Making Bread (a $ketch) (2021)
A tale of labour in four parts ~ part £1 of
(People who paid me, and what it meant)
Part 0.5 : A recipe for precarious work
Preparation time ~ flexible, temporary and often unknown.
Cooking time ~ determined by external forces.
Serves ~ makes 1 loaf for the 1%, not enough to feed the five thousand.
Suitable for all working needs / workers; care, illegal, seasonal, temporary, contractors, subcontractors, Saturday shifts, cash in hand, freelancers, self-employed and home or domestic work.
With no legislation or a need for secure employment you can enjoy warm, fresh, homemade precarity in well under a few weeks.
250g migrant work
250g plain care-work
1 tsp call centre work
1 tsp artist workers
1 freelancer, whisked
Extra hours for dusting
A cleaner for decoration
Note, most ingredients will identify as women.
- Preheat the oven to the lowest possible wage.
- In a large call centre / care home / warehouse / arts institution, mix together the two types of migrant and care workers, artist workers, freelancers and call centre work.
- Add the house-work and mix until a sticky precarity forms.
- Lightly dust some extra hours onto a work surface and tip the precarity onto it.
- Gently roll and fold the precarity a couple of times to bring the mixture together. Do not knead.
- Shape the precarity into a ball. Flatten the precarity gently with your hand. Score the precarity with a deep cross dividing it into quarters, this division of labour is important. Dust the bread with more house-work.
- Place onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment and bake for 30 minutes at 200C/400F/Gas 6. The precarity should be golden-brown.
- Leave to cool on a wire rack.
- This precarity is best paid on the day of working. In cash. If not paid straight
away then you can wait up to 3 months to receive pay. Small Claims Court is never an option due to expense.
‘Work and life become inseparable. Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down into punctiform divisions. As production and distribution and restructured, so are nervous systems.’
– Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, 2009
What might it mean to be our work?
Part #1 ~ Learning how to make bread (expansion)
When I was 17 I worked at Hollywood Bread Company, Paul Hollywood’s bakery and delicatessen in Canterbury. My first venture into the working world I have doughy memories sitting out back on a metal garden chair smoking Mayfair Lights, a standard ten pack response to teenage boredom. When someone came in, curious for some artisan bread, my hands wrapped up their bready mounds in brown paper. Three pounds fifty please. Artisan at a cost. Sourdough wasn’t even fashionable then.
The baking industry evolved out of history, as with most things. Wheat was domesticated in the fertile crescent, in the Middle East, and so is strongly associated with agriculture and the beginnings of globalisation. Bread and capital. Give us our daily bread. Bread has been central to the formation of capital, communities and societies. The cultivation and domestication of wheat led to the formation of towns, bread as the building bricks and ingredients of architecture. Bread has always been there; reliable, solid, stoic and in many forms.
Baking bread can be seen as creative labour. Egyptian breadmaking is evidenced in artistic representations on vessels, wall drawings and relief sculptures. On the tomb of Rameses III there is a depiction of a baking scene which lays out historical making methods of the time. Dough was boiled, then baked, bagel style into edible sculptural spirals reminiscent of contemporary cinnamon whirls. Back then, pharaoh bread. Artistry is evidenced in the inventive skill of the baker in the loaves, pastries and cakes developed in Roman times. There were numerous types, varieties and sizes of bread, according to different uses, mixtures and methods of cooking as well as what mouths were eating them. A Roman artisan baker even designed a dog- specific bread – panis furfureus – made of bran and served in rectangular, stackable blocks built for millennial tastes. Bread is one of the most documented foods in ancient Roman frescoes and bas-reliefs, illustrating all the baking stages, from preparation to sale. Making bread both ways. And so, lastly, to the women grinding wheat at the start, the physical labour of stone against stone, flesh over bone. Hands making repetitive motions. Hands holding flour. Hands kneading dough. Hands squeezing bread. Women’s silent work central to these breads as well as creative labour today. Women as domestics of the art world. Women supporting patriarchal systems with their admin, care and time. Women do most of the service industry jobs, the service industry being mainly made up of precarious jobs and pay. Precarity in employment rising alongside neoliberalism in the 1970s, disguised as flexibility. This being reborn in the noughties as the gig economy. Serf-ettes to our Lords of capital. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was setting myself up for a life of unwitting quiet servitude in this way.
‘We might not serve one man, but we are all in a servant relation with respect to the whole male world.’
– Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework, 1974
An artisan by definition is a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. In 2020 the artisan is a dying breed, even in the artist’s studio.
Paul Hollywood wanted to embrace the handmade in his bread shop. Speaking to the Guardian in 2001, around the same time I was working at his bakery, he said: ‘Plant bakeries are killing off the artisan baker. But, fortunately, people are waking up to that and seeking out village bakers again.’ According to the same article Paul was baking up to 150 types of loaf at the Hollywood Bread Company using techniques deemed unaffordable by supermarkets. A baking pioneer, celebrating and valuing the artistry in eating. Making it mainstream. Working out how to make it make money. Paul using these artisan techniques to take over hotels, the high street, then television. He wasn’t famous then, but the utensils were in place.
The son of a baker, Paul originally trained at art school as a sculptor before his father persuaded him to join the family business – a bakers called BreadWinner which had shops in York, Middlesborough, Lincoln and Hartlepool. I imagine Paul learnt how to work with clay as he did with dough. Rolling each material between his hands. Using the base of his palm and fingers to press and grab in a repetitive motion over and over again to create a rhythm of handmade form.
According to his website the Paul Hollywood Artisan Bread Company supplies Waitrose, and others, with his own branded bread, privately owning his own means of production. According to the rest of the Internet this company was set-up in 2007 and then liquidated in 2014 with debts of just under £60,000. Paul Hollywood Limited is still active however but its nature of business seems less related to bread than ever stating ‘management consultancy’ and ‘other business support service’ as the main activities on Companies House. Swapping artisan for service making, the cycle of capitalism. And hello neoliberalism.
Art is strange in the field of economics, artists mainly make without demand, a futile service. This confuses the standard operation of supply, demand, production and circulation. The artisan artist is often bottom of the capital food chain, scavenging for crumbs yet they are producer. Without them there would be no curator, no institution, no art. In art, as with artisan bread perhaps, we are told to create our day rate through time, materials and experience. An impossible sum that will almost never be met. This labour is also valued by name. Paul Hollywood as the author god of baking bread. This name as a brand. This name as value. What route does the work take to become synonymous with a name?
‘Each and every capitalist model must end in crisis, and moments of crisis are moments of adaptation – moments when, out of the ashes, the new economy can be born.’
– Grace Blakeley, Stolen, 2019
Since The Great Recession of 2008 the UK has seen a stagnation in productivity or, in other words, the output produced for every hour worked has stalled. We are living in a service economy, which is much less productive and more precarious, meaning manufacturing is in decline across the UK, as well as in Paul’s hands. He serves us on the television now, a face to advise rather than hands to make. Seemingly there is money in servitude at the right levels. According to the House of Commons library in September 2019 the service industry accounted for 84% of workforce jobs in the UK. At the end of 2019 Paul Hollywood’s line of ready to eat bread was discontinued at Tesco’s due to falling sales. A wholemeal country loaf made with stoneground flour was one of his products taken off the market. It cost £1.80 and carried a picture of Paul Hollywood and his (digital) signature on the side alongside a slogan reading ‘artisan recipes expertly baked’. You can still buy Hollywood’s bake at home rolls and bread mixes from the same supermarket all artisan-ly not handmade at Carrs Foods International Ltd, Manchester. Some materials have an autobiographical value, specific to the maker. More machine now, less man. Audiences saw through the reproduction of Hollywood’s mass-produced signature. Perhaps we are getting wise to such neoliberal ways.
In Speculation as a Mode of Production Marina Vishmidt speaks eloquently about the notion of artisan both historically and in the contemporary, citing it as central to social revolution (hello, William Morris). Vishmidt explains how its meaning has become fractured from original intent saying artisanal trade is now less distinguishable from the economic profile of the contemporary artist; see Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gerhard Richter. But perhaps, as she states, the artisanal now lies in the concept rather than the production as Paul Hollywood illustrates with his bread. Artisan as idea, creativity as logic, something highly desired in the contemporary world of work. Paul using his artisan techniques to entice capital. Baker and bread maker economicus. This murkiness is also evident in Hollywood’s bake at home bread intertwined as a lie. This theft of the word artisan for commerce, kneaded into something new and far removed from William Morris’ utopian morals. It’s a long cry from Paul’s flesh and doughy ways expressed at the start of his story. I wonder what changed?
We are human and we have been milled into a mess.
Artisans by trade were seen as working class pre-industry. Industrialisation flipped that on its head. Now, post 2008, the artisan, the artist has gone full circle. Those who still make by hand are mainly precarious arts workers, supporting artisan ways with zero-hour service industry contracts. A new class has arisen – the precariat, a people existing without predictability or security through unstable rent, lack of a regular income and constantly gigging for (partial) work. In this space art workers sit alongside cleaners, carers, front of house staff, freelancers…roles and ways of existing I have known my entire working life. The artists making the big money (mainly) with name as brand often enlist fabrication studios and teams of (precarious) workers. Yet, the name on the interpretation panel and catalogue still is individual, artisan. Why do we continue with these fictions? Vishmidt states that in these situations the artist becomes a manager of the labour and audience, rather than maker, forever in service to survive. ‘The extent to which the production of artworks does take on a more commercial character structurally is the extent to which artworks lose autonomy,’ says Vishmidt. Studio assistants are nothing new, but the absence of the artist’s hand is.
‘It is increasingly the case that fabrication studios and extensive workforces are employed to realise monumental, technically challenging, or just copious pieces for celebrity artists who work on a large scale and have considerable markets to satisfy.’
– Marina Vishmidt, Speculation as a Mode of Production, 2018
‘…such authenticity has proven highly marketable’ within late capitalism.
– Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, 2009
I wonder how many people work for Paul now?
I never met Paul, the blue-eyed dusty haired baker who stole domestic homeworker’s hearts with his expertise in The Great British Bake Off. But I dutifully worked at his bakery every Saturday that summer, (wo)manning the counter. Learning how to slice serrano ham, designer cheese and take money from customers. Paul’s patriarchal presence was in his absence. A powdery handprint on the counter or a starched message passed down from the manager. Here I learnt about the absent boss; how hierarchy and rules could still be instilled through systems left behind.
His absence became filled by the abundance of bread he made in the hours before I arrived; brioche, rye, farmhouse, bloomer, ciabatta, focaccia, brown loaf, white loaf, sweet loaf, every loaf. These were installed silently in the early hours, curated and settled on wooden shelves in a tiny wooden shop. Sprinkled memories of a long room entered through a glass door next to a giant floor to ceiling window. The light up there was good. Me, standing in the darkness at the back behind a counter, smiling when people came in to finger the bread or take a free sample of cheese.
An overwhelming sense of beige.
A sharp taste of everything in its right
Did it take him longer to bake or curate? I remember a tee shirt uniform with a logo on my breast but that’s where the memory fades. I imagine now, but didn’t then, Paul baking from the early hours into the later morning before I arrived, squeezing dough, stoking the fire, then curating his artisan loaves for the shelves and windows. A misunderstood man-genius making in an overpriced studio. His labour embedded into the loaves, unquantifiable. Unseen. Man vs machine. Is the handmade more valuable than machine made? And what are the ways that can be categorised.
I imagine Hollywood trying to unwind industrialism with his bare hands. An impossible task even from a working class man of strength and will. A rebellion of slow making. I imagine Soviet era propaganda posters with his profile on, holding up a cheesy garlic focaccia as his hammer. Ready for the battle to be lost, him folded into neoliberalism. Innovation eaten by a leveraging economic model.
The industrialisation of bread-making began at the start of the 20th century. Bread for workers. Bread for portable sandwich lunches in factories during the institutionalised shift pattern lunch-hour. Bread as fast. The bread slicing machine arrived in 1912. Even faster. But the most major change in contemporary bread making was in 1961 with the Chorleywood bread process. This used an intense mechanical working of the dough which dramatically reduced the time taken to produce a loaf. This saved the purchaser labour/time value at the expense of taste and nutrition. The fastest. Less man more machine. More time less taste.
For generations white bread was the preferred bread of the rich while the poor ate darker wholegrain bread. However, in most western societies this reversed in the late 20th century, with whole-grain, handmade bread becoming preferred for its superior nutritional value. The speedier, cheaper Chorleywood processed bread became associated with ideas of a lower, working class, ignorance of nutrition. And perhaps cost. A conceptual cliche that still exists this day.
‘Dusty, motherless pride’
‘Like I said it’s the bread, it’s the Mother’s Pride bread it makes them love work, they’re going berserk to get off to work.’
– Happy Knocker-Upper, Dusty Springfield, 1966
Around the time of the industrialisation of bread making workers were helped to rise in the morning by the assistance of a knocker upper. This consisted of a figure and a long stick walking up terraced streets tapping on bedroom windows of their miner, docker, brewery worker and perhaps baker customers to wake them up and get them to work on time. Knocker uppers were a common sight in working class spaces where people worked shifts but could not afford their own watches. Homo economicus, human made under capital, man remade under neoliberalism as time(keeper). The standard utensil was a long fishing rod like stick but knocker uppers got creative with their tools which could also include rattles, soft mallets and pea shooters.
By the 1960s knocker uppers were rare but Dusty Springfield embodied one in an advert for Mother’s Pride bread. The short black and white advert features a singing Dusty, presenting loaves of plant-made bread and pots of tea on a tray at the end of a long knocker-upper style stick. Shot on the set of the epitome of TV working class- ness, Coronation Street, Dusty moves along window by window by window to wake each house up as she sings her jingle. Dusty here proudly proclaiming it’s the additive filled Mother’s Pride bread that gets these workers out of bed. Bread as a tool for workers. Bread for wives and mothers of workers to make their sandwiches, packed lunches, to keep them fuelled for work to earn more money to buy more bread. Bread lasts longer when mass produced in a plant. This saves time, again, for the purchaser, bringing up its value.
Mother’s Pride is a brand name for a variety of breads produced by British Bakeries, a division of Premier Foods. The company also bakes Nimble and Hovis branded loaves as well as supermarket own brand ranges. Plant loaf for the masses. British Bakeries was set up in 1955 to combat the then dominance of Allied Bakeries (Sunblest) to ensure an outlet for their flour products. In the 1970s and 1980s it was a best-selling brand of white bread in the UK. I imagine a young Paul Hollywood watching Dusty Springfield on the TV singing about Mother’s Pride. I imagine his father complaining about the mass-produced white bread, that was now the biggest selling brand, damaging his sales figures. I imagine Paul making a sugar sandwich out of Mother’s Pride bread, a guilty pleasure, behind closed doors. I imagine Paul plotting his future as an artisan baker.
Current market analysis of baking according to the Federation of Bakers classifies the UK bakery market as a large sector of the food industry. This, in comparison to the service industry, is an industry still producing. Almost 11 million loaves and packs are sold every single day in the UK. Large plant bakeries produce 85% of these loaves, in-store bakeries at supermarkets and the like produce 12% and high street bakers, a little like Hollywood’s one I worked at, make up 3%. In Europe craft bakeries dominate the market meaning exports of bakery products account for only a very small proportion of the total market. Britain valuing food as fuel since 1890.
‘We must admit that capital has been very successful in hiding our work. It has created a true masterpiece at the expense of women.’
– Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework, 1974
Mother’s Pride, because mother knows best. First woman maker (in homes), then man baker (at bakeries) and then machine (in factories). Mother’s Pride vans were a staple of the streets as well as the home. Bringing bread to housewives who embraced the convenience of capitalism. I often wonder about the gendered nature of this particular loaf – what does it mean to be proud of a bread that is made fast, that does not embrace artisanal labour ethics? Perhaps, thanks to Mother’s Pride, these women could embrace new found spare time away from the oven to make. Here bread giving women time to do things they might not do otherwise.
Dusty was an interesting choice for representing this brand of bread. She grew up within a music loving family in prosperous Hampstead, North London, comfortably middle-class and probably owned a watch or two. Dusty was also a queer woman bending those conformist, conservative housewife values albeit quietly, because of the homophobia of the era. A quick Google of Dusty returned no photographs of her eating sandwiches or bread. I wonder whether she liked the brown or white loaf? Can the bread you eat define you? White bread as a staple of British life.
At the end of each Saturday shift at the bakery, I took all the leftover bread home in a black bin liner, thrown over my shoulder. I then walked down the high street and onto the bus home. My Mum and I would stuff the contents in the freezer; bags of black olive and herb focaccia, chocolate and cherry stone baked loaf and some other strange combinations of bread that made us giggle then, but are staples of Aldi and Asda now. These free loaves piled up and up and up as evidence in the ice, as I imagine Paul’s debts did in the bakery. This surplus product a quiet reminder the business was struggling. This was my first job. I didn’t really understand supply, demand or how a workplace ran. I was paid in cash at the end of each shift. Then the cash in hand excited me, it was direct, instant gratification for my labour. But now I see this was, perhaps, done off the books. Precarity in pay, and labour, embedded in me from the start. I was just there for the summer, before heading back to school, but it was enough time and bread for my Mum to start asking me not to bring anymore excess loaves home.
Hollywood Bread Company got into financial difficulties. Liquidators were appointed in April 2003 and the company had debts of £262,000 when it was dissolved in December 2005. According to an article in the Daily Mail a spokesman for Paul Hollywood said: ‘I can confirm that in 2003, in common with many businesses, Hollywood Bread went into voluntary liquidation. The majority of creditors were compensated. This was not due to neglect – Paul had little TV work at that time – but rather the economic climate and a change in the circumstances surrounding the location of the site involved.’
2003 was a steady, non-recession year.
Paul’s bakery was located in Canterbury, a city steeped in a certain type of history; Chaucer’s Tales, THE Cathedral, Cricket, Christianity and many other middle class English signposts. The bakery was located in the historic part of Canterbury. It was jaunty and small on a quieter stretch of the street in the older part of town, away from the (then) high street’s hustle and bustle. The footfall at this end was mainly to and from coaches, all tourists gazing in at artisanal bread which had nothing to do with their Medieval tour and teenage exchange students sampling as many free tiny cubes of cheese on cocktail sticks as possible. Of course, almost 20 years later, Paul’s celebrity would have surpassed the pull of any historical tours and I imagine my Saturdays there being a lot busier, perhaps more secure. Relying on his loyal service to the artisan to keep myself afloat.
I remember each shift as one, always much the same. Get there before opening at 9am. Set out the cold cheese and meat, unwrapping them for display. Sitting and smoking in the tiny paved back garden with the door open to the counter and the empty, empty shop heaving silently in front of me. I relished breathing that smoke up and out over the wall into my equally empty school grounds on the other side. I didn’t realise what I was rebelling against then, but I do now.
A few months later after school had begun in September I started work at jeans shop further down the high street. As with Hollywood I was there every Saturday, hungover or not. Further training for my service roles to come. After a short time in service here my Mum got a letter from the headmaster saying students were not permitted to work while at their exclusive school. I was on an art scholarship. Reading between the letter’s lines was a message that said the school didn’t want their future elites in the service industry, or to be seen serving.
Here, to rebel was to work. Now there was a novel idea.
So, I was forced to quit. Maybe that’s why I didn’t fit in. My class definitions were murky, I wasn’t interested in patriarchal systems of aspiration. In individualism. In the top 5%. I just wanted to get by and have some money to go out with at the weekends.
‘The reward of labour is life. Is that not enough?’
– William Morris, News from Nowhere, 1890
There is a video online from British Pathé called Grist to the Mill. Launched in 1963 it was a promotional film for Sunblest. They were the main rivals of Mother’s Pride and owned by Allied Bakeries. Sunblest still sells a white loaf at supermarkets including Iceland, Asda and Sainsbury’s. Its ‘plain bread’ a staple of British working class life. I don’t remember seeing it on the shelves though, why did it fall out of fashion? I want to correlate its demise to the rise of feminism in the 1970s, but can find no evidence to back this up.
The latter part of the video features the Sunblest mobile bakers’ shops providing a doorstep service on the big housing estates. Men in starched white crisp jackets hold out baskets full of an alphabet of bread towards open household doors, serving housewives from their well-stocked vans. Their stock features a whole variety of different loaves akin to Paul Hollywood’s shop shelves, because, as the film reel states, every housewife has her own favourite kind of bread. Mass-produced for individual taste, capitalism as carbohydrate.
There are repeated shots of women’s hands squeezing bread, holding bread, choosing bread, grabbing bread from the supermarket, the basket, the man. These hands as a subversive message to signal – it’s still handmade. These hands, and the women they belong to, as silent, servile display models for the food. Their historical function for grinding wheat taken away. The time to make bread at home removed as society got faster, and roles of servitude outside of domesticity more ingrained, the creative spirit’s value surpassed by a need for speedy sustenance. Manual labour can still be done by hand. Paul wanted out of this, perhaps.
Different types of bodies perform different labours. At Paul’s shop I was display model. My job was to serve. To smile. To hand bread to other hands. Paul’s labour was used to pull the bread together. His work embedded into the materials, a skill learnt as a sculptor, a labour that doesn’t produce handmade identicals. The loaves were the same but different. His bread his art. My service as mine. Was his labour worth more? Even then I didn’t want to exert excessively in a system I could already see didn’t value who I am. I languished in the back garden which got the sun all day, one eye on the shop. I would repeatedly go to the toilet to stir away boredom, a tactic later repeated in other service jobs my cheek resting on the cool tiles – a harsh but soothing space to rest. Crusty memories of bored Saturdays watching the clock. How did Paul value his time back then, what did he do during the day?
‘A sculptural service’
As I sit here eating my white bread and butter for lunch, dipping it into Heinz tinned tomato soup from a can, a Warholian emblem of capitalism, I realise this bread can be hands round a body, a stomach. Sustenance as support. I realise, like the women in the video, the softness of the bread makes you want to squeeze it, to mould it. I
remember sculpting with bread when I was little, pulling out the centre of each slice of the white bread loaf and rolling it between my fingers. Handmade now, less machine. I was sculpting before I could write. Making endless balls of white, hard loaf. Rendering them useless. Rendering them as an object outside of capitalism. Rendering them art.
I thank Paul for helping me realise how important it is, for me, to make by hand. To not be swept up in neoliberalism. As an artist I am constantly trying to resist it but find myself entrapped. I imagine what kind of conversation me and Paul might have today. I would ask him about his co-opting of art(isan) for capital. I would ask him if he was happier making his loaf multiples for the small shop by hand, rather than using his making tools to gesture with on the TV now. I would tell him how my experience at this job shaped the artist I am today. I would thank him.
Paul embraced the system to become mainstream handing over the handmade to the system that continues to eat us all up crumb by crumb. The product (bread) swapped for service (consultancy). He was no fool. Artisan artistry can’t survive under capitalism whose narrow focus is solely on the constant expansion of commercial production, consumption and more growth. Artisan artistry needs time, space. It often needs to stay small and nimble. Perhaps Paul was before his time, building his own little utopia in Canterbury before society knew it needed it. Now, post- recession, post-truth and mid-pandemic people are valuing the small business, mistrusting of institution. Perhaps Paul’s small bakery would be successful now. And I could be sitting in the garden, on the metal chair, waiting to wrap sourdough in paper with my hands. Me still in service, slowly assisting his route to fame.
‘You work, not because you like it, or because it comes naturally to you, but because it is the only condition under which you are allowed to live.’
– Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework, 1974
The way humans are told to survive is by working.
(artist) humans are taught to be resourceful by the (unwritten) terms of their employment (there is usually no contract).
We are homo economicus. The economic history of the world is the entire history of the world. So, what is the economic history of a human, the entire history of their labour and work life?
Answer: Economic data is easiest to analyse after the fact. Which is why I am here now.
In 2001 we were embedded in expansion. Expansion is economic recovery, the bloom from the rubble. Unemployment is low. Interest rates higher. Expansion is the phase of the business cycle where GDP grows, moving from a trough to a peak. This is typically accompanied by a rise in employment and consumer confidence.
We are the four stages of the economic cycle, a cyclical pattern, an eternal return, the fluctuation of the economy between periods of growth and recession; Expansion, Peak, Contraction, Trough. An ever-moving limbo of the (creative) class, always in flux, responding to capital’s precarity. Cycles of feasts and famines. We were shaped by capital to dance this dance and work these jobs.