Once the cornerstone of our diet, bread is now, at best a guilty indulgence or, at worst, something to be completely avoided. How did something so basic, so fundamental, get so complicated? Why are more and more people made sick by this age-old staple?
In late 2019, we released CEREAL, a critical six-part series uncovering the polarised world of cereals, from seed to loaf. Farmerama’s Katie Revell travelled the country to find out how the needs of industrial production have come to dictate the way that seeds are bred, grain is grown, flour is milled, and bread is baked and eaten.
We begin to unveil the truths behind how our bread is made today and its impact on human health and the planet. The radical changes that bread has undergone are revealing of much wider truths about our relationships with food, to farmers, with the land, the environment, and with each other.
Most bread we eat today is made using modern wheat varieties bred for uniformity and yield at the expense of our health and our soil. Just as our bread has changed, so have our seeds. But in the face of a climate and health crisis, what seeds should we be sowing?
Intensive chemical (or conventional) farming systems can be incredibly efficient in perfect conditions, but in a global climate emergency this method of farming is out of date. How are soil health, biodiversity and regenerative farming enabling farmers to move to a new system of farming that is nutritious for humans and the land? What is the experience of farmers growing the wheat, that’s ground to flour, that makes our bread?
How the milling process has led us to producing flour with almost no nutritional value? And why would the majority of the wheat grown in the UK go to animal feed? Meet millers around the UK who are doing things differently, providing flour with terroir, flour that is fresh and filled with nutrition, using locally grown heritage varieties that are benefiting people and planet.
The UK is the fifth largest economy and has some of the cheapest bread in the world – is that something to be proud of, or is it a convenient outcome of a system that prioritises shareholder profit, fobs off economically deprived people with poor quality food, and throws away a third of what it produces? What if the real cost is our collective health, and the health of the planet?
We are the bread system. If you eat bread – or any grains – you are part of it. So how can we all get involved, and what can we do to usher in the new grains movement to build joy, nutrition and resilience in all of our communities? What might a more efficient, nutritious, regenerative and joyful bread system might look like? What are some of the ways people are coming together and building networks to strengthen the movement in the UK and further afield?
CEREAL also won the Food Podcast award and the Investigative Food Work award from The Guild of Food Writers 2020. The judges called the series “engrossing, absorbing and enlightening”, and that the series “takes us on a compelling journey where we are given staggering amounts of knowledge about bread and grain. Never overwhelmed, we remain hungry to hear more from the caring small-scale growers, producers, scientists and food system experts that we meet on the way”.
- “Catching up on these episodes, I love what you say about joy in all of this – your shows capture the love we have for each other and the baking at High Rise, thank you for understanding this and communicating it so well.” High Rise Baker, Glasgow
- “Thank you for being a clear voice in an insane world” Kimberley Bell, Small Food Bakery
- “Thank you for digging deeper and wanting more!!!!” Chef India Hamilton, Jersey
- “Listened to this series on the hill whilst walling, it proper had me choked up and weeping at times, brought up so much grief at the disconnect with our food, and joy at the amazing passion and work of some amazing people. Thank you so much for a great series” Farmer
- “My heart is full of hope for the future but it will take some time for my optimism to catch up. Sadly my experience with land owners is that change comes slowly and profit is king, even at the expense of the environment. The work that you are doing is exciting and I know the way you portray your enthusiasm and knowledge will win the day ! A step back to take two steps forward to a healthier and more sustainable future. Thank you for all you do and how you do it .” Chris McCormack (Govanhill Bread Man)
- “Your cereals podcasts have really got me thinking about how to reconnect the supply chain. I have listened to it twice now and have decided to work my way through your back catalogue. You have had some very inspiring people talking, my head is swimming with ideas thank you.” Tom Edmondson, Conservation Agriculture Farmer, UK
- “We’ve been making bread for a long time, but listening to the Farmerama podcast “cereal” has inspired us to try some more options. Closest grown and milled flour is 20km away so will try source some of that too.” Brian Cavan, Farmer
- “Farmerama are massively raising the bar with their podcast series.” Will Perie Evans, farmer, NFU member and host of Rock and Roll Farming Podcast
Cereal was produced and edited by Katie Revell, with support from Abby Rose and Jo Barratt. Suzie MacCarthy and Hanna Söderlund also worked on the series. The theme music for the show is by Owen Barratt.
The show featured the voices of Chris MacCormack (‘Govanhill Bread Man’), Kimberley Bell (founder of Small Food Bakery and UK Grain Lab), Chelsea Marshall (Trustee of Scotland the Bread), Theo Laffargue (former baker at Riverside Bakery, Stirling), John Letts (Heritage Harvest), Andrew Whitley (Bread Matters, currently based at Bowhouse Fife, chairman of Scotland the Bread), Mark Lea (Greenacres Farm), Rupert Dunn (Torth y Tir), and Josiah Meldrom (Hodmedods), Fred Price (Gothelney Farmer), Steven Jacobs (from Organic Farmers & Growers), Connie Hunter, Anne Parry (Felin Ganol), Angus McDowall & Alison Campbell (Mungoswells), Fintan Keenan, Catriona Milligan (High Rise Bakers), Ben MacKinnon (E5 Bakehouse), Tomaso Ferrando (University of Antwerp)
The series was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Roddick Foundation. Thank you also to the Oxford Real Farming Conference for their archive recording of the late Professor Martin Wolfe, and to the Lost Revellers and everyone who came to the Nottingham Cereal launch harvest party and lent their voices to make the Flour Ambassador’s Pledge.