This week the Federalist published my essay explaining why you should bake your own bread. This piece, along with two others examining why you should eat humanely-raised meat and why you should raise backyard chickens, form the first three parts of a five-part domestic essay arc, the final two installments of which will be brought to you at some point in the future.
In this most recent Federalist piece I make clear the benefits of baking your own bread. But it is worth underscoring the benefits of taking more care over your food choices in general, specifically spending more money to secure higher-quality food for you and your family. There is a particular kind of consumerist ethic in this country—a widespread one at that—that believes food is exempt from the same kind of pecuniary and economic principle that we apply to virtually every other consumer product, namely: if it’s generally cheaper, it is probably lower-quality. Nobody denies such a principle when it comes to the price difference between, say, a Honda Accord and a Mercedes-Benz. But when most people see the higher cost of a local grass-fed pound of ground beef versus what you can get it for at Sam’s Club, suddenly such a concept goes out the window, and the two products are seen as identical but for price.
There is a difference, however—in buying the local grass-fed stuff, in raising your own chickens (or getting the eggs from a nearby farmer), in baking your own bread, in taking the slightly more difficult or expensive route in order to reap the superlative benefits of better food. There is, to be sure, a growing and very convincing wing of scientific discovery that continues to prove that such food is objectively better for us at the micro level—but we should not ignore the macro level, either, the intangible but still very real benefits that come with, say, knowing and forming relationships and friendships with the people who grow your food for you, or attaching a chicken coop to your property as an act of historical normalcy, or abjuring the garbage bread options of the supermarket in favor of making your own healthful homemade bread with your children or grandchildren (hell, even with just yourself). There is nothing sentimentalist about appreciating these benefits; it’s as practical a consideration as any, really. These things improve your life in measurable ways.
I have a challenge to my Trial of the Century readers: try making your own sourdough bread, say one loaf a week, for two or three months. In that amount of time you should be able to get reasonably good at it. As far as baking goes, a sourdough loaf is a relatively non-labor-intensive endeavor, inasmuch as most of the action in bread formation takes place when you’re off doing something else. There are a million ways to bake sourdough, but if you’d like to do it my way, you can follow my recipe, here. Do feel free to drop me a line, with photos, to show me your progress, and I’m always happy to give tips. If you find out you like it, then you’ll have a whole new incredibly value skill set on-hand. And if you find out you hate it, or you really stink at it—well, you can always feed all those loaves to your chickens. (Surely you’ve taken my advice, and you have a flock of chickens in your backyard—right?)