Let them eat bread

Years ago, President Bush (Senior) was unable to answer the question: “What is the price of a loaf of bread?” Tomorrow morning, the answer to that same question will be: Unaffordable!

The cost of flour/wheat grain has hit a record high, and my regular bill for organic grain and bread flour has gone up on the roof of the oven! It has doubled in price.

As you may know, Buncombe County has numerous local bread makers using traditional methods, working passionately in their art, with little regard for the effort or time it takes. That number of artisans could change quickly now. We are all in dismay about the outrageous price rise. There is already a thin profit. Will we pass that extra cost to our consumers?

If there is substantial rise in the retail price of a loaf to compensate for the increased flour cost, the psychological impact will be huge. I hate to be part of the beginning of the “official” recession. For centuries and everywhere, the price of bread has been a measurement used by the masses of people. Its price rise has been a significant factor in political unrest leading to regime change. I don’t know if the impact will go that far. Ironically, we still are not talking about inflation, but frankly, I think we are hitting the start of a recession for our nation.

Time has changed since the French Revolution. Import- and export-market trading has evolved the whole base of economic activity from a national concern to a globalized chain of reactions and concern. The grain shortage is affecting our entire planet.

As noted by FoodProductionDaily/Europe [www.foodproductiondaily.com], EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel proposed the total suspension of cereal-import duties for the current marketing year (ending June 30, 2008) unless market conditions justify their reintroduction before that date.

For a small but growing number of people, fluctuation in the price of a loaf may pass unnoticed. They are the devotees of the Atkins Diet, which spurns bread and potatoes. [Its] popularity is said to have hit bakers hard in recent years. Conspiracy theorists will see here a way to slim national obesity. Just add a potato blight like in Ireland in 1845, and we are off to another famine—and a weight-loss pandemic.

Seriously, the grain silos of North America are like our nutritional rivers, and they are at a very low level. We cannot eat pebbles.

The Kansas City Board of Trade noted Nov. 9 that the USDA showed a change to the U.S. balance sheet: “Imports were increased by 5 million bushels … [and] the world balance carryout increased close to 3 million tons. The combination of these bearish factors caused the lower market. Rain is forecasted for part of the hard red winter wheat belt Sunday through Tuesday but in the western area of the hard red winter wheat belt, where it is dry, there are no forecasts for precipitation, creating concern, traders said. The market closed mixed.”

So, the weather helps determine the cost of our grain, and this year’s drought is part of the problem. My distributor tells me, also, that organic-wheat growers are switching to corn for ethanol, since the profits are higher.

The bread revolution, the recognition of slow fermentation and the use of brick ovens could be seriously jeopardized by the rising question: Will we be able to afford to buy a quality loaf of organic bread tomorrow?

— Francois Manavit
Ze Oven Bakery
Fairview

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4 thoughts on “Let them eat bread

  1. travelah

    Let Them Bake Bread

    If people would take a little bit of time and learn how to bake their own bread (and it IS easy)they would not have to worry about an over-priced “gourmet” bread shop going out of business because of the high price of wheat. Keep in mind wheat and corn prices at the farm level have been below cost for years.

    Of course I’m picking on you but the dramatic scenario you have painted is not that complex or drastic. (and George Bush, Sr or W, has nothing to do with it)

  2. DonM

    Francois,
    I love your bread. When my wife doesn’t bake her own, it’s down to the Grove Corner Market for a Friday fix from Ze Oven.

    I think you’ve identified the major culprit here as the switch by growers to more profitable corn.

  3. Sam

    Travelah:

    People who choose to refer to local, organic products as gourmet cloud the issue. There is nothing “gourmet” about a fairly-priced loaf of bread. Perhaps you are only used to buying a dollar loaf at Ingals, produced with GMO ingredients on a subsidized, factory farm. Or perhaps you have plenty of spare time to make your own bread at home, and dont consider your time worth much. But for those of us who enjoy buying a product that is made in accordance with ideals that include fostering local economy, as well as supporting small, organic farms, 4 dollars is not very much.
    To re-create a good loaf of bread at my house, I generally have to spend the good part of a saturday kneading and rising. But since I work on saturday, on this computer, making about 20 dollars an hour, it makes far more sense to me to buy my bread from the artisan down the street who can provide it for a an incredible value of $4.

    In addition, your reference to wheat and corn prices being below cost only refers to government subsidized products. If you have ever tried to buy certified organic wheat from a local, WNC farmer, you may find that the prices are quite different.

    I once worked for a boss who used to get so mad because I bought my food at the French Broad Food Co-op. He didn’t understand how I could spend ‘so much’ on “gourmet food”. He was left with a very blank expression when I told him that I spend less on food in a week at the FBFC than he spends in one night drinking beer and eating pizza at the bar. Priorities is the moral here.

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