WE, the judges, have called to order here an assembly on the controversy of our generation: bread. Bread we broke, and bread we have declared is broken; it is not good any more. Bread has become the fluff of meals, something to fill the empty spaces and stretch the “good” stuff. We have broken bread, says the plaintiff, and now we cry out murder most foul for our waistlines. The defendant, voiceless, has deferred to us to examine the case.
You, bread, who have always been there for us, await our verdict. Since we learned the use of fire and left wet grain to the devices of the morning yeast that bred in dew, we have leaned on you for survival. You rose from the coarse grit of wild seeds to become what you are today. You are old, bread, and with age comes a history of triumphs and, yes, mistakes.
All over the world, people have pulled you from their environment with callused palms and wrists sore from kneading. From wheat ground fine, you have been rolled out and baked on stone. You have been born from amaranth, corn, oat, and barley. Where one family gathers around you, airy with yeast, another cuts through a crust into buttery layers of soda and raisins, another pulls flat loaves from ashy coals. You have appeared in our lives in every shape, size, and material we have managed to taste.
Yet, once nestled on our hearthstones, you now march neatly out of factories. You have been refined, processed, standardized. No longer seen as a wonder, you have been tossed onto the sidelines, perhaps smeared with tuna salad, perhaps forgotten. People removed you from their fires and picked you from a shelf, instead, then called you a criminal when you broke their hearts.
But that is not the end of your story, bread. Though the people have cried “fluff,” we have seen the meals of times gone by. Grandma cooked the beans for hours, but every last one of her corn muffins was gone before the pot was empty. Our treasured aunt’s rolls—she makes so many, she ties them in trash bags and hands them out to greedy nieces and nephews on holidays. We’ve awaited eagerly our sister’s biscuits on her weekend visits. We’ve helped gather spring violets for scones. Remember when Dad would make waffles, and the smell alone could get you out of bed faster than lightning?
You are still here, bread, and as precious as ever. You may be marching out of factories and into lunchboxes, but you are also rising out of corn, tapioca, and quinoa. Gluten does not a loaf of bread make, indeed. You can be found whole, and made with love in all forms: round, flat, fortified with milk, sweetened with honey, or simply baked in wafers that carry us to the Promised Land. Bittersweet with spelt, dense with egg, or heady with rye and caraway, you persevere. You are as varied as the fingerprints that get pressed into your crust. Perhaps that is why we both love and accuse you, bread. You are just like us: unique, changing, sometimes flawed, but nonetheless fueling the deep connection that binds all of humanity. You are put through the fire, and return with new life.
Is this the case we have brought up against you, bread? Or is it, perhaps, our duty to you to bring you to your potential? Do we fear the flour dusting our fronts, lumps in dough, or simply the patience that waiting in front of a warm oven requires? Assemble the jury. We have a verdict to dole out. When we have gathered, and every seat in the courtroom is filled, we will do what generations have done since our ancestors first took eyes to stars and kernel to grindstone: We will break bread.