Crumby politics

March 16, 2015 12:32

Being a staple of the masses, bread has been used as a symbol for eons, signaling the rise and fall of empires.

3 minute read.


Bread. (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

With national elections looming on the horizon, we are once again faced with important issues regarding our country’s future. In our day and age, a government is likely to topple because of a tub of cottage cheese or a Milki dessert. Perhaps it is a sign of the times.

Throughout history, however, regimes were more predisposed to succeed or fail because of another food – bread. Being a staple of the masses, bread has been used as a symbol and even as a weapon for eons, signaling the rise and fall of empires.

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With Passover just a few weeks away, we all remember how ancient Egypt, the breadbasket of the world at the time, wielded political power over its own citizens and the rest of the world because of its burgeoning arsenal of grain. This situation continued well beyond the Roman Empire.

The Romans themselves wisely used a “bread and circuses” policy to keep their citizens content, freely distributing grain to all adult Roman males. Women, children and slaves, however, were not included in this subsidy.

The Roman siege of Jerusalem was brought to a swift conclusion when Jewish zealots set fire to granaries that held vital sustenance for the population.

Perhaps the most famous linkage in history between bread and the fall of a regime was the French Revolution. Austrian- born queen Marie Antoinette aroused public outrage when she supposedly said, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” – freely translated as “Let them eat cake.” The obtuse monarch, wife of Louis XVI, could not fathom the suffering of her people.

The concept that someone who had no bread could certainly not afford brioche (consisting of more pricey ingredients such as eggs, sugar and butter) obviously eluded her. Bread became a symbol of the revolution; and peasants, impoverished by the deregulation of grain prices and famine, rose up and overthrew their oppressors.

In the 12th-century war between Pisa and Florence, the Pisan army besieged the city of Florence and withheld the salt supply, thinking that without salt, the bread supply would fail, resulting in Florentine surrender. Instead, the resourceful Tuscans started baking bread without salt, a tradition that has continued to this day.

Emperor Napoleon was famed for saying “An army marches on its stomach.” In the battle of Borodino, Napoleon’s army was severely depleted by Russian general Kutuzov’s forces, and although the emperor won the battle, this led to his ultimate defeat.

Kutuzov’s wife prepared a special loaf with the local spice, coriander, as a tribute to send with her husband into battle. It is debatable whether the bread determined the outcome of the battle, but the fact is that long after both Napoleon and Kutuzov passed into the annals of history, this bread – Borodinsky black Russian rye bread – exists to this day and is still a staple in Russia.

Almost a century after the Napoleonic wars, exorbitant bread prices forced starving Russians to topple the czar, resulting in the Russian Revolution and the birth of Communism.

The well-known phrase “Lehem, avoda” (Bread, work), which has been the traditional chant in the majority of labor-related demonstrations in Israel, may have been supplanted recently by “Cottage, Milki,” but the basic tenet is the same.

As has been proven throughout the ages, idealism and forms of government come and go, but what remains constant is that for a starving individual who has no bread (or is in severe economic crisis), ideals are not very sustaining. Contemporary politicians and leaders should heed this lesson of history and understand that it is life-giving and sustaining bread we need, not slogans.

Election Day Bread
This hearty sourdough resembles simple peasant bread. The sourdough method gives the bread a long shelf life, an advantage at a time when bread was baked only once a week. It is delicious when dipped in hummus.

Preferment dough
✔ ½ cup rye flour
✔ ⅓ cup water
✔ 1 Tbsp. sourdough culture (see Sourdough-for-dummies-317813)

Mix and leave to ferment for 12 hours.

Main dough
✔ 2½ cups white flour
✔ ½ cup whole wheat flour
✔ 1¼ cups water
✔ ½ tsp. instant powdered yeast
✔ 2½ tsp. salt
✔ Preferment dough

Mix and knead for 10 minutes. Leave to rise for 2 hours, punching down after 1 hour. Shape into a round loaf. Leave to rise on a baking tray for another 1½ hours. Bake for 40 minutes at 230°.

Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread.

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