Fifth Avenue is laid in gold, every mansion a citadel of money and power. Yet here you stand, a giant, starved and fettered . . . You too will have to learn that you have a right to share your neighbours’ bread . . . Well, then, demonstrate before the palaces of the rich; demand work. If they do not give you work, demand bread. If they deny you both, take bread. It is your sacred right.— Emma Goldman, Union Square, New York, 21 August 1893
Bread has been an integral component for more than a few philosophical treatises through history; not to mention a few riots and revolutions. If it doesn’t seem that important at first glance, remember that it has also been an integral part of the daily diet for the working class all over the world. In Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, Linda Civitello writes that in 18th century France, “Bread was considered a public service necessary to keep the people from rioting. Bakers, therefore, were public servants, so the police controlled all aspects of bread production.”
If this leads you to believe that the consumption of bread is highest in places like Europe you should know that, as a nation, Egypt consumes the most amount of bread in the world. Families in every income bracket in Egypt bake or buy stacks of aish baladi, or “village bread” (aish means “life” as well as “bread”) every day.
But, why even look at Egypt when we can look closer home? Bread is one of the most significant parts of Kashmiri cuisine as well, and has been for a very long time. To this day, they eat more than a dozen different types of breads, each at a different time of the day. The Indian State should probably think of the revolutionary potential of bread when it attempts to deal with its occupation of Kashmir.
If you’re from, or have ever been to Mumbai, you know just how popular pao is. Pao was not part of Marathi cuisine and only made its entry into the city with the migrating Goan population. But, this did not stop the Shiv Sena from using it to bring the Marathi working class under its banner. Easily made and eaten, pao was conceived by the Shiv Sena as a food for the toiling masses. It also made it easy for them to distinguish between the dosa–idli eating South Indians and poori bhaji eating North Indians from the pao eating Marathi working class in Mumbai. the handy Pao has become so integral to the daily commuter’s diet that, in Mumbai today, if it were to suddenly become unavailable, we could witness an extensive strike and widespread protests in the city.
To learn more about the long and rich tradition of bread baking in India, listen to the new episode of The Real Food Podcast by Vikram Doctor.