Orsolya's Reviews > White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf

White Bread by Aaron Bobrow-Strain
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Aug 06, 2012

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bookshelves: exposes, library-2, library, food
Read from August 04 to 06, 2012

Growing up in an Eastern European household meant that while other children over-consumed on fluffy, white bead; my sandwiches were made with rye, Russian, or wheat. Feeling like an outsider, I simply craved a white bread “treat”. One can safely deduce that I looked forward to the annual school field trip to our regional white bread baking company. Now, as an adult, I live a mostly carb-free and low gluten lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes crave a soft, warm, buttered piece of bread… because I do. So, if I can’t consume these devil carbs; I might as well read about them in Aaron Bobrow-Strain’s “White Bread: A social history of the store brought loaf”.

“White Bread” is your typical social history book on a commodity. Unlike those books which trek a timelime-account of the item’s birth and social historical presence; Bobrow-Strain divided “White Bread” into chapters which are less connected on a “big picture” account and more so explore individual arguments in a debate-style form. In fact, although “White Bread” is obviously extensively researched, broad in scope, and impressive in its depth of information, it reads like a college term paper. Meaning: that although the topic and effort is strong; the meaning and connection to the thesis is weak. Many times there are just too many arguments made in “White Bread” to “keep up” or provide proper reader retention. This does, however, provide a more accessible and less dry text.

A major problem with “White Bread” is that it hardly focuses on the loaf itself, as a reader would expect. Bobrow-Strain spends his efforts on the political issues, ups and downs, and movements related to the alternative food movement and industrialization vs. locally-grown foods. Although the research, advocated points, and descriptions are rather interesting; the connection to bread seems like an afterthought (only about half of “White Bread” boils down to actually being about bread).

Despite this, the bread history and facts (even if sporadic) are very compelling covering areas such as the actual creation of white bread, the flour used (bleached vs. unbleached), the first bread wrapping, creation of sliced bread, loaf shape, “enriched” addition to breads, propaganda/advertisements during war times, etc. Personally, I wish there was more of this prevalent.

Although “White Bread” isn’t the social history the reader may expect and does get lost in a plethora of information; Bobrow-Strain does manage to be engaging in each chapter with a steady and fast-moving pace. Provoking personal thought, “White Bread” encourages personal research and inspiration (I’m enticed to seek out the social histories of boxed cake mix or processed cheese).

While Bobrow-Strain’s tone appears to targe the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s demographic; he remains unbiased and doesn’t specifically explain whether he supports or detests white bread and simply denotes its social rises, falls, and implications with arguments favoring both sides.

The finality of “White Bread” was weak with presentation, although the meaning was clear: society has returned to is roots of craving artesian, local breads and has shunned white bread as a low social class indicator. However, the execution plus the conclusion which attempted to recap the book’s underplaying themes; failed to provide a moving ending.

Aidenote: Bobrow-Strain combines notes and sources making it difficult to clearly pinpoint further reading.

Even though “White Bread” isn’t a social history or pop-cultural study as expected and instead emerges as a political study on white bread (which make sense because Bobrow-Strain is a professor of politics); the book did result in my perusing the bread aisle at the market and having some new-found respect for the now-lesser popular loaf. Not to mention, from now on, I will always remember July 6th as the day when the first sliced bread loaf was sold in 1928.

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Reading Progress

08/04/2012 page 17
7.0% "Who knew that "companion" comes from the Latin "com" and "pan" meaning "with bread"? Or that "lord" in the English feudal system stemmed from the Old English "hlaford" meaning "keeper of the bread"? There is more to this loaf than just devil carbs!"

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