The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Where did good baking go?

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Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

Where did good baking go?

I'd like to start a discussion on the direction that the baking industry is going in. Why is something so fundamentally essential to qualities of human life, trending towards inhumanity. Frankly, the logistics are this; It's a difficult industry to make a living at, the personal costs are innumerably higher than most professions and the overall quality, including of staff as well is decreasing dramatically each year. As in everything, income plays into it, not enough pie to pass around (Pardon the pun), but I'm curious if this is rooted much deeper, perhaps even in the overall outlook on food. This topic has been of interest to me in the last few years as the delusions of grandeur so subtly put out there by the celebrity cooks and 'Food" network has begun to dim. I'm interested in what happened to our industry? Where did it go astray? For how long has it been in decline? Are we seeing an end to professional kitchens and bakeries, and a furthering of assembly line production plants? It's disappointing to see such a progressive movement towards professional cooking/baking in younger people, especially those in their teens, whom actively pursue a respectable career and positively impact the public, end up wasting away at some minimum wage 'Rat's Nest' with no development into their 20's. 

I'm incredibly happy to be a member of freshloaf, as it is a community of people committed to good cooking. This is a far cry from the shite we're served on a general basis. Yet it seems, from personal interaction, that a majority of the population does have some interest in good food. Otherwise this would all be for not. I've been in hospitality for a number of years, including a kitchen apprenticeship leading me into Pastry/ Baking. A trade, I came to love. That was then however, this is now. And watching standards get lower, cost competition get higher, and wages stagnant, is overwhelming demoralizing to myself and more importantly my family, whom suffer the burden equally with me. I've trained countless apprentices in those years and it breaks my heart that they're not leaving my hands a competent baker. (Now before you attack me and say, it's an obligation to better them, I agree with you, but it is not so. I am not an owner and would quickly find myself unemployed with dependents at home.) Back on topic; These students of baking are not introduced, to pre-ferments, hybrid levains, sourdough, scalding, traditional designations, or seasonality. Direct dough is the industry norm. Shaped and in the store in several hours. What legacy is being left on the trade? Why glamorize something which is at it's essence filthy? Is it like this across the board?

So here are a few questions, for whomever wishes to read this. I'm looking forward to discussing ideas and opinions concerning extremely unsettling trends and realities plaguing a function so vitality close to our humanity.

 

Comments

Wingnut's picture
Wingnut

I am of the opinion that the majority of people don't see it the same as a "professional" cook/baker. They see cooking and baking as a "burden" or "on special occassions" type of thing. The industry as a whole is the problem, the bigger something gets the farther away it gets from the core.

I have had several conversations with people while waiting in line at the shops about the drudgery of making food at home. We are a buy it society at large not a make from scratch lot (not to mention our appathy toward disposable everything). The idiology that "it won't kill me" because people have been eating like that for years and years. What they don't realize is that it is not the same as our perents or their parents. Large corperations (Monsanto) are messing with the gene of plants under the falsity of wanted to feed more people. They want to make plants "easier" to grow so the profit range is increased. Making plants resistant to pests by basicaly having the palnt carry the insecticide in it's DNA with no regard for the effect on the benificial incect, like the Bee. The food that once was wholesome and unadulterated is not the food on mass that we have today. 

The Artisan Baker are the people who do not conform to the way marketing and corpreration want us to go. We seek out the sourdough, the whole grains, the darker crusts, the more complex flavor profiles of the bread we want to eat. I dare say, "back in the day" they would just be called a baker not a Artisan Baker. 

These are some of my thoughts. I hope this thread continues, and stays civil.

Cheers,

Wingnut

 

ericreed's picture
ericreed

I'm curious what the statistics are. I was under the impression the demand for artisan foods was growing, not waning. I found in regards to farmer's markets at least, as of 2012 they were still growing as a brisk rate. (http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2012/08/0262.xml) Which seems to indicate a healthy interest in local and high quality foods. It seems to me the nadir of quality food came more in the 30s and 40s. Certainly for bread it was around then things really fell apart. I think the statistic was that by the mid-1930s, 80% of the bread sold in the U.S. was basically wonderbread, pre-sliced white bread. It wasn't until, what, late 1970s or 80s that Raymond Calvel's crusade to being back good bread started to take hold.

 

Just to note, humans have been messing with the genes of plants for pretty much our whole history. Nothing we eat today resembles its wild ancestors. Previously it was by taking advantage of evolution by artificial selection, now we can also do it more directly with genetic modifications. We shouldn't fall into the fallacy that because something is "natural" it is better. Genetic modification is a tool, and it can be used poorly or well. Breeding our way into attributes we prefer is not without problems as well. For example, it may be that what some people believe is gluten sensitivity could be due to an increase in amalyse-trypsin inhibitors, a naturally occurring protein which helps protect wheat from pests. As we have through plain old conventional means bred wheat for pest resistance, so too has this protein increased. (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2013/03/04/gluten-sensitivity-what-does-it-really-mean/)

The key is not to lock ourselves into ideological blinders, but to use all the tools we have available to create smart, sustainable agriculture with plenty of biodiversity that can scale to meet the needs of our increasingly populated planet.

Wingnut's picture
Wingnut

I would say the demand is growing but from what start point? On the whole the mass produced bread out number the Artisan by a long shot. I feel at this point, even with a 7% increase in Artisan Bread shops it would be a long time before they could make a dent in the competition.

I think it was in 1982 that the first gene tampering was done by anyone. I understand we have been grafting plants, (like in the wine industry to help stop phylloxera), and cross pollination for quite sometime. But if Monsanto had it's way it would try and stamp of heirloom seeds and replace them with their GMO seeds. Today they are suing farmers for doing what farmers have always done, save the seeds and sow them next season.

GMO wheat is the next challange. Many countries ban it, but monsanto is still planting it and trying to indroduce it into the food supply chain. They are basically planting an invasive species so when the wind blows the pollen over the hill into the next feild of wheat it is cross pollenating. So one of our cheif exports for our already struggling farmers will loose value and hurt that economy. 

Don't get me wrong, I believe science is needed for many things in our lives. I choose to eat certified organic because I believe the natural system is better than a chemically altered one. 

Great discussion.

Cheers,

Wingnut

Gail_NK's picture
Gail_NK

We've been exploring these questions a GoodFood World. Commercial bread has been going down hill for nearly 100 years. I'm fascinated with the resurgence of interest in artisan bread, local grains and flour, and craft bakeries. 

Here's our most recent piece and it links to a list of pieces we've published: http://www.goodfoodworld.com/2014/01/wonder-bread-or-wonderful-bread/

I really love this community of "bread heads" and have learned sooooo much! It's important that we each keep baking and encourage others to try it too. 

Take care, eat well, be well!

Gail NK

Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

I'm contemplating whether this Artisan trend, which seems restricted to very small pockets, mostly urban is due a conscience interest in quality or just another trend right now. Statistics are showing that in France, since the early 70's an introduction of Frozen Dough wide scale has production is contributing to a minimum of a 1% drop in Artisan bread consumption, which was hovering around 85% at that time. The last statistic I saw on this was year 2000, which had artisan baking at 69% of all consumption. 14 years later, theoretically we'd be looking at about 55% at the highest with the term artisan becoming looser as baker's look to compete. 'Good Bread is Back" by Steven Kaplan highlights these issues in his book, but references European baking which culturally is virtually incomparable to the North American way. So statistically, artisan bread consumption over here is likely much lower, optimistically in the 30-40% range. The main problem seems to be that baking has become competitive, which in it's very essence can not survive competition. Frankly, there aren't enough of us to present a formidable force in an industry/cost dominated market. Frightfully artisan bakers may be the mom&pop stores of our generation? It may be time for a Braveheart like Freedom Speech from our remaining community of good bakers!

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

The downfall of bread started with the invention of commercial yeast and the baguette. Creating bread for mass consumption that is intended to be consumed the day it is baked can only lead to degradation of the final product. 

The degradation was reinforced when breads were mass produced but intended to have weeks long shelf life through the use of preservatives. 

Such loaves last longer and are cheaper than natural breads. It can only lead to further degradation of the quality of the bread. 

 

MisterTT's picture
MisterTT

sweeping generalization that any bread made with commercial is the worst thing that ever happened to the baking world, do you honestly believe that?

Commercial yeast is no better or worse than sourdough or any other form of leavening. It is what it is. It's simply a strong strain of yeast grown in large quantities and then resold as cakes or whatever other form one finds more attractive. Sure, there's no great microbial diversity in it, but no one ever said there was.

Consider the fact that if it was unavailable at all, many people would not even attempt baking their own bread. Of course, you and I know that maintaining a starter and using it isn't all that complicated, but how long did it take you to arrive at that conclusion? I would much rather that people baked a proper commercial yeast bread once in a while than not at all.

How is that the downfall of bread I couldn't possibly imagine. Rather the opposite. Was the first bread you baked a whole rye sourdough?

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

When yeast made it possible to industrialize bread and make money by creating quick flavorless loaves, that was the beginning of the end. 

Of course it is a tool and can be used to make quality bread. But it is and has been used as a tool of mass production without regard for quality. 

MisterTT's picture
MisterTT

of the yeast or the ones who first manufactured it, so why should commercial yeast be blamed? :)

Knife manufacturers aren't blamed for stab murders after all.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

But I was answering a question concerning how/when did the baking Industry begin going astray. I suggested it was with the industrialization of bread which started with the use of yeast. This is not a thought original to me, I am sure. 

For some reason, you have very strong views concerning yeast. Strong enough to see things that aren't said.  Or you just like to argue. 

I enjoy a good argument where there is something worth arguing or not. But this is not a good argument because you keep attributing things to me that I have not said. 

 

 

MisterTT's picture
MisterTT

"Blame commercial yeast" as your first words in this discussion.

My strong views are mainly a consequence of getting paid big bucks by various baker's yeast manufacturers to defend their products in all possible outlets. If there is not an argument concerning this lustrous topic, I am charged with precipitating one and promptly vanquishing any opposition.

I am deeply regretful if I have offended you in any way.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Honest. :)

If only there were a real job opportunity for defending yeast on internet forums!

My "blame commercial yeast" headline was more along the lines of the New York Post, for grabbing attention. But it did not warrant, "sweeping generalization that any bread made with commercial is the worst thing that ever happened to the baking world”, as no such generalization was made.

The story was much less sensationalist. Kind of like stating that the automobile has been at the root of the decline of the family because cars let people drive further to get to work, they spend less time with their families. If one were to ask when did family life decline, I would say it started with the automobile.

By the way, I think that a lot of people would argue that because commercial yeast all comes from the identical strain, the flavor profile is uniform and less interesting than sourdough.  That may make for a "better" or "worse" bread depending on how your tastes go. 

 

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

manufacturers needed someone like you on their payroll.  Made me wonder what horrible thing they might be hiding that they don't want out in the public domain?  But it really doesn't make any difference to me now that I have given it some thought.

There is a huge difference in the end product of SD vs commercial yeast bread too.  But inanimate objects and commercial yeast is one when it isn't active,  don't do anything but they sure are enablers that allow people who really are the ones who do things, like large scale, commercial, industrial bakers, to do what many consider really, bad things that might require a highly paid defender like yourself to defend them in the public square.  But they need not worry but should be really worried if commercial yeast wasn't around.

As a libertarian, I think bakers should be allowed to make bread any way they want, even supposed 'crappy' bread that may not the best choice from a health point of view.   If people are willing to buy it for any reason they choose,  then let the buyer beware.  Commercial bread made with commercial yeast isn't much different than sugary Coke or a Big Mac.  Every slice is a teaspoon of sugar in carbohydrate form.  Not the best choices or healthiest ones but, it isn't going to kill you if you are personally responsible enough not to overdose yourself on them.  Yet some are bound and determined to eliminate what they consider to be bad products entirely.

The reason mass produced bread has gone downhill, if it really has and it is bad, is because the choices that the folks who make it and eat it have made. The two amblers are commercial yeast that made bread  faster and cheaper to make and machinery / technology that took out most of the high cost labor also.making bread cheaper to make    The reason these enablers were needed to force the price of this bread, the supposed staff of life, lower and lower over time, to make this bread especially inexpensive is clear enough and certainly not evil in any way..

It simply is the best bread that most folks can really afford on a daily basis if they don't make their own.  When 1 of 3 folks are on food stamps, when half of the households are making less than $50,000 a year, pay no income taxes, the average pay per household has been reduced by $7,000 a year over the last 5 years alone, there are no jobs, even at minimum wage, for people without education or skills, then nearly half of the population can't afford a well made loaf of SD sold at the stores or for $10 at Tartine Bakery - that is a 1%er for sure.  But poor folks can make it for a buck if they have a home with a stove and can afford the energy bill and get their baking equipment at Goodwill like I do and buy cheaper flour at the grocery store as opposed to those distributed by KA..

So at least, in one very important respect which so many seem to forget for  reason, low cost, low quality bread has been a Godsend for many who either grow up, find themselves or stay poor for what ever reason.  What is bad and horrible for some with means, really is the best thing since... sliced bread for just as many without means.

'Both and' solutions are always better then 'either or' ones. Just think how horrible life would be for half of us if low cost commercial bread wasn't allowed or available or even worse for most of us here, that SD bread wasn't?  Having both is way better than having one and why all bread making of every kind is just plain great in my book.   Having grown up on Wonder Bread, still think it is one of the greatest breads of all time - no doubt about it. 

I can see where your job will not be in jeopardy any time soon. 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I don't believe yeast manufacturers actually need to pay for PR just yet.

Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

Thank you gail_nk for sharing that link. It's well written and addresses a number of topics facing our industry. I've Favorited the posting and will be sharing it with my co-workers. I appreciate this discussion and moderate militancy on the side of good bread hehe. 

MisterTT's picture
MisterTT

making, but as long as people find inferior bread acceptable, there's nothing to be done about it. To be completely honest, we have to consider a fair few points why artisan bread is not all too popular (this is my perspective, largely influenced by the environment that I live in, so take it for what it is):

1) Artisan bread is very expensive compared to supermarket bread. Even making bread at home is more expensive than buying a loaf of whatever supermarket sponge is sold these days.

2) A lot of people either don't like bread or don't eat it for whatever other reason (fashionable diets, etc.).

3) The vast majority of those who do eat bread don't think about it, as in "Come on, it's just bread, the supermarket one tastes OK and those expensive ones stale quicker".

4) Deceptive marketing. In Lithuania's supermarkets, there are so-called artisan breads which are delivered frozen in dough form and baked off on site. People buy these, aren't impressed and make the appropriate assumptions.

The bad thing is that you can do precious little to change this situation. For myself, I try to convince my friends that true bread is a totally different animal than what they are used to. Some agree, some don't care, but it's all you can do really and no way is it going to be enough to change anything.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

What a great if sad topic.  Commercial yeast breads have been the mainstay for most bakeries for a very long time and barm, the same yeast strain for thousands of years before that too.

Most all bread, not all but nearly so, is sold in grocery stores.   $10 billion of bread sold at the top 10 retail outlets and chains  (not including Walmart which is the largest bread seller on the planet  by a wide margin) are all very large commercial bakeries, 3rd party ones or captive in house captive grocery store chains.  Almost none of it SD bread comparatively and what was SD was usually a par baked less than what we would call high quality SD baked at a really good small bakery.

No matter what we might thnk about it, the general public likes non sour, 24 oz, white sandwich bread that they can buy on sale in some supermarket for 99 cents a loaf  every week if they buyt the store brand.  - Their kids like it and love to eat it, never having anything else,  making the parents happy as can be.  If they want to eat more healthy they can get the 100% whole wheat store brand verion for the same price.   Or, pay some where between a dollar or 2 more for the bg brand name grocery breads and even get La Brea's par baked SD loaves too.  For 3 dollars more at $3.99  they can get some fine white SD bread made at a  great small bakery at Whole Foods.

Sadly, most American families are living on less than $50,000 a year or less and they aren't going to pay $4 for a loaf of sour bread - no matter how good it is or what the health benefits might be - or how well crafted it is. So half the population won't be buying well crafted, more expensive, small  bakery SD bread any time soon.

 Now. most Fresh Lofians after a little practice, can bake a 24 oz loaf of 20% whole grain SD, as good as Tartine, for 99 cents at home - we do it all the time.... and if we bake 2 loaves at once,  the energy costs are cut in half making the price 79 cents each - and not pay the $10 a loaf Tartine charges for bread no better than ours.  But we are quite a different breed and the tiniest of bread consumers .  We are wealthier, know how, have the time and the inclination to make our own bread as well as anyone.   So, most of us aren't buying $4 SD bread at Whole Foods very much either, preferring the satisfaction of making just as good a bread at home for 1/10 the cost in the case of Tartine bread.

The point is that there are some people  buying well crafted bread at a small quality bakery.  It all has to do with location as far as I am concerned.   You have to be where rich people live first and foremost and be where they are working making huge piles of money so they do not have time to make their own great bread at home or prefer doing something else on the weekends.  This why Chad can charge $10 a loaf, others do too and other places like NY, LA Chicago and other pockets where rich foodies with no time on their hands live are the prime spots but it all relative too.

Scottsdale AZ is pretty rich place, but I'm guessing Chad couldn't get $10 loaf for his bread there  He moight be able to get $7 though since the cost of living is that much less in Scottsdale than SF.  So a great bakery should do well there since even a poor one does all right currently.  But Scottdale would have a hard time supporting 3 of them.   Not even Chad could get $7 a loaf in Topeka KS but he might in Mission Hills or Leawood KS. 

Getting folks to work nights to make SD bread isn't easy when the pay is so low... and the pay is so low because just about everywhere else where rich folks don't live, it is difficult to make it as a bakery owner paying $25 a hour unless you are really pushing quaintly with mechanization and have only 3 employees - your wife and 2 kids..

Baking is a tough business and why you don't see ti many bakeries say compared to restaurants another tough business with low pay but there are a lot more of them and more doing well in SF, NY, Chicago, LA and Scottsdale than in Mesa AZ.

My 2 cents