Bread is #trending.
Bread is having a moment, from the loaves featured in designer Jacquemus’ menswear campaign (and the sourdough sent out with the show invitations) to the Duchess of Sussex’s gift of banana loaf on the royal tour in Australia. Facebook’s trending topic predictions for 2019 included “Bread 2.0”, the foodstuff’s increasing popularity based on healthier baking innovations and a new appreciation for slower, traditional methods.
You may also have noticed cool girls on Instagram sharing their bread-making talents and others sharing snaps from their favourite artisanal bakeries.
London-based food writer Laura Goodman recently published her own ode to brioche, baps and more, Carbs, and shares her journey to making peace with them in the extract below.
“Proper food people open their cookbooks by whizzing the reader back in time. With words they paint rich, romantic snapshots that set the scene, right down to what the air smelled like and what the leaves on the trees were doing.
I knew I’d work in food when, aged six, I tasted a beef tomato I’d personally plucked from the plant. My parents were keeping house in the eastern Loire at the time, and it was a very good year for Sancerre. I ate the tomato as a handfruit and its guts spewed over my father’s chinos. Oh, how we laughed! Someone else cleaned up the mess. I will never forget it.
But there is no poignant potato, no single item that taught me carbohydrates were the food group for me. Like most people, I wasn’t born into carbs – I had to learn what they were first.”
“For the first 12 years of my life, I only wanted to eat tagliatelle with cheese sauce and torn-up ham for dinner. I was a fussy eater – I didn’t like fish or peas or carrots or lemon chicken from the Chinese takeaway. I tucked my school lunches in yoghurt pots to throw in the bin. I loved my mum’s chocolate cake, salad cream sandwiches, Alphabites, cream cheese bagels, strawberry yoghurt and secretly swigging from open tins of evaporated milk. I considered all of these things to be food. Nice food versus gross food, sure, but ultimately, just food.
I was a teenager when the message reached me in frantic whispers that carbs were to be avoided at all costs; I still wasn’t clear what they were, but apparently, they bore some relation to the fit of my school skirt and my right to exist as a woman in the world.
I absorbed a bit of propaganda (it was very easy to come by) and understood that many everyday items I’d previously thought of as foods were actually best categorised as dark, illicit substances. Potatoes, pasta, bread and rice were to be taken when I was feeling absolutely outrageous. Really, they should be reserved for Friday and Saturday nights, or special occasions. They could, at a push, be ingested in mounds, mid-week, but only as long as I never mentioned them again.
Nevertheless, I persisted with eating carbs as part of an ongoing commitment to greediness and what is known, in modern parlance, as FOMO. As time wore on, and I spent the length of my twenties performing a painful daily dance I called Establishing A Career In The Media, it gradually became clear I couldn’t deprive myself of another thing the men in my life seemed able to enjoy with abandon. I wasn’t going to order a starter and eat my boyfriend’s chips. I would order whatever foods I wanted to eat.”
Bread co-starred in Jacquemus’ Fall 2019 menswear lookbook.
“A carby penny did drop in my thirties, though. It occurred to me that carbs held a secret superpower no one was talking about: they could make any meal better. It was absolutely typical that the fun police had convinced so many people not to eat them. On the best travel-writing assignment of my Career In The Media so far, I ate jerk crab by the sea in Jamaica, and it was ridiculous and I felt horribly unworthy. Afterwards, I mopped up the hot, dark, sticky sauce with festival, an aptly named dumpling that’s just deep-fried dough.
Now that’s eating, as far as I’m concerned. Swiping through jerk sauce with a hunk of glistening dough – that’s what it means to absolutely throw yourself into the eating. You can rinse your face in the ocean.
Similarly, on the rooftop of a riad in Marrakech, I got hysterical over coffee and m’smen – buttery, flaky breakfast breads – as the sun rose up into a fruit salad sky, over palm fronds and ramparts. I don’t remember anything else. What else happens in Marrakech? Rugs? I can’t tell you. Why do you need to know? Isn’t m’smen enough?”
“Finally (because this bragging is vile), when I went to Texas to write about burgers, I ate nine lovely cheeseburgers, but have you ever had someone serve you tater tots through your car window? Have you slurped a milkshake between handfuls of fries on the open road? The cheeseburger is incidental. The cheeseburger is absolutely incidental.
And when I look way back – when I attempt to do that thing proper food people do – I realise I’m rooting through potato waffles, holding up a light to Pop Tarts and visiting the ghosts of pancakes past. I’m considering my daily countdowns to hash brown o’clock at West Herts College and I can see, now, that carbs have always been important. Maybe it’s the same for you.
I wrote my book Carbs not just because I wanted to celebrate the power of carbohydrates to the point of delirium, but also because I wanted to return them to their rightful position in the world. Carbs don’t have to be ‘whole’, ‘complex’ or ‘good’, but they don’t have to be monster crack pizza burrito burgers either. They can just be food. Really good food.
I couldn’t kick off my story with an epiphany, but I can end with one. And I’d like to do it in the style of the Spice Girls, who body-rolled and high-kicked into my life just before those frantic whispers started to swoosh down my lugholes. Carbs are what we want, what we really, really want. It was the answer all along. It’s obvious when you think about it.”
Words: Laura Goodman
This article is an extract from Carbs by Laura Goodman (Hardie Grant, $27.99) and originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 1, 2019.