Every now and again, I will gently make fun of people who don’t eat bread. Each time I do, someone on the internet tells me I’m being unfair and rather ignorant. I agree in some cases, because sure, coeliac disease sounds truly awful for those who suffer from it.
But, I also grew up in LA, where I have memories of my friends’ mothers ripping out the inside fluff of the crusty white bread served in the cafe next to where we took ballet classes. This was ostensibly to reduce their carbohydrate intake. But long before gluten free or even Atkins was a thing, I knew that Fear of Bread was far more culturally informed than borne out of any concern for actual health. And I still think that’s the case.
The nutritional properties of bread are probably not common knowledge for a seven year-old. But growing up in Southern California means you are hyper aware of the next round of dietary restrictions disguised as health concerns long before the rest of the world has even heard of quinoa or kale or spirulina. After all, many LA grocery store aisles are not categorised by what they contain, but what they don’t contain. And increasingly, these days, what aisles in many major cities’ stores (and menus) don’t contain is bread. This, if you ask me, is a tragedy.
It took me a long time, eating my way through several food cultures, to unlearn Fear of Bread. Now that I have, I see that there’s a medium between a strict “gluten free” approach and eating wheat at every meal
It took me a long time, eating my way through several food cultures, to unlearn Fear of Bread. Now that I have, I see that there’s a medium between a strict “gluten free” approach and eating wheat at every meal, all the time, until you’re rolling home in a bloated haze (see also: meat, sugar, exercise – basically anything). And if anywhere will welcome you into the doughy middle ground of delighting in your daily bread, it’s Paris, where I found myself working for a two month stint late last year.
Take the boulangerie. Each morning, standing in line for a croissant en route to the co-working space I was working at, I thought to myself how utterly unremarkable the scenario was, yet how truly excited I was for what €0.90 was about to buy me. This is not because a croissant is a treat I allow myself once I’ve “earned it” (nay, in France, it is like taking a vitamin) but rather, because it’s so reliably, dutifully pleasurable.
I’ve come to think of the boulangerie line in France as a bit like effective public transportation (the European kind though, not the LA kind): everyone’s in it together. A baguette cannot be improved or elevated to a symbol of status any more than a bus ride can. Its grandeur lies in its humility, its ubiquity, its consistency. Everyone needs their daily bread—and the whole point of the caper is that you have to leave the house and awaken your senses to get it.
In other words, as far as I can tell, bread in Paris is not a thing. You will not be viewed as pious or healthy for avoiding it but more likely rather odd or sad. People gnaw on baguettes as they walk down the road after leaving the boulangerie, something that in Los Angeles would probably land you in some sort of institution. If you order a soup or a salad or a quiche in a sit-down restaurant (my use of “sit down” is unnecessary here, of course, because baguette-gnawing aside, people properly sit down to eat in France; that’s the answer to the whole French-women-don’t-get-fat quandary) you will get bread, as much as you want of it actually. Plus du pain is really the first phrase you should learn after un verre du vin.
In a world where indulging in simple, uncomplicated pleasures is increasingly the only remaining way to get through the day – especially if you spend your day on the internet – I’ve come to think of bread as a welcome relief. It’s never-changing, egalitarian, and comforting properties are a break from the harsh reality of the world. Especially when slathered with salted butter.
So, my resolution this year is to eat more bread. Not because it’s indulgent, or subversive, or a backlash to the backlash that is clean eating. Because it just is. And there is something really beautiful about that.