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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Bread and American food culture

Bread. The food of revolutions. Men formed civilization for it and women stormed the Bastille for it. Bread, or the lack thereof, brought down the tsars, the Bourbons and the hunter-gatherer society. It fed millions of workers during the Industrial Revolution, turning Europe and America from agrarian societies into modern industrial societies. Bread, I’d argue, is a more important pillar of western civilization than religion, philosophy or politics. After all, what would Communion be without it, and what would politicians have to base their campaigns upon? Furthermore, of course, philosophers need to eat in order to think. If the people don’t have bread, heads will roll — both literally and figuratively.

Of course America is different, because it’s America and we do things our own way and the rest of the world just has to deal with it. If you go into a US grocery store, you’ll find loaves of pre-sliced “Wonder Bread” and similar substances occupying a single aisle of the store. Bread just isn’t bread in the US. Real bread requires a knife to cut. Real bread has a crust with a crunch to it. Real bread is flour, salt, yeast and water and doesn’t need a dozen additives with unpronounceable names and shouldn’t have a shelf-life longer than a week. The bread in grocery stores and in the dining halls is soft, almost cake-like. There’s no chew to it; it dissolves as quickly in your mouth as sugar. That’s the problem with the “bread” found in the US. It’s fundamentally not bread, and it lacks substance despite having more than ten ingredients and being as enriched as a kid in a nice suburb.

Bread isn’t just bread. It’s reflective of broader issues and values in society. The fact that American bread is so processed and contains ingredients that are illegal in the European Union, China and Peru such as potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide — substances that are known to inflame health issues such as cancer and respiratory issues such as asthma — shows that there isn’t enough attention on what’s in our food and that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t care enough to protect Americans from corporate greed. Of course, greedy corporations exist everywhere in the world. Not all countries, however, let these corporations poison their customers.

American food culture is also drastically different from that of many European and Asian countries. As a person of the Chinese diaspora, food is important. It’s one of the best ways that the culture is passed down, because while the language and values might die out in the second generation, the food is always there. Family gatherings always occur over big meals with multiple dishes served family-style. Meals are usually home-cooked with great dedication using fresh ingredients and are meant to be eaten with just as much care. They aren’t meant to be rushed through on your way to your next appointment. This attitude that food is meant to be savored and bring people together isn’t unique to Chinese culture. It can be seen in almost every non-Anglophone culture. American food culture, on the other hand, sees food as something to grab while rushing from one place to another. Convenience is the most important idea in American food culture. There’s no time or desire to cook a multi-course or multi-dish meal meant to be eaten over the course of at least an hour. The result of this food culture or lack thereof results is the pervasiveness of processed food, including bread.

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