Episode 052 – Breaking Bread

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those.” – Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain said food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those. It may not be the answer to world peace but it’s a start.

But what happens when your love affair with food turns sour? When what used to excite you leaves you cold. When culinary apathy sets in and nothing tastes good anymore.

When you realize you just might know the answer to the question; How many fish tacos are too many?

Thankfully, when all else fails, we still have that one thing that set civilization on its path to stardom. We still have the one thing that has been around since man himself.

Let’s talk about that marvelous marriage of flour, yeast, and water. In fact, let’s break bread.

How ya’ doing? Welcome to the show. 

Before we start, I wanna relay something a listener sent me this week. If you listened to Episode 51: Gods Among Us, you know I was talking about the wolves of Yellowstone and the Giant Seqoia’s. 

Trying to make a connection and I’m not really sure how successful I was but as it happens, the universe was paying attention and had already made the connection. I just wasn’t aware. 

Back on August 15th, the L.A. Times reported that a pack of grey wolves has been discovered in Sequoia National Forest. How about that? A mother and four pups were confirmed by park officials and it’s a big deal because it marks the first time in over a century that grey wolves have returned to California. 

A couple of notes I found in my research on this: The Grey Wolf is still listed on California’s endangered species act, and cannot be killed for any reason other than in defense of a human life. 

The second thing I discovered is in reference to the uproar that has already arisen from ranchers in the area. Wolves kill livestock and everyone is ready to unleash the wrath that exterminated the wolves in the first place. 

If you’re in that crowd, you should know the state of California has in place a program called Pay for Presence which reimburses ranchers for verified losses of livestock due to wolf attacks. This program will also pay for non-lethal deterents such as guard dogs and fencing.

Turns out, wolves and Giant Sequoia go together after all. 

Thank you, Brian for sending me the link to that piece. 

Alright, let’s get into it. Let’s break some bread.

Act 1: 

About 8000 years ago, the Egyptians discovered that if you separate the emmer seed from its husk, crush it into a crude flour and mixed it with water, you’d get bread. 

By adding wild yeast to this primitive bread mixture, which they had because they were excellent beer brewers, Egyptians inadvertently created the first sourdough. 

In the centuries that followed, cultures around the world developed their own version of bread.

In 450 BC, the Romans invented water-milling, which is exactly what it sounds like, using a water-wheel to power a mill to crush the grain. The Romans get the credit for turning bread making into an art form. And of course, bread became yet another symbol of opulence and power. 

In 130 BC, Chinese explorer Zhang Qian (Zhu-ong Chee-an) returns to China and becomes the first man to provide credible proof that safe passage is possible across Central Asia to Europe and the Silk Road is born. 

The Silk Road becomes the conduit – for the exchange of herbs, spices, and of course, silk. 

Along with cinnamon and Saffron…cooking methods and cultural behaviors were also carried and transferred.  

In the 14th century, the Renaissance brought balance and harmony to our appetites. Regardless of nationality or economic status, most people throughout Europe ate bread. 

With the hustle and bustle of the Industrial Revolution comes the rise of urbanized kitchens, changing not only what we eat but how we cook it. Fast food is now a thing. 

But the pivotal moment comes with the arrival of Haute Cuisine which literally translates as high cooking. High quality food prepared with a high level of refinement. 

Celebrity Chefs like Julia Childs demystify French Cooking. 

Globalization via the internet becomes the new Silk Road. A digital one that allows the transfer of diverse cultures and ever-evolving expressions of human creativity and connection. 

Stories. Histories. Invitations. 

You can’t talk about celebrity chefs without including my favorite, Anthony Bourdain. 

And Bourdain said, Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those.

…It may not be the answer to world peace but it’s a start. 

Act 2:

This piece is not coming out the way I had hoped so I’m just gonna jump in and tell you about the former marine biologist who took Bourdain’s sentiments about world peace to heart. 

Chef Nof Atamna-Ismaeel made headlines back in 2014 when she became the first Arab contestant to win MasterChef Israel. 

After she won, she created the A-Sham Arab food festival in Haifa. The festival pairs Arab and Jewish chefs together to recreate lost or forgotten dishes. The entire festival is all about eshewing politics for the purpose of building bridges. 

Every year, the festival gets largely ignored by the press. 

That is until February of 2022 when director/producer, Beth Elise Hawk, released Breaking Bread, a documentary that celebrates the festival and culinary diplomacy in a most beautiful way. 

And that’s how we got here… the film has the same title as my episode. It will rank much higher in Google searches, I know… but that’s not where this is going. 

I’m not quite sure exactly where this is going. I just find it curious that Gastrodiplomacy is a thing. And a good thing at that. 

But in doing some research, I found that it’s just the hip and trendy name that’s gone mainstream. 

The tactic has been around for centuries. Winston Churchill called it “Tabletop Diplomacy.” 

In 1972, Richard Nixon made headlines when he famously ate with chopsticks during dinner with the Chinese Premiere. 

Of course, this can backfire as well… like the time the Queen Elizabeth visited Belize back in 1985, just a few years after Belize gained its independence from Britain. The meal included roasted gibnut… a small rodent considered a delicacy by the locals. The British press had a field day, saying the Queen had been served a rat.  

And then of course… no discussion about Gastrodiplomacy would be complete if we fail to meniton President George Bush making history in 1992 when, after being served salmon sashimi and caviar, the president became the first sitting president to vomit on the prime minister of Japan. 

Here’s something else…

In 2015 during negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal, tensions were so high, the talks nearly ended at least five times, according to an article in the New Yorker Magazine.

For 20 months, negotiators had always eaten separately but on the 4th of July, America’s Independence Day, the Iranians extended an invitation for the two sides to break bread together – with no shop talk allowed.

A participant at the event said, it was the first time the Iranians and Americans got to see each other in a different way.  

Less than 10 days later, an agreement was reached. Experts who’ve studied this negotiation are convinced it was made possible because of this meal and the rapport it helped foster.

Act 3: 

I have always been enamored with the process of baking bread. I believe as Bourdain did, a meal is almost not worth eating if you can’t drag a hunk of bread through it. 

And to be honest, as someone with food allergies and unexplainable sensitivities, I’ve completely lost my love for food. 

Nothing tastes good to me. Maybe it’s the heat of summer. Maybe there really is a limit to how many fish tacos is too many. I don’t really know. 

But there is one thing that still excites me. Bread. 

There is truly nothing like a great loaf. I mean the loaf that has that saddle leather brown crust and the perfect airy crumb inside. 

Drag it through a plate of olive oil. Find me a ripe, red tomato and some basil and I’m a happy, happy man. 

Breaking Bread. It worked for the Egyptians. It worked for the Romans. 

It’s bringing Arabs and Jews to the same table. 

It may not be the answer to world peace… but it’s definitely a damn good start. 

Alright, that’s all I got for this week. 

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