The best way to restore justice and foster equality is to remediate the land. Respect for ourselves derives from respect for nature, first and last. If we do not respect the system of life, we will have no moral ecology. Nature is a church and its rhythm a prayer. The democracy of food, that most basic human right, is the stewardship of our humanity. If we do not regain control of our food’s narrative—its quality, origin, price, preparation—we will become victims instead of protagonists. If we do not make affordable access to fresh, healthy, organic food the premise of our new system—if it remains distant, contrived, boutique—we will duplicate the systems of oppression we seek to usurp.
Art is not making, but making is an art. As distinct from craft, art is a consumptive act. Craft is, diametrically opposed, a digestive act. Art is meant to be consumed, extruded, indulged, profaned, performed….craft is a patient, gentle lapidary of interpretation. craft is a perpetual gestation of tradition; art is a still-birth of tradition. Craft is a mirror of the past, and art a muddy refraction of the future. Neither exist here, neither indulge now.
The craftsman yearns to understand, while the artist seeks to be understood. A craftsman is not concerned with the geography of imagination. No, we are clergy of a secular prayer. Technique and rules, the peregrinations of patient, regal fingers with simple tools; in my instance: grain, water, fire, and time. My tools are instruments of seduction; sculpting the harvest of reality into tangible materials and forms. Craft gives form substance, and making gives craft form.
The compulsion to make is an ancient, biblical curse. The need to produce—ideas, children, tragedy, food—is a biological imperative that defines humans from all other forms of life. As noah built an arc, as the Babylonians terraced their tower, so too do we, with every waking second, seek to upholster our world. As craftsman, we are trained to tease the texture inherent in fabric, to choreograph the color intrinsic in light, the flavors innate in time: we are trained to accept the rules/the procedure/the process/but to emphatically interpret the details.
Every act, everything made, is endowed with the blood of its maker. The presence of an energy and a faith is felt on every seem of clothing, every tile in a mosaic, in every glass of wine ever poured. It is a barium test which silhouettes the headwaters of creation against the capillaries and streams and creeks of time.
The poet nick flynn offers this: creating a bridge between spiritual and material opposites of daily life, mevlevi philosophy alters the nature of a simple, ordinary object. A mystical symbol engraved on a mutekka (a neck cushion) or a piece of calligraphy embroidered on a mailbag gives spirit to the simple material of the object; each item used in daily life evolves into a living being, illuminated by this spirit.
Bread breaking is at the crossroads of multiple pivots, relationships, and interactions. Much as light can be sent through a prism to be refracted, baking can be distilled or distended, lauded or feared, all depending on the baker’s perspective of their craft. To me, the attraction lies in the tactile and visceral demonstration of choice. The baker must perceive—as if a ship’s captain during a storm—every instance, shadow, and opportunity that could, depending upon the capability of the baker, disrupt the sails and disturb the ballast.
Quite simply, baking is the mixing of pure agricultural ingredients—the flour of wheat—with the primordial elements of water and salt. A leavening agent—either natural or chemical—is invited to induce fermentation: acting as alchemist and midwife, the baker patiently induces this process. Or, in the current industrial and mechanized frontiers of food production, the baker’s agency has been castrated and the fermentation of water, flour, and salt metastasized like a cancer into the belly of America. We plunge our hands into the flesh of the dough, and our daily bread is born.
A woman who stone-milled some flour for Bellegarde told me recently that “we are doing the works that needs to be done.” This mantra, this commitment to the successful failure of artisan production, was heartening because it testifies to the daily struggle—both imposed and imagined—that each one of us goes through in order to survive. To literally mix, ferment, shape, bake, package, transport, and handle thousands of loaves of bread, six days a week, entirely by wrist finger and hand, is a very humbling endeavor. It is a eucharist on a grand scale for those of us performing this ceremony; although it may only be a loaf of bread, and we may only be a few anonymous bakers in a strip mall in Broadmoor, we know that we are participating in the resuscitation of a food system long since dead.
Artisans and craftspeople—those who comprehend the art of making—are the lungs of our new system. We see, we devote, and we embrace the process, and its making; not as problems to be solved but as mysteries to be indulged. And we are reminded that this is the work that needs to be done, because you can only keep what you have by giving it away.
Like god gathered adam as clay in his palm, one gathers wheat from seeds, flour from grain, dough from water, and life from bread. From this genesis we see our energies scattered throughout the city; attendant on dinner tables, shelves, kitchens, and garbage cans. And like ink spilling into cold, thick milk we watch as our bread lingers throughout the time and space of new orleans—the bakers’ choices present, even in our absence.
“New Orleans’ first recorded commercial baker was a Frenchman called Lemesle who did business under the name Bellegarde. Lemesle opened his commercial bakery in New Orleans in 1722…”