The Rhetoric of the Science of Breadmaking

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Actual photo! Not Googled! I actually turned wheat into bread!

I’m taking a deep breath as I start this post, knowing that I’m entering dangerous territory.

Hopefully that confuses you a little. Hopefully you are thinking to yourself, “How is bread-making rhetoric a perilous topic?” I was that innocent yesterday, and now I’m full of trepidation, thinking of all the bread makers who might Google this post and call, “Off with her head!” (We finally watched Alice in Wonderland this weekend. So fun!)

Here’s the story.

Yesterday, we ran out of bread. Except not really, because we have 1,000 lbs of wheat in our basement (another story). Only I’d never done anything with said wheat besides setting a never-used grain mill (wheat grinder) next to the wheat to keep it company. So I decided the day had finally come where I should learn how to turn wheat into bread.

I thought of calling up neighbors to ask for tips (this is Utah: I have plenty of neighbors who actually bake their own bread all the time), but decided that the internet was an easier source so that I wouldn’t have to bother anybody.

First, I Googled and found an awesome recipe (that’s what all the reviews claimed). Then I assembled my grain mill, attached it to the Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and marvelled at the extreme noise it began making. I measured and poured and mixed until — voila! — I had something more akin to mush than dough.

So I went back to the internet to find troubleshooting tips.

You know how Google searches go. One minute you’re searching for “why is my bread dough like mush?” and the next minute you’re reading about the nutritional properties of wheat and Ancient Egyptian silos and fermenting a bowl of flour, milk and lemon juice on the counter to “catch” yeast before somebody invented those convenient square packets.

And at some point a different side of my personality became interested: the writer/English teacher side that loves to analyze how people use rhetoric.

I discovered that I’d stumbled into troublesome waters. Apparently there are people out there who are dang passionate about their bread making. Which is cool by me. I read along, soaking in all kinds of info and thinking, “Hey, good to know that you shouldn’t mill the wheat ahead of time because fresh-milled equals more nutrition,” and then I’d hit the comments where people would practically yell at the author, saying, “What’s your source? Prove yourself! I don’t believe you!”

(Okay, they were slightly more civilized in their wording than that, but I felt a general hostility is all I’m saying.)

Some of them were also very passionate about religion, which is cool too. (I’m religious myself and wouldn’t dream of knocking on anybody’s religious views.) But the fascinating thing to me about their rhetoric was that one person would claim, “God meant us to make bread this way” and back it up with a scripture verse, only to be rebutted by a commenter making the opposite claim, “God never meant us to make bread that way” and also backing it up with scripture.

Eventually I just called my mom and she had me add more white flour and the recipe did turn out great and hubby and boys were very pleased to have homemade bread for dessert (because that’s how long it took to make it).

But I kept thinking about the rhetoric of bread making.

Rhetoric, after all, is the art of persuasion. You’re supposed to be trying to win people to your side, convince them that you’re right. But it’s also a tricky thing.

Anybody who’s ever tried to convince a kid of something knows that often the straight-forward approach is the least effective. At our house, the opposite is much more true: if we put on a smirk (the smirk being the most important ingredient) and tell our kids not to do something, they giggle and rush right over to do it. Reverse psychology is a beautiful thing.

You have to be smart and sometimes even creative about your rhetoric. You can’t just rush in and insist that everyone believe you’re right. Especially when the people you are trying to convince might know just enough to start making rebuttals like, “But what about X?”

I’m not saying these articles weren’t smart. Like I said, I was soaking it all up, grateful for all the new ideas I’d never thought about.

But at the same time my English-teacher side was intrigued by the rhetorical pitfalls, thinking, “I’ll have to show this to my students! This shows exactly why you need to document every source and make sure it’s a legitimate source. And then this other article shows why you can’t argue solely based on personal experience or solely based on interpretation (like of scripture) because it’s way too easy for someone else to disprove you with a contradictory experience or interpretation.”

So yeah. I’m geeky like that as far as reading everything on three levels at once: to get info, to think about the craft of writing, and to think how I could use it to demonstrate the craft to my students. And I’m also geeky enough to be super excited by new domestic skills (I made flour!).

And I’m wondering, if anybody actually read this far, what experiences you’ve had of stumbling into a topic that was way more incendiary than you realized.

Leave a comment!

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4 responses »

  1. Congrats on turning wheat into flour AND then into bread.

    Hmmm something I’ve stumbled on while researching . . . how they make hydrogenated oil. I just wanted to know, but I ended up spending three hours wading through articles about the pros and cons of warping natural substances at extremely high temperatures. Yup. I’m a bit crazy like that. And, yes, there was a lot of rhetoric.

    Like

  2. Wheat grinders bring back a lot of memories. My mom used to grind it at least twice a week for fresh bread. I remember standing on a chair (and plugging my ears) and watching the wheat slowly siphon down to their doom. I even would pick one and try to save its life by pushing it away from the vortex. Then in a cruel twist of fate I’d flick it into the middle and watch it go down, miming tiny little screams.

    Heh.

    Like

    • 😀 Heather, you always make me laugh. I love it. I had all these dystopian dreams last night (caught in a dystopian novel, basically) that I thought were cruel, but now I have a new terror I can have nightmares about: the vortex of doom.

      Like

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