Whenever I read or hear the phrase “Men used to be the breadwinners” as I heard it spoken just now on NPR , I think “I don’t win bread, I make it.”
The bread I make: Pain au Levain
I have always been the bread maker, not the breadwinner. Nor I have wrung “bread from the sweat of other men’s brows” as Lincoln put it. Neither do I eat bread in the sweat of my face, as God dust-to-dusted Adam in Genesis chapter 3, though some of my sweat has gone into the bread I make over the years.
“Winning bread” seems always to involve wringing, a lot or a little, of one’s own or other people’s brows. Making bread involves kneading, in which hands find their true shape. I don’t believe in breaking a sweat when breaking bread with others. I believe in olive oil and coarse salt for dipping broken bread, and wine with bread. I believe in this anointed bread. I haven’t cast my bread upon the waters in some time; I haven’t made bagels (bagels require brief simmering in a water bath) in years; but I do like to give a portion of my bread to others, and let them take it away to salt with their own savor.
I believe making my own bread restores savor to the salt I cast into it. Winning bread tramples the salt of the earth underfoot. Making bread feeds people (except the no-gluten folks). Winning takes, and often takes the bread right out of people’s mouths. Winning, famously, “takes all.” Pablo Neruda wrote:
I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread: the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god. He does his majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colors and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship. And, if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams.
Neruda must have really loved good bread; he also wrote an Ode to Bread. In it, as a matter of fact, he speaks of winning a fight for bread:
…we will win
earth and bread for everyone.
will have the shape of bread,
deep and simple,
immeasurable and pure.
Every living thing
will have its share
of soil and life,
and the bread we eat each morning,
everyone’s daily bread,
will be hallowed
because it will have been won
by the longest and costliest
of human struggles.
This earthly Victory
does not have wings:
she wears bread on her shoulders instead.
Courageously she soars,
setting the world free,
like a baker
born aloft on the wind.
This is the victory I want to win.