bitty (Gwyneth Paltrow's nickname for Mark Bittman!!). I think that his publication of Jim Lahey's method really made bread baking at home a possibility for many who though it could not be easily done.

Ambimom's picture

Hands down:  Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread recipe popularized by Mark Bittman's column in the New York Times.

It is simple, quick, and a virtually foolproof method, easily adapted to different styles of various home cooks.

When "real" bread goes for $4 to $5 for a one-pound loaf nowadays, being able to make it for under a $1 at home without fancy equipment or special ovens is significant.

EvaGal's picture

Growing up in the 60's and 70's with Wonder Bread and Home Pride and Rhodes Frozen Bread dough and Twinkies, made my grandmother's homemade crescent rolls a miraculous part of holiday gatherings.

Travelling to Western Europe did open my eyes to the possibility of Artisan bread. Back in the US and on my own, I taught myself to cook from scratch because mom didn't. Graduate school near SanFran. inspired experimentation with sourdough using a book "Alaska sourdough"(?)

As a newlywed in a new tract home, bread baking became an ambition using "The Village Baker". However, the house (and I suspect most tract homes of that era) was too drafty and cool for proofing, the laminate countertops fought against successful kneading (and pie-crust making), and ignorance of the right flour to use, shut down my efforts.  

The next dweiling (11 years in a 5th wheel trailer!) precluded artisan breadmaking. Eventually, we built our own house. Now, I enjoy dough-friendly granite counters, an electric warming drawer (it will take years to get a ROI on that appliance), a good oven, a resource like TFL to educate me on ingredients, tools and technique, and family and friends who gobble up all the sourdough bread I can produce!

Events: Inspiration by grandmother, European Travel, breadmaking books, awareness of health benefits of homemade bread, availability of appropriate flour, tools and instructions on technique, kitchen suitable for "scratch" cooking. Inverse order of importance.

jowilchek's picture

I started making bread two years ago. Have not bought ANY type of bread since. My interest started from a world condition aspect. I thought if things get really really bad in the economy I need to be prepared to feed my family. I started to learn how to make bread, buy in bulk and store enough food to last us two years, purchase a lot of cast iron (I can cook on any type heat with cast iron, stove, fire, gas, even in the fireplace). Now that I can create several types of breads, different shapes and flavors I find myself addicted to bread making. But, rest easy knowing my family won't go hungry if the economy collapses. I usually have on hand at least 50-75 lbs of flours and rotate my stock according to expiration dates. Unfortunately I can not buy more till the new dates appear on the shelves. I have flour that is good until 2013, and am looking for new product with 2014, or 15 dates.

proth5's picture

the excellent responses to this topic and I hate to say this to an economist, but I think we may be seeing the old marketing model of "early adopters" - then moving to the mainstream.

How could I forget that elaborate process for making "French" bread in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"?  I worked so hard on that... (of course, my more recent teachers have done a little "improving" on that method - because  Ms Child herself worked with my more recent teachers and was impressed with their output and techniques. And I got my serious come uppance about that whole thing so maybe I've blotted out the pain.)

But some of those earlier books were really pining for European breads.  They were the masters and all us poor Americans could do was try to be like them.

We baked on our floor tiles and hoped for the dawn.

Which is why I cite the victory at the Coupe.  It was newsworthy.  It reached a wide audience. It brought the quality home and gave a wide audience to the folks who won.  I really think it was at that point that the idea of American artisan bread started to gain the right amount of critical mass. But, I could be wrong.  Certainly it meant something to me.  Bakers became "rock stars" - without quite the exposure of today's celebrity chefs. 

What about (oh dirty word!) the women's liberation movement?  In my early years the thought of men baking at home was laughable.  Men could bake as a profession - but they would be mocked relentlessly if they baked at home.  This shifted around quite a bit in the '70's - but I think that a serious look needs to be given to the fact that men  - with what is usually assumed to be a greater disposable income - began to think that it was OK to bake at home. This may have been responsible for that critical mass continuing to grow. If a buck can be made - then it's worthwhile. Here in the 21st centry that dynamic is changing (has changed?) but there is quite a history of home activities/hobbies becoming widely popular only once men decide that they could do them. 

Of course the "newer" (do NOT get me started on that) techniques like "no knead" were popularized and now "everyone" could bake.  But that critical mass had to be there - else there would never have been a New York Times write up - or a segment on TV.  "Making bread? That won't sell papers." There needed to be at least a large enough core of home bakers - with enough disposable income -  to get the article written.

Reading other posts on these pages, I see the same thing happening with home milling.  I dabbled with this in my hippie past but four years ago when I got serious about the whole thing - the resources were few and far between. The few available popular texts were written by people with "foodist" agendas or survivalists. bwraith and I were reviewing technical milling texts and papers meant for commercial mills.  Folks like us are the extreme cases - the early adopters - but now the LA Times writes a somewhat shallow article and the trend begins.  Soon everyone will want one and someone (geez - me maybe - or perhaps someone more media-genic) will write the "breakthrough book for grinding grains at home".  Martha Stewart will show us the "one true way" to grind grain and the Oprah network will feature home milling on a cooking show. (The words "Weck Canning Jars" come to mind - I used to have to call up a gal at the Weck factory to get mine - now you can't open a food magazine without glossy spreads of just about everything in a Weck canning jar...)

And as an economist you cannot discount the economic situation of the past few years.  People who still have homes are hunkering down - saving a dime. 

Serious foodies like myself who haven't had a store bought loaf in our homes since we had our first apartment (which for me was approximately when the dinosaurs became extinct) will branch out to find new things (What comes after home milling?  Home grain production? Using "heritage" grains? Baking with triticale - a grain used mostly for animal feed?)

I'm sorry - I've gone on and on (as I often do - I am an enthusiast and a proven "early adopter" after all.) The topic fascinates me and I wish that when I was writing papers for school I wouldn't have been laughed out of class to write a paper on such a "girlie" subject as home baking. >sigh< - We all have lost opportunities to deplore.

Again, good luck and I hope to read your paper on these pages...


davidg618's picture

I  walk through any ordinary supermarket. At least one-half of one aisle-side is crammed, flour to tip-toe reach (for some of us) with bread: Wonderbread to Sara Lee, probably three dozen or more brands, each competing for shelf-space.

How much shelf-space is devoted to a specific product in a supermarket is rough approximation of what sells. Despite the alleged "bread revolution", large scale, commercial bread factories, don't appear to be in danger. Even in supermarkets that tout a "bakery"--frozen dough, or par baked loaves, made who-knows-where?, and labeled "artisan" to justify the prices inflated more than the bread itself--the bread aisle hasn't shrunk.

If I were writing your paper, I'd follow the money first. Has the shelf-space allotted to flour increased? (I presume most flour sold in supermarkets is consumed in the home). Has Dutch Oven sales increased noticeably since Bittman/Lahey? Did flour sales spike when the USA won the Coupe? Has commercial bread sales decreased significantly? I would guess somewhere, probably in some unpretentious federal bureauocracy, these data already exist.

That said, from a personal point of view, my own interest in bread baking, while spanning decades, has languished on three plateaus: During my working years, I baked frequently, but only on weekends, and, with few exceptions, only a handful of conventional yeasted straight doughs. Time was the precious ingredient. During months of work-related travel I didn't bake at all; in graduate school--my employer sent me--I had ample time.

An aside: while in grad school I discovered Beard on Bread, and the Tassajara Bread Book. My bread repertoire climbed to a new plateau.

About twelve to fifteen years ago I bought a bread machine, a Zo. I began making my daily bread, and slowly quit buying commercial loaves, but still relied on the bread aisle for buns, muffins, etc. Two years ago I developed a renewed interest in sourdough--earlier attempt had had mixed results--and almost simultaneously found TFL: once again, a new plateau, a few more comfortable recipes (and improved skills)  in the box. I bought a loaf a bread to stuff a turkey two years ago; since then nada, including rolls. Extraordinary muffins still elude me.

I think all the respondents have made some very good points. I would disagree only with one. I've baked at home since my teens (the 50's). I've never been mocked relentlessly. To the contrary, over the decades i've frequently been invited to parties with instructions to bring something baked. My six sons all cook; I feel I made the kitchen an equal-opportunity room for them. One son chose to be a chef. Phyllis Richman, food editor for the Washington Post, gave him and his Dupont Circle diner three stars, and praised his garlic mashed potatoes, about a decade ago.

A list: I know I'm repeating what other posters have already said, but I'll add what I think are the main influences, not just on bread, but the USA's increased food sophistication over the past half-century.

Travel: Since WWII international travel has exposed millions of us to alternative foods and flavors.

Television: especially pioneer Julia Child who, in my opinion, launched--for better or worse, the "food-show industry".

A few baking-book authors, I've mention two above; you can choose your own favorites.

The Internet: It's contributed to bringing down empires, its influence in the food world is only still in its infancy.

As to your paper, I think following the money would be the simpliest thread. Qualifying the more intangible influences, will be a lot more frustrating, and a lot more fun.

David G


proth5's picture

Of course anytime a statement like mine is made - there is an exception. It's a big country with diverse cultural norms.

We seem to be about the same age but grew up in different cultures.  Where I grew up men didn't bake at home and a man showing up to a party with a fresh baked loaf that he baked would be mocked.

I happen to work in a very male dominated profession and in my early career years made the mistake of baking for my colleagues. I was mocked.  And I'm a girl.

I'm glad things have changed, but I find it hard to sign on that your experience was the general norm.

Your son became a chef - yes professional cooking has long been the realm of men.  But it is only recently that we have "widely" (and I use that advisedly )accepted that a man could stay at home with an uncompensated role as daily maker of meals.

And "follow the money" - a great idea.  I can't remember the last time I saw a bread aisle and those par baked bakeries just smell funny to me.  But here's another money trail to follow.  The Food Network has grown and prospered in a tough industry by introducing more and more cooking competition shows because the sports like atmosphere appeals to their  key demographic - men.  True - and interesting. 

Maybe you were on a front of gender equality (as was I). Maybe my view is jaundiced.  But women spent a lot of years baking a lot of bread in this country and it was unremarkable - now more men are involved and we have a revolution.  I think about this from time to time.

dmsnyder's picture

The chief end of mankind is to make general propositions, and no general proposition is worth a damn.

Justice Holmes

When I was growing up in the 1950's, in California, men had a clear role in cooking. They were in charge of the barbecue, and that was an important part of the local culture.

In an earlier era, there were American regional cuisines developed by men, generally working in all-male, isolated work-groups. Think about lumberjacks, miners, cowboys. Some of the distinctive cooking styles and dishes associated with these groups have endured and are still somewhat associated with male cooks - chili and sourdough baking.

This isn't unique to American, either. I just read a book about the history of Lyonaise restaurant cuisine. Although males dominated haute cuisine in France in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the most famous restaurants in Lyon were all owned by women, and they (and their daughters and, occasionally, their sons) were the chefs.

While my mother was alive, my father's cooking role was restricted to the barbecue. I can't recall my mother ever doing anything in that area except sometimes lighting the coals. However, I and my brothers helped in the kitchen as children, and all became the principal cooks in their families, as are my two sons.

Just one theme in the remarkable cultural changes in our time.


proth5's picture

I have always enjoyed the sometimes considerable time I have spent in that state.

My job takes me many places and some are not as glamorous as the Pacific coast.  I've probably been in more places - living a so called "normal" life than most people (but not all people - certainly there is someone posting on these pages who has traveled more than I)

There is the great middle of this country - where we grow the wheat and used to manufacture things and it is different and it was very different here.

I don't believe my father has been in a grocery store since - well - I was alive.  My brother can heat something up in the microwave - if there isn't some doting woman who worries that he can't feed himself stepping in. My nephews can feed themselves - barely. (My one nephew's "specialty" is canned soup over pasta - I tried to teach him basic skills - but to no avail.).  The recipes passed down in my family will die with me because I am the last female in the line - they are after all just recipes from the womenfolk. Really - there is a whole other world in the great flyover zone.

The fact that I bake bread is absolutely unremarkable to these people.  Isn't that what I should have been doing all along? (And perhaps I am jaundiced in my world view on this because of my experiences. If I told you some of the things that were said to me while I was getting my undergraduate education - things that I am sure were meant kindly - most folks would be outraged.)

Often, as you say men will have a "special" dish that they prepare to be showcased in solitary splendor.  They have - as you said - distinctive cooking styles - and those styles are celebrated.  But women were the ones consistently making the daily meals in areas that weren't considered "too rough" for them.  "Cookie" was a celebrated cultural figure because he fed the men on the range.  Women were just supposed to get on with the business of feeding the kids.

Frankly I am glad this is changing, but the irony is not lost on me.  Yes, we like the quality of our breads, yes we want to know every little thing but I think a lot of the interest in the media (and there is plenty of that) comes from the fact that the "right" demographic is now getting involved and the perception is that more money can be made from that demographic.

It was once explained to me that women are trained to work quietly in obscurity while men are taught to do things that will bring them glory. (Yes, a general statement - but they are not totally without value. And yes, again, this is changing - but has not completely changed.) I do see this  genral trend in the work habits of many of my nearly all male colleagues and I can't help but see reflections of this in the whole idea of a "bread revolution."

So to coastal dwellers who live in a different world - my apologies. Sensitive new age guys - my apologies. Male home cooks - my apologies. But consider the grain of truth in my observations.

davidg618's picture

i hurt my left wrist yesterday in a fall. please excuse my ala e.e.cummings typing.

many of you, i suspect, have found the recent appearance of the cooking channel on satellite (and cable, i assume). it seems to be a counterpoint to the evolved cooking-sports venue: the food channel. i believe the cooking channel's birth reflects their marketeers' discovery that there remains a large segment of the country's foodies more interested in home-accessible recipes than in testesterone.

what i've found interesting is neither channel deals with home baking. on rare ocassions each of the "stars" has, incidently, made a yeasted bread, a quick bread, muffins, biscuits, and cup cakes. However, they seem to be ignoring, or are unaware of the alledged bread-revolution. alternatively, based in nyc, artisan loaves are just around the corner; perhaps the producers are equally unaware it's a good-bread-wasteland out here.

i don't think home-baking is ignored by both channels for these or any other reason other than their own marketeers' finding: there isn't a big enough potential following.  what some of us think is a bread revolution, in reality, doesn't have a large rebel population.

that's almost ok with me. i never thought of my interest in improving my bread-baking skills as joining a revolution, real or imagined. however, i say almost ok because i've learned a lot watching the food channel, and a few new things from the cooking channel.  i'd love to see a show devoted to baking, with emphasis on bread and viennoiserie.

ryan, please don't take offense--i'm on your side--but i've seen many academicians publish papers that reflect the hope? belief? wishing will make it so. perhaps the first task is to ascertain, "is there really a bread-revolution?"

david g


GSnyde's picture

Davidg618 has hit the key point, I think.  There are just not enough of us bread geeks to make a revolution.  We are a small but mighty ripple, not a wave.

And in keeping with Pat's note above....

"It was once explained to me that women are trained to work quietly in obscurity while men are taught to do things that will bring them glory."

...I am here to declare that we artisan baking geeks (of every gender) are an elite class.  I would say we are better than other people, except arrogance is beneath me.


dmsnyder's picture

You have finally transcended your superiority!


GSnyde's picture

I always endeavor to walk the fine line between above reproach and beneath contempt.


proth5's picture

I know Snyder frere is trying to put a humorous end to this, but the whole thread has gotten me to thinking. (I've got passion - misdirected as it is it is a passion) (adapted from a quote in the best movie ever...)

So I went out for a little drive to cool off (and get in the flour supply).  Now my car is a seriously cool car - it is fun every time I drive it.  It can go seriously fast and some kind police officers have had to write me little notes to remind me that just because I can go that fast - I really shouldn't.

It's a Miata (the 1999 edition - which is, in my opinion the most beautiful of the Miata/MX5's...)

A certain number of you just had the thought that was universally expressed by my male friends and colleagues - "Oh, that's a chick car."  (To which I made the snappy reply "Hello? Chick!"

Although the car sold well (to certain demographics) Mazda had a lot of problems with the perceived chickitude of the car and when they redesigned it, tried to make it more "masculine."  The market was narrowed because the stink of chick was on a sports car. (Folks, I spend a lot of time in airplanes - I do a lot of reading - and I love my car...)

Our beloved website founder told us the tale of creating this website to be more guy friendly.  Geez nothing really unfriendly about pink or flowers, right?  But they are too "feminine."

What I'm saying is that the momentum began in the amateur baking world when the correct demographic could say to themselves "This isn't a female hobby - it's a rough, tough, competitive, scientifically demanding past time. (And we like the bread.)  Seriously - even the language that we use has changed from what "us gals" used back in the day - heck, even I do it (but then - I do "guy talk" all day at work) - our term carry a more "professional" and a less "homemaker" air.

I think about this from time to time.

GSnyde's picture


I find almost everything humorous, so don't think I am belittling this discussion, or trying to hijack it.  

Gender bias is real, and it is an obstacle in our species' quest to realize its fullest potential.  I respect all genders and believe they are equal to (if delightfully different from) each other.  

I can't speak for Floyd's intention, but I don't think he was saying "male is better".  I think he was saying he wanted to welcome all to this site, and if it were pink and floral it might be less welcoming to the boys. Note, he didn't make it unwelcoming to the girls (he could have decorated the site with young ladies clad in short gauzy--and flour-stained--aprons...let's call it "toastosterone"). 

I also note that, if TFL has a competitive aspect, our Hall of Fame is populated by an approximately equal number of male heroes and female heroes.

P.S.  I think Miatas are cool (but then, for 16 years I drove a Lexus coupe, which many car geeks thought to be an unmanly vehicle...screw 'em [Floyd, I hope you don't mind if I say that]).


Floydm's picture

I don't mind at all.  

No, I certainly have never intended to imply "male is better" in the message or the design here.  The bakery I worked in (Peter Reinhart's) had male and female bakers at it and the look and feel was set by sturdy dark brown wooden tables and chairs in the cafe, light brown work surfaces, and by the color of the bread itself.  That is where the palette here comes from.  I've tried to avoid using signifiers that would make anyone feel uncomfortable here due to their gender, age, religion, or anything else. 

In the tone and message I've always shot for "welcoming and cooperative" rather than "competitive." I've been overjoyed at how that has resonated with community members who can share experiences, wisdom (baking and otherwise), and humor far beyond what I can.

Floydm's picture

This thread about using language and imagery that would make the site more comfortable to members of a particular sex (or less comfortable to the opposite sex) came to mind when I saw this video today.  Good for a laugh.

Be aware that the F bomb is in the video title and is shouted once in the video, so you might want to put on headphones if you are at the office.

proth5's picture

I really want to move on but now, I just can't.

Again, I looked at baking as finally appealing to a demographic who in broad brush terms has more disposable income (and yes, there are exceptions - we're talking broad brush.)

If you carefully read my words - I never mentioned anything about anyone being "better." (And I really wonder how that concept even got started on this thread.) Just one demographic appealing more to people who sold - say ad copy or home scaled "industrial" equipment than another because they earn more money. (Again, yes, exceptions. Heck, I'm an exception.  My friends all tell me I "buy toys like the boys" - but just by them saying it one realizes that there are demographic behavioral norms that our good pals the marketers seek to exploit.)

And I don't think TFL has a competitive aspect - but baking competitions certainly do - and those are the events that I refer to when I said that baking began to show a competitive side (And seriously, folks, you would need to see it to believe the full throttle sports fandom displayed by some of the baking team fans at the biggest of these competitions...)

But in saying:

I think he was saying he wanted to welcome all to this site, and if it were pink and floral it might be less welcoming to the boys.

You make my point best of all.  Pink?  Flowers?  I think they're perfectly welcoming - why don't you? Provacative images of women (or men, for that matter) might give differing groups some pause (and wouldn't really foster the TFL spirit) but color scheme?  Flowers? Really? The chickliness factor, huh?  You  said it that time  - I didn't.

I think Mini has a good point - it is increasing wealth and leisure that has caused the tremendous changes in the home baking world that are reflected by people considering a "bread revolution."  I observe that an added cause of additional money being available being shifting hobby demographics facilitated by a more open minded approach to who should bake at home.

And really, that stuff in the supermarket.  I truely haven't bought US supermarket bread in so long I had almost forgotten about it.  People are eating that by choice?  We must do better...

Just consider that I may have a point. 

HMerlitti's picture

Yo Ryan,

IMHO you are on the wrong tract. First, we bread bakers are a very small, minute sample. We are not creating a new trend.

What we do foster is the quest for quality. Wether it is bread or cars, people have loves and they pursue information on those loves to satisfy their intellectual curiosity and desire to achieve.

The bread we bake surges far beyond what is purchasable as exclaimed by all the people I have had over for dinner. And my intellectual drive to make whatever I cook better is constant and a total joy.

Secondly, the money involved between store bought "artisan" bread and home made is very small. I do not ever know what money I save if anything. In fact, it probable costs 10 time more to make home made bread if you figure in my time. Someone wrote a book called the "$52 Tomato" where he calculated how much it cost him to grow tomatoes.

So, if I were writing this paper, I would abandon the money angle and look closely at the love angle. We do it because we love to produce quality.

And, let's stop the America bashing. Whoever says that, " the United States was widely regarded as a bread wasteland" prior to 1996 never visited my Italian neighborhood in the 1950's.


proth5's picture

I went to lengths to explain my statement.  Yes, America had (and still has) excellent bread and bakers, but we weren't considered world players.  You specify an "Italian" neighborhood - with the implication that bakers brought the skills and techniques they learned in Italy to the United States.  Julia Child (bless her) wanted to bring "French" bread to the American home baker - until recently (if recently) there was/is not a big market for bringing "American" breads to French bakers. It is as with wines - California vintners were making great wines - but it took a competition for them to be recognized true world players.

When we talk about world travel as part of the "Bread Revolution" there is a subtle implication that we bread poor Americans finally made it to France, Germany, etc and rediscovered what "real" bread shoud be.  Never mind that as a great big country ourselves we had our own (although not so old) bread traditions.

I have always been pretty clear on my enthusiasm for American breads and American flours.  We have one of the world's great wheat growing regions.  I see a certain absurdity in shipping flours from Italy or France (and I know - people are enthusiastic about recreating a certain style of bread or pizza) rather than using what is in the US.

So please don't accuse me of America bashing - because I believe exactly the opposite - that great bakers and great breads have a very broad definition.  I pine more for the "humble"  hoagie roll than the "best baguette in Paris" and I have had the opportunity to eat them both.

GSnyde's picture

I never ate much bad bread.  As a child, my family (in a medium sized city in the Central Valley of California) ate good bakery bread.  Then I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, and even grocery stores had some local breads along side the Rainbo and Wonder.  Around then, great artisan bakeries started popping up (before that we though Boudin and Parisian were good bakeries).

Since I missed the revolution, I can only give an outsider's view:  perhaps it had a lot to do with people getting tired of the mediocre products of the 20th Century obsession with convenience, and preferring do-it-yourself quality.  It goes along with the increasing (returning) popularity of vegetable gardens, fresh ground coffee, non-chain restaurants, home-brewing, handcrafts, etc.


Wild-Yeast's picture

If you're from the San Francisco area it's pretty easy to have missed the "revolution" hype [bookseller's pump and push word]. Wharf bread has always been a tourist mainstay though locals aren't that enamored with the extra sour taste. Most aren't even aware of Alice Waters or Chez Panisse in Berkeley...,

Tartine Bakery is one of the first to go big time on retarded dough [a la Poilane] - breads set out for sale at 5:00 AM are gone by 6:00 AM - an apt indicator of their product's popularity.  The place is a sensation with many of the loaves going to sandwich shops that serve the financial district take out lunch biz.

This style of bread makes some of the finest sandwiches I've ever tasted and it's the mainstay of Tartine's lunch trade. Most of the advertising is word of mouth virally amplified by the internet.

What does all this mean? I think it comes down to people discovering that hand crafted bread, created with time and care, has no equal.

Will the movement last? I think so...,

Bien Cordialement, Wild-Yeast

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Wow, a lot of great responses here; I think the question may have hit a nerve or two...

I should point out that the paper I have in mind (which is barely beyond the idea stage) is considerably more narrow than some of the discussion has implied.  I want to see (data allowing), if home production of bread leads to more or less frequent purchases of bread.  One strategy I had in mind (among others) to identify this is to examine bread purchases before and after a big change in the amount of home baking going on.  In the context of this bit of research, the "Bread Revolution" is not itself the central feature, but a conventient empirical tool.

With that in mind, it sounds like the NYT publication of Lahey's "No-knead" bread may be most salient for this purpose.  It may not be the most important event, but I'm looking for volume.  As David and Glenn point out, even that may not be enough to show a blip in the data, but I'll cross that bridge when (if!) I come to it.

This is not to say that I don't find the sources of the "bread revolution" interesting--I do, and I hope the discussion here continues for a bit.   I just can't see how to get an empirical economics paper out of it.  :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I find that when I bake my own bread, I buy less bread.  I do buy more flour, nuts, seeds, etc. than when I purchase bread.  I also find that if I bake my own bread, I tend to eat more bread because it tastes so much better.  

When I change locations I purchase the local breads and then bake to make up for what I cannot find and crave.

If there is a revolution...  I would compare it to events that give spare and leisure time.  My Dad (85yrs) said that earlier on the farm, a lot of work was done by hand, less time for the bread baking, it had to be simple and basic and uncomplicated, instant yeast was a big help in feeding a lot of hired hands and kids.  He said a bread delivery man came to the farm with the bread.  His mother and sister did not bake too much, a cake on Sunday or a special sweet roll.   She had hired hands in the kitchen as well as there were no fancy kitchen machines.  Bread's role was for extra calories, if you weren't filled up with the meal, the plate of bread sat there in the middle of the table.  Those that were hungry, ate their meal with their bread hand in hand.

Family size has been shrinking, and the work week shortened to Mon to Fri.  Leaving the weekends free.  Less physical labor means bread has a changing more worldly role, but is still the stuff of sandwiches, bagged lunches and fillers.  The lowly lunch sandwich is clubbed, steaked, and pita'd into a variety cultural experience as much for the person eating the lunch as those looking on.  

Home baking for pleasure, is a leisure time activity.  The steady rise in baking materials would lead anyone with less dollars in their pocket, to purchase the cheapest bread available or bake basic loaves from cheap flour and not bother with anything "fancy."  Home baking, what exactly is being baked in those little home ovens,  has changed over time and is a result of economic stability and free time caused by machines doing much of the manual labor.  


dmsnyder's picture

There is no question that I eat more bread because I bake at home, and that's not because I'm unable to get good bread locally.

I also agree that, for some of us, bread baking is not for the purpose of saving either time or money. It's a hobby, a pleasurable recreational activity. There's a lot more insight into why TFL members bake in the threads on that topic.

The other points made about the events that led to the "bread revolution" are still valid, of course.


davidg618's picture

...i've led an often unaware life.

in my formative years a very few, powerful, brilliant, witty women where my mentors. diverse: a housewife (not my mother), a railroad office clerk, three teachers, and a nun (i'm not catholic) collectively they taught me the meaning of kipling's closing line "if you can tread with kings, yet keep the common touch, you'll be a man, my son."

ww2 filled the first half of my early years. both my grandfathers died within a year of my birth, and my father worked nightshift, slept most of the day, and was frequently absent when i got home from school. male role models were scarce.

after the war ended i had an increased number of male role models, but i also had, by then, a budding teen-age cynicism. i saw their faults as often as their virtues.

at eighteen i joined the military, and for the next twenty-six years i was immersed in male culture, often, while deployed, rarely within conversational distance of females for months. incidently, i did damn well in that career. i also was respected for my culinary acumen.

when the women's liberation movement erupted my first reaction was, "what do you mean you are not equals?" let my hasten to add i learned quickly the (external) inequalities were, and some still are, real and present.

i drove a miata--a second car, it just isn't able to fetch round bales of hay, or 4x8 sheets of plywood, and sheetrock. i have a ram 2500 diesel for these chores--from 1992 until 2007, when advancing arthritis severely limited the time i could drive it comfortably. until i read pat's post that the miata suffered an image problem i'd never heard it said. i'd always considered it the best looking--didn't like the frog-eye headlights--and best performing of a long love affair with sports cars, specifically an MG-TD, an austin-healy 3000, and an MG-B.

i've never thought of my love for cooking and baking stamping me unmanly, nor my wife's skill with hammer, screw-driver, and power drill unwomanly. she's also our community's computer guru.

there were an equal number of women as men in my son's graduatig class, twenty-years ago, from l'academie de cuisine. however, it appears there is glass ceiling in cheffng as elsewhere.

i'm still naive about many things. im glad i am.

david g



proth5's picture

bread is better after a cooling off period - and so am I.

Really, I was not commenting on good/better, gender roles, etc. - I just find it interesting to see the shift in demographics in this hobby (or maybe as Mini pointed out, it is a hobby now and not a requirement of daily life and that has also had an impact) and how it has changed things.  And it has - when you think of it - it has.

I hated those frog eyes, too - which is why I held out for the '99 model of my chick car with the more elegant headlights. (And maybe no one had the nerve to say it to your face as they did with me - and yes, the MX5 "image problem" is pretty well documented - I didn't dream it up.)

If you are unaware - you have not seen or experienced what I have - and for that you should count yourself lucky.

This thread prompted me to take a long look at the bread aisle in the supermarket in the small city where I am currently working  - something I haven't done in decades and it was a little scary, to be honest.  There has to be something to this "artisan" movement because things have gone horribly wrong with what I see on the supermarket shelves.  Since I have had no need to venture into this area for decades - I was quite shocked. Folks living in or near the great cities of the coastal regions should also count themselves lucky.  If there is such a thing - vive la revolution!

davidg618's picture

...was transitioning from an enlisted man, to officer. not only me but my wife and family--we had seven of our eight children at the tme--i was initially treated as a second-class citizen, especially by academy graduates. my wife similarly was treated with condesention by the majority, but not all, of the officers wives.

the solution was obvious, we both beat them at there own game. i out-distanced my peers, professionally, and my wife's natural graciousness won over the wives. at every posting we had over the subsequent eighteen years an invitation to our dinner parties was prized. later, when the children fled the nest, she became a very successful customer relations manager for a large trade-show producer.

late in my career, stationed  in washington dc, for the first time women were among the civil-service employees i led, and whose work i managed. i learned, firsthand, the frustration women encounted at all levels, from secretaries to scientists. i think my early women mentors whould be proud of the way i behaved.

i guess the credo "think globally, act locally'" has been a large influence in my life.

david g



ananda's picture

So many really good contributions here.

Love Mini's words about buying less bread; I can't remember the last time I bought bread!   But, it will come to pass, and time will be when good bread is readily available on the High Street.

There is much work to do in the UK to achieve this.   The revolution is that it really is now starting to happen.

Local heritage wheat, community-based bakeries producing loaves using complex methods of fermentation.   Contrast with the industrial loaf this country has been infamous for over the last 50 years.

Regarding France: check out the work of Stephen Lawrence Kaplan ["Good Bread is Back" 2006], in reference to the ending of protected prices.   Note at the same time that artisan producers in France account for 70-80% of the market...very similar to the proportion of British bread produced by the Chorleywood Bread Process; how depressing!

For all that, I really agree with Pat.   Celebrate the revolution at home.   There is no need to go off searching for French or Italian authentic wheat.   Those who brought the Coupe du Monde to the USA in the late 90s worked it out.   The USA produces some of the finest wheat in the world.   I guess the establishment of the BBGA was the starting point of realising this could result in producing outstanding bread on a commercial scale.

It's not so easy back here in Blighty, you know.   Our climate is famous...for all the wrong reasons when it comes to ideal wheat-growing conditions.   Yet, in spite of will come to pass!

Excellent topic, thank you for posting it!

Best wishes


proth5's picture

it is still a passion...

Although my "local" wheat is the hard red winter that works so well for bread, as an avid miller I keep thinking of wheats of other locales and how we might handle them to make them more suitable for bread.  Some will never make it, but I think that other local grains could do more than we give them credit for.

My current faqvorite - triticale - comes from "sunny" Scotland.  The stuff handles like rye - and with all your rye handling skills you would think that you could really elevate this delicious (could be) local grain.... :>)

ananda's picture

I just don't think this is much appreciated on your, now local shores, Pat.

I love working with these grains.   But let's start by knowing they do not possess the characteristics recognised by many as eminently suitable for making great bread.   Unlike North American grain.. a point you were making above, which I am merely trying to reinforce

Best wishes


Wild-Yeast's picture

I don't buy bread anymore. I do trade loaves with others to test the wares.  A great way to sample others efforts.  Sometimes it's good and sometimes not so good but the dialogue and friendships produced are always great. Oh yes, they don't buy bread either...,

Approaching the study from the question; does it or does it not increase bread consumption is an argument that will not yield any applicable information to the body of economics as I believe it misses the more important coloratura of the culture of bread.

But "Que sais-je?"...,

Bien Cordialement, Wild-Yeast

Motherofmany's picture

For me the major factor was getting a copy of Laurel's Kitchen and heading off to a co-op (midwestern girl hippie wannabe angst?) for the ingredients to make good, wholesome, whole grain breads for my family.

I still make the traditional whole grain loaves from the LK Bread Book, but I expanded from there with "artisan" bread books. I bake daily. The only time my children have had store bought loaves was when visiting relatives. They are "bread snobs."

So I guess I would suggest that the "back to earth" and "people's food co-op" and "the food conspiracy" movement(s) jump started something too.


davidg618's picture


you probably already know about this resource, but on the unlikely chance you don't here's a link

david g