Bread Revolution

by Sarah Owens


Sitting with a friend in a dive bar on November 8th, I glanced up from our conversation laughing to check on the screen overhead. Stunned silent, I wondered if someone had spiked my drink. It couldn't be happening and yet...it did.

Election Night

Election Night

The next morning I awoke in an Airbnb of two Filipino women struggling to raise a houseful of children wondering what the Hell had happened. I cried with and hugged relative strangers. An hour later, a red wave of anger washed over my ears as our new divisive leadership echoed through the car stereo. An hour after that, I emerged bleary eyed in the Santa Monica Farmer's Market, surrounded by an abundance of sunshine and exotic fruits. It was all strangely bizarre and emotionally exhausting. 

Supporting diversity in our food and our people at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market.

Supporting diversity in our food and our people at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market.

I spent the morning discussing with bakers, farmers, and customers what it all meant. Emotions were high and there was much speculation about what was next. The most obvious answer was to keep baking - to focus on the very reason I had come to California from New York in the first place: building strong relationships around bread, the simplest staple. Bread made with heritage grain, dry farmed with environmental respect, and milled with an intention to honor natural leavening and wholesome baking. These types of interpersonal connections, made stronger through food are what I believe will provide us with a world we can be proud of. We have the opportunity to be the change we want to see, even through baking a loaf of sourdough. 

The farmer, the miller, the baker, and the consumer all play their part in a compliant testament of hard work and time-honored technique. This type of bread made with love and intention has mobilized people all over the world to do good for themselves and their community. Bread I believe, is our opportunity to stage a peaceful revolution by making these relationships stronger through cooperation and crop diversification. 

Naturally-leavened loaves made with grain grown by the Tehachapi Grain Project and milled by Grist & Toll. 

Naturally-leavened loaves made with grain grown by the Tehachapi Grain Project and milled by Grist & Toll. 

I flew to Chicago the next morning with the sinking feeling that I had not done enough in preparation for the election. I had been living in my coastal bubble, assuming the future was indeed female.

The future is female. L to R: Min Kim of Biodynamic Wellness, author and baker Sarah Owens, Nan Kohler of Grist & Toll, Rose Lawrence of Redbread.

The future is female. L to R: Min Kim of Biodynamic Wellness, author and baker Sarah Owens, Nan Kohler of Grist & Toll, Rose Lawrence of Redbread.

I still believe it is and I still believe I have to participate in making that happen. The big question has been how. 

The neighborhood in Lebanon where the Sadalsuud Foundation's school is located, now gearing up for a girl's literacy course in December. 

The neighborhood in Lebanon where the Sadalsuud Foundation's school is located, now gearing up for a girl's literacy course in December. 

An invitation that came a month earlier from the Sadalsuud Foundation to consult on a baking project in the north of Lebanon had had my mind preoccupied. The foundation has been working for the past several years to provide the Lebanese community and the Syrian refugees that have fled there with basic needs, mainly a safe space for children to learn. Here lay an opportunity to bring the illustration of bread and its cooperative attributes to a war-torn and scarred community. 

A refugee from Homs, Syria living in a tent settlement camp in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border wearing warm clothing distributed by Sadalsuud. 

A refugee from Homs, Syria living in a tent settlement camp in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border wearing warm clothing distributed by Sadalsuud. 

The bakery, being built in Tripoli, is an extension of the effort to dissolve sectarian tension and build healthy relationships around education and food. It is returning to Lebanese ingredients grown and milled within the region, training bakers of both Lebanese and Syrian backgrounds to use natural leavening, and providing wholesome loaves to the restaurants and markets of Beirut. More loaves and more smiles for more people. It sounds a bit simplified but it is a fine start.

I will be flying to Beirut January 10th with as many baking supplies as I can pack without raising alarm. For three weeks I will help initiate this effort in collaboration with some brave souls there who believe strongly in making a difference in their global community. My hope is to be able to provide recipe and menu development, consultation on securing an oven, and technical training for the bakers. My internet access may be a bit limited but I will certainly be posting on Instagram as well as here to document the process. I hope to provide a window into a misunderstood and complicated situation and empower a group of people with the most basic but important set of skills. 

Sadalsuud's Founder and Director Brant Stewart and I have been working remotely to set goals and realistic expectations for a grant we are hoping will come through the organization USAID. Many who have heard of these plans have asked how they may also contribute. We are looking to raise funds through tax exempt donation, particularly for the oven and mixer as well as securing as many supplies as possible within Lebanon. When making a donation via paypal, you may choose to earmark your money for 'bakery'. If you have further questions, please feel free to email me at: info@bk17bakery.com

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