A university lecture by a professor of Social History (2)

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Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of Social History.

Professor: Let's talk for a while about bread. Yes, you heard me- bread! All over the world, in Europe and the Americas and in most of Asia, bread is the "staff of life", it's a key food in people's diets. Almost everyone eats bread- we eat it as toast for breakfast, as sandwiches for lunch, as hamburger buns for dinner- or people eat it as croissants or roti, naan or chappati, or under hundreds of other names in as many different languages. Even in southeast Asia, where rice is King, bread is becoming more and more popular these days. And it should, because it's a very healthy and nutritious, convenient, delicious food!

Man has been making bread since the Stone Age. It's at least ten thousand years old. And it's certainly a fundamental part of our culture here. It's a significant part of our diet, and even a significant part of our psyche. We talk about a worker being a "breadwinner", someone who "puts bread on the table", and our job is our "bread and butter". We call any rich agricultural area of a country its "breadbasket". And in fact, "bread" and "dough" are both current slang for "money", which is another fundamental necessity in our society.

Bread's been so vital to our lives that it's also been an important political issue over many centuries of British history. In very early times, in times of irregular weather and poor agricultural practices, England often went through periods of failing crops and famine, and our rulers were well aware that famine created unrest among the people, so they tried to keep the price of bread, the poor man's staple food, from fluctuating too much. The earliest recorded law was issued in 1202, during the reign of King John. This law not only fixed the selling price of bread, but it also specified what portion of that price was supposed to apply to the cost of ingredients and what portion was supposed to apply to the baker's profit. This same law, which was revised in 1266, remained in effect for the next six hundred years.

Thoughout our history, our governments have tried to keep the price of bread low and keep its quality good, and they have made repeated efforts to prevent dishonesty and corruption in the baking industry. For instance, there're records from 1298 of bakers being given heavy fines for selling short weights of bread, and in 1327 they discovered a fraud where the public bakers were pinching quantities of the dough that their customers brought in to have baked.

Punishments were rather severe- they included being dragged through the streets and pilloried, or just put out of business. In ancient Egypt, the punishment could be even worse- dishonest bakers often had their ears nailed to their bakery door- but here the restrictions and punishments were still so draconian that the bakers themselves took steps to ensure that they provoked no claims against them. They provided honest loaves by creating the "baker's dozen", which still means thirteen objects instead of the normal twelve. By throwing in one extra bun or roll, the baker insured that the dozen he sold was of sufficient total weight to suit the regulations.

By the late 1800s, industrialization had revolutionized the baking industry, and the opening of the North American prairies was providing such abundant wheat that white bread- bread from refined flour- could be produced at a price that even the poorest could afford. Nevertheless, with the hardships of both World Wars, the government was still very conscientious about protecting people's bread. Many regulations were issued during wartime to control wastage and the ingredients that could be used, and prices were capped.

The latest major advance in bread-making was the development of the Chorleywood Bread Process in 1961, which kneads the dough rapidly and vigorously, and reduces the fermentation period. This drastically shortens the time needed to produce a loaf of bread, and it also permits the use of inferior wheat. The Chorleywood Process is now used in most of the largest bread factories around the world, which churn out vast quantities of white bread for the masses.

What's fermentation, you ask? For those of you who don't know how bread is made, it's very simple, really. Bakers take advantage of two basic natural facts. First- they use yeast, which is a kind of fungus, a plant that eats sugar and then produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste products. Second- finely ground wheat, when it's mixed with water and kneaded well, becomes very elastic, because it contains a protein called "gluten". As the yeast grows and produces carbon dioxide, the gas inflates the elastic bread dough just like so many tiny balloons, and the alcohol, which burns away during the baking, leaves behind it an important component in the flavour of bread.

Out of this very simple, natural process has come a ubiquitous food and a major industry that has impacted our social history, our culture, our politics, and our whole way of life.


Why does the lecturer tell us that "bread" and "dough" are slang for "money"?


Which event or development did NOT strongly influence the history of bread?


Which word best suggests the government's approach to the bakery industry?


Why does the lecturer describe the bread-making process?


What is a "baker's dozen"?


Why is the Chorleywood Process useful?