The shallow revolution

Bread has been a staple of the human diet ever since the first societies formed in the neolithic. With the cultivation of wheat, people needed an easy way to process and consume it. Many different forms of bread were developed to meet this task. Its basic function has always remained the same.

Go to any store in North America and you will see an aisle devoted to bread. In it, you will see it in dozens of different brands and packaging. It will appear in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. The medium of baking has had a long time to develop its product. You will see some bread from local companies that cater to the customs of the region. You will also see bread from foreign lands. Bread that was unheard of in the general population only a few generations ago. Ask an American what roti or pita is back in the 1950s, and you would get an odd stare or two.

There will be one kind of bread that stands apart from all the others. Without doubt, it will be the most widespread, advertised, and prevalent bread in the aisle. It is simply known to many Americans by the characteristically generic term ‘white bread‘. While bread itself might be as ancient as agriculture, this incarnation is relatively modern. The first forms of white bread can only be traced back to less than a century ago.

Before the 1920s, most bread in North America was cooked either at home or at a bakery. When white bread hit the scene, it became an instant hit. The appeal was in how it was made. It was mass produced in a factory. Every loaf was the same- no matter when or where it was bought. It was cheap, easily made, and instantly recognizable. The bread was the ultimate product. Unlike bread before it, it was pure, uniform, and tasteless.

Needless to say, Americans ate it up. Soon it became synonymous with bread itself. Until the counter-culture of the mid-century, one would be hard pressed to find any negative attitudes about it at all. With the advent of hippies, suddenly eating whole-grain artisan bread became an easy act of rebellion against the corporate system.

Like all revolutions, it eventually died out due to the sheer impracticality of the change it advocates. Corporations can easily adapt when their bottom line is starting to be affected. Within a few short years, a multitude of new brands with old-world names started popping up on supermarket shelves. If you looked close enough to the label, you can still see the same huge, publicly traded, multinational corporation is making it. It tasted slightly different, came in more eco-friendly packaging, and cost a few dollars more.

This is the nature of change in modern society. It is only skin deep. The new bread that hippies gobbled up was essentially the same. It is still made in the same factory along side plain, old white bread. It still uses the same chemically bleached flour. It is still is about as nutritious as paper.

Unless the modern system of production becomes vastly different, this is about as much change as one can expect. Without understanding the past, future generations will be doomed to make the same futile mistakes. Modern rebellion is about as tame as it comes. It is only about appearing to be rebellious rather than actually making any sort of real change. Modernity offers any lifestyle you might want to live- so long as it is the same as everyone else.


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