The Real Bread Campaign has become a fact of life in the small world of serious bread making. According to the website it was set up by Andrew Whitley and Sustain. I should say that I have nothing against any of the people involved, but it seems to be automatically assumed that it must be a good thing – who could possibly be against a Campaign for Real Bread? But that’s part of the problem; it’s not “a campaign”, it’s “The Campaign” whether you voted for it or not.
And you didn’t because it’s not a democratic organisation controlled by its members which is the main reason I’ve never joined.
True I have made use of the organisation. My little pin is on the map of Real Bread producers, in that void between Liverpool and Dublin, I’ve written an article for the magazine and donated both my books as prizes. But then, if they plonk themselves down in such a small world and eventually become a reference point for baking aficionados, you have to make use of them to have any visibility. You don’t have to pay them money though which is another of their dilemmas – if they claim to be supporting small producers and promoting good bread, they can’t really exclude you if you do these things but don’t pay a membership fee.
I really don’t understand what the organisation is for. “Fighting on your behalf” claimed Chris Young in the Campaign’s recent email. But for whom are they fighting and to achieve what? Is there any real point in attacking the plant bread industry and supermarkets apart from the fun of engaging in a bit of ridicule? It’s hardly a Campaign for Real Ale situation – most people don’t know or care that they are eating bad bread and wouldn’t pay the extra for anything better. I’ve even heard Morrisons praised for the quality and variety of their bread on a leading food forum. Does it make any difference if some supermarkets falsely claim to sell sourdough? It’s no worse than claiming that the other stuff they sell is bread.
There’s the whole issue of what constitutes “Real Bread”. The Campaign seems to have adopted a very uncontroversial position for fear of upsetting any of the parties – “additive free” together with various non-contentious factors such as being made in a continuous process, no frozen doughs, etc. Yeah, I know I’m a lunatic extremist but commercial yeast is an additive in my book. And, for example, my Pain de Campagne, which is made with Doves organic biobake flour, is naturally leavened and has a fermentation period of 12-16 hours doesn’t score as high on the Campaign’s scale as a yeasted non-organic loaf with a much shorter fermentation time containing a proportion of unrefined flour.
There are all sorts of questions that could be asked about what’s known as the campaign’s Working Group which meets four times a year. How do they become appointed to the working group? What power do they have over the direction the campaign takes? For that matter, who controls the day-to-day running of the organisation? A number of the members of the working group could be said to have a vested interest; some of them are in direct competition with other bakers, members and non-members, there are commercial millers and people offering training courses, which is why the issue of election is an important one. For the sake of clarity, I’m not suggesting anyone is misusing their position, I’m saying because they have no mandate, questions could be raised about motivation. (Some years back I raised the question of how the working group was selected and was invited to join the group myself which wasn’t exactly my point.)
Then there are those “bread ambassadors”. The Campaign seems to be trying to go down the celebrity route. I can only assume the Hairy Bikers and Paul Hollywood declined the invitation.
So, here I am, someone who for a dozen years has been promoting good bread and assisting learners through bread forums and latterly through my blog, through demonstrations, handing out information sheets and dollops of starter at events. I’ve pioneered a model for running a microbakery, written two books, run training courses for potential microbakers and sourdough students, initiated a style of baking weekend now coming up for its seventh annual event – I should be the ideal candidate for support. But what has the Real Bread Campaign got to offer me and many others like me?
Well, I can buy some labels from them to say that my bread is Real Bread. The Campaign hasn’t checked that my bread is Real Bread but my customers already know it is. My labelling details the ingredients – why would I want to pay for a second label to say that my real bread is Real Bread? And in another sense the Campaign is in direct competition with me in publishing books about setting up bakeries. When you’ve done everything yourself it can be a little galling when the competition is publicly funded. I recently asked why my books and this blog weren’t included in the website listings. I was told that, well, they couldn’t include everything and that was a part of the site that couldn’t be easily changed. OK, in that case, what are the criteria for being included? They’ve recently started running workshops on microbaking, something I have a little experience of. Funny, I don’t recall seeing an invitation to tender …
Now the funding has run out. If 80% of your income comes from public and charitable funds you are extremely vulnerable especially at a time of serious cutbacks in the charitable sector. The first objective of any organisation is nothing to do with their stated raison d’etre; it is to survive and the second objective is to expand. So what does the Campaign do? It very cynically studies the charitable funding criteria and it decides its prime objective will be, not promoting good bread, but working with groups threatened with social exclusion. Even a conviction cynic like me doesn’t know what to say about that. Did the membership vote for it? Apart from the fact that it has a touch of the Marie Antoinettes about it there are plenty of experienced organisations out there working with social exclusion who are struggling to retain their funding and who don’t need yet another group top-slicing available funds.
I’m sure other people won’t agree, but in my opinion all that’s ever been needed is a genuinely independent, UK focussed forum where bakers can swap ideas. Sorry, can’t be arsed with Facebook and Twitter.
Now I can go back to baking ….