Five Questions With... Jane Mason
Anna Louise Batchelor - 07 May 2013
For my third interview in the ‘5 Questions with….’ Series I interviewed Jane Mason of ‘Virtuous Bread’. I ﬁrst met Jane at a cooking show where my passionate demonstration of cooking with oats was paralleled by Jane and her mission for teaching Real Bread baking. I had instant admiration for Jane and a respect of her ‘Virtuous Bread’ work since.
Q: ‘Virtuous Bread’ can you tell us a little more about virtue and bread baking?
A: Of course! Baking bread is one of the oldest activities that we humans have performed – we have been doing it for thousands of years and when we do it today it not only connects us to our ancestors but it connects us to the ingredients and the ground in a profound way. You have to knead bread for a good ten minutes and I don’t think there is any other food that you handle for that long – literally putting yourself into it before you eat it and share it with others. It’s the sharing that really counts for the link between virtue and bread. Bread is this magical thing that people love. When you bake and share bread you forge and maintain positive relationships and that is the essence of virtue.
Q: Why is ‘Real Bread’ so important to Virtuous Bread?
A: Bread is both simple and complicated. Simple because it can be made with only four simple ingredients, ﬂour, water, salt, and yeast (and the salt is for ﬂavour), and complicated because ﬂour – any ﬂour – is not something that everyone can digest easily without getting a tummy ache. To bake real bread you have to give the yeast time to do its job which is to break down the ﬂour so that we can easily digest it. Of course you can bake bread quickly and cheaply by using poor quality ingredients and unnecessary additives but that is not 'real bread' and there is more and more data to suggest that poorly made bread is making people ill.
Q: Your ‘Bread Angels’ scheme, which helps people set up home baking businesses, has been a great success. Why do you think micro bakeries are so popular?
A: I think there are three reasons for the popularity of micro bakeries. The ﬁrst is that the person running them is doing something they love. The second is that they are building positive relationships in their communities – meeting a whole group of people they had never met, getting to know local shop keepers and neighbours, providing an excellent product, and receiving positive feedback and affirmation. The third is that they are earning and in some cases, employing others. Paid employment coupled with community building and doing something you love is a winning combination.
Q: Your work has seen you travel extensively. Through your travels do you see you see differing attitudes to organic and wholesome food around the world?
A: Absolutely. Attitudes in the UK have changed enormously in the past 25 years. When I ﬁrst arrived from Canada nobody had heard the word organic and there was virtually no (and I really mean this) understanding that there is a connection between food and health. There was not even a willingness to entertain the idea. People thought you were nuts.
In this way we are behind countries like Germany that have a much longer tradition of organic and bio dynamic products and a much deeper understanding of natural and alternative living, healing and health. On the other hand we are much further ahead than other 'developed' countries such as the USA and Canada in which the natural food and health movements are still on the fringes. In the developing world the picture is extremely complicated simply because most people do not have the luxury to question what they eat or how it is grown.
Q: What is your one key tip to get someone home baking?
A: Make the ﬁrst time really fun. Plan an afternoon event at the week end to which you invite a group of friends or family. Prepare by ﬁnding a simple recipe, buy the ingredients in advance, and then do it together. I have seen four normally unruly children sit for 45 minutes in front of the oven waiting for their bread to come out.
There are plenty of recipes on line and in books and you can even watch videos about how to knead and shape bread! Just remember you only need ﬂour, water, salt, and yeast to get started. And an oven, of course!
You can find out more about Jane Mason and Virtuous Bread, and find out about taking a bread making course at her website www.virtuousbread.com
Anna Louise Batchelor is an environmental scientist who has worked in academia, government and industry. For the last six years she has been part of Reading's True Food Co-op.