Full synopsis

This audio feature examines the process of bread making at the Hertford Street Bakers in East Oxford. It looks at the social ecology of the bakers, postulating that the bakery and its customers are in effect a living social organism. Each day, and for some every day, the customers visit the bakery, converging upon it from the local neighbourhood and then disbursing - every day. If bread is the stuff of life, then surely this is the rhythm of life.

Most people in our culture eat bread everyday, for almost everyday of their lives. It is a ritual, but one which is almost unnoticed. Bread is consumed from childhood. We are, in a sense, bread. And bread dough is literally alive. In the summer the Baker adds cold water to slow the dough proving; in winter he starts earlier to give more time for the dough to prove.

The bakery is opposite the primary school of SS Mary and John. Many of its customers are parents with children at the school. Many of its pupils are also customers. When the customers converge on the bakery they do more than just buy bread. They chat, look at notices in the bakery window and ground themselves in the local community. Compare this interaction with the anomie of supermarket customers.

Most bakery customers come on foot, some on their bicycles. They interact with their environment socially and ecologically. If the local housing were not so densely built this interaction may be different and the social organism may not exists at all.

The local Vicar - Adam Romanis, the priest at SS Mary and John Church uses bread as wafers in his daily service. At Harvest festival he uses bread from the Hertford Street Bakery. He also buys bread for him and his family at the Bakery. In the church a single waffle is broken and shared by the congregation much like the individual loaves are cut from a single lump of dough. The significance of this is in the community that shares the bread rather than the religious act itself. If the bread is blessed, then it is in the repeated praise of the bakery customers, who love the bread and the bakery.

The process of producing bread is recorded: the interaction of the bread dough the baker and the environment, the machinery, the loading/emptying of the bread oven, the playground of the school opposite and the bakery customers.

View graphic animation of the community and bakery interacting (Flash player required)

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