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June 1999 Issue
Having Your Bread And Eating It Too
by Chris Schaefer
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But bread making requires mixing, sifting, kneading, and baking for prolonged hours at a certain heat. It was an arduous task that easily consumed most of the day. As industrialization took over, our everyday kitchen practices were subjected to assembly line work. Our food products were not being made by hand, with love and care, but my machinery. We lost tough with where our food was coming from. And in efforts to keep it affordable, we lost touch with the ingredients and the care placed with proper selection. Conversely, industrialization brought more food to people who could not get food as easily. It -- in some ways -- made use of better ingredients for food safety. In the end, industrialization has had its good points and its bad.

Perhaps when you were growing up, specialty bread was the only bread left that was baked at home. While the rewards were often good, the time it took was immense compared to busy family schedules. It took a generation for the idea to mature, that bread should and could be made at home. But it needed to be made more efficient and fun. American consumerism needed to embrace it as it had making toast, cooking roasts, or buying the world's best invention: sliced bread.

It was HOT. It was NOW. It was sure to bring everyone back to the kitchens... where they belonged. The idea that anyone could make homemade, deli/bakery style bread at home. And with only a few simple ingredients and in only a fraction of time. Heady promises that were not easy to keep.

Success comes at a price. And the consumer was to pay for it. And did we ever. Do you remember the first bread makers on the market? 200$ - 300$!!! And they did make bread. Or was it? Oddly-shaped loafs taking over three hours to cook. Ingredients that had to be added in a specific order. And for what? A loaf that, for a family of four, could be devoured in a day or two. I thought science had come to our rescue.

Manufacturers recognized this. Initial sales were positive and so they ventured to improve upon their short-comings. Over the years, consumers saw larger loafs; machines capable of handling different flours and ingredients for various culturally diverse bread-products. The rise of homemade pizzas began to gather a tad more attention as dough was being churned out by these machines. And loaf shapes, in just the past few years, began looking like store-bought loaves. The last looming factor: cost. Bread makers were still expensive and more of a novelty than a basic kitchen tool.

Enter consumerism-tempering. The role of the store was to sell the product. But little do consumers understand that the stores also help to determine cost. This is a great burden on the manufacturer but that is a separate story altogether. Suffice to say, bread maker prices are at their lowest ever. Basic models spouting off 1.5 pound, vertically shaped loaves go as low as 30$ or 40$ dollars today. The cost is now in the hand of the manufacturers. So, purely for information-value only, I will let you in on a little secret. As we drive consumerism down the path of "more for less" we have set a trend. Goods and services that we use everyday, in order to meet our insatiable demand for value-added cost, have been farmed to other countries. Good, right? Smaller, poorer nations can make whatever we want for cheap, right?

Wrong. It costs the American consumer more than they realize, but it is only realized over longer periods of time. The forcing of foreign products for our consumption has weakened our own infrastructure of business and economic prosperity. In a way, it has driven a wedge between the consumer and the manufacturer by displacing jobs and work. In other words, by not keeping things home, we cutting ourselves short in a very large way.

What does this have to do with bread makers? Only one American-manufacturer of bread makers is left. They compete, daily, with the entire Pacific Rim for the sale of bread machines. Scary, isn't it? Every bread maker sold in the United States, minus one manufacturer's, is made in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, or surrounding nations. How do they compete? Let me assure you that it is a very, very steep up-hill battle.

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