Field of Enquiry III: The incredible story of bread

Miesbeth Knottenbelt, Nourish member & volunteer, reports on the third session of the 2000m2 Field of Enquiry series at Whitmuir The Organic Place, on Saturday the 5th of November – where Andrew Whitley from ‘Scotland the Bread’ told the incredible story of bread…


Of the centrality of bread, through the centuries and throughout cultures.

Of how the development of ‘taste’ became associated with status stimulating the development of technology to over-refine bread, leading to the detriment of its nutritious value.

Of how the Romans were the first global entrepreneurs, outsourcing the growing of grain to right across their empire including the UK.

Of how they offered free bread (and circuses) to citizens who were made landless to keep them quiet (-the equivalent of our benefit system and the Great British Bake Off according to Whitley!).

Of the first laws to regulate bread production and sales (1266) showing the mounting tension between bakers and consumers, in this new dependency relationship.

Of the emerging class differences: the colour of bread you ate defined your class and hence reinforcing the idea of ‘purity’ and status in refined ‘white’ bread.

Of factory dwellings without facilities to make or bake anything.

Of how in 1870s more ‘efficient’ roller mills started replacing stone grinding, and thereby taking out many nutrients.

Of how in 1947 the Agricultural Act responded to post-war food crises by encouraging the industrial cheap white sliced loaf, using high-speed mixers and a cocktail of additives.

Of the ‘Green Revolution’ followed with selective growing of dwarfing genes, destroying wheat’s larger root systems, producing high yields but only with the help of fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides making people sick.

Of the same depressing story for rice and maize.

Of how the nutritious bran that is taken out of the flour (=50%) goes mainly to feed animals and is sold to pharmaceutical companies, who then extract additives which are sold back to bread manufacturers at high prices to be put back into the bread artificially, supposedly to increase its nutritional value (but of how we cannot digest most of these)!

Of how only 60% of households are eating what used to be a staple (bread), and therefore the big industries are collapsing, hence the recent emergence of ‘copycat sourdough’, fake tan ‘brown’ bread, and large investment in gluten-free products sold at twice the price of normal bread.

Of how in 2008: The Real Bread Campaign started exploring what is in it, and how it is making people sick.

Of lots of recent research about how the key to a healthy gut is biodiversity of bacteria, which are produced during fermentation (the pre-and pro-biotic effects of sourdough).


In the afternoon, we visited Bread Matters, a community-supported bread-baking initiative, researching on bread and teaching people to bake sourdough bread properly. Andrew Whitley and Veronica Burke run Bread Matters and initiated the Scotland The Bread project.

A fascinating story whose details I will certainly follow up with a look at the book ‘Bread Matters’ and maybe a course in bread-baking at Macbiehill Farm, Lamancha.


You can access the presentations and resources of the Field of Enquiry series in this Dropbox folder. You can read blogs about the previous sessions here and here. If you have questions about the series, you can e-mail Heather Anderson at heather @


Photo: Veronica Burke, Scotland The Bread