Bread is Life

By Agnes Brandt, An ERI Partner in Berlin

“Du  bist, was du ißt.” – “You are what you eat.”

This meaningful insight into the sociocultural importance of eating is not just recognized by health food and diet gurus worldwide. Looking at the place of food in a society conveys a deeper meaning about the way a society functions. The importance people attach to eating and food tells us something about their values, beliefs and life-choices.

Being a good ethnographer is about getting access to people’s emic perspectives, to the meanings the people themselves attach to certain behaviours and beliefs. In order to do so, we immerse ourselves in the everyday life-worlds of those we are studying. A part of this is to get to know the specific customs around the preparation, sharing and eating of food.

I especially love this aspect of research. I just love food and I always try to go with local delicacies. Okay, okay, I do admit to being limited to non-meat and non-fish products, but I really do try everything vegetarian that I can get my hands on…

Anyway…I easily adapt to local eating-culture by indulging in whatever foods are popular and available, and I usually do not miss my ‘own’ food (partly because I am German and German food is – let’s face it – not the most exciting food you can find on this planet).

However, there is just one food that I am excited about and that I do miss whenever I stay some where for more than just a couple of months – and this I share with most of my fellow countrymen and women. The food that I am talking about is bread.

Bread. What about it? The pinnacle of German food culture? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: German bread is the most sorely missed food by Germans worldwide, and we are very proud of our baking culture. In fact, we go to great lengths to find it whenever we leave our home country. German bakeries scattered all over the world are proof of this desire for ‘proper bread’, which is usually dark and heavy, nourishing and substantial. Hmmmmmm.

Yummy! I once read somewhere that we have the greatest variety of Brot worldwide! My favourite bread at the moment is spelt bread, but I also like the classical rye and the particularly solid black bread (Schwarzbrot). If I cannot find any ‘proper’ bread at all, I resort to Pumpernickel, a German black bread specialty available in shops even in far-to-reach places such as Samoa!

Here is something that I found difficult to wrap my mind around: I found out that some cultures consider bread ‘bad’ or even ‘unhealthy’. Now, here is a challenge for the bread-loving German anthropologist!

PS: We have the notion of “liquid bread”–Flüssigbrot. It refers to: beer (what a surprise).

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