Real Bread Week: These are the wellbeing benefits of baking your own loaf

Sliced white is all very well, but a slab of real bread from the bakery, smeared with butter and apricot jam, is practically unbeatable. And if you’ve made that loaf yourself – however misshapen or flat – the added side of pride is pretty wonderful.

That’s the feeling #RealBreadWeek (February 23 – March 3), run by the Real Bread Campaign, is trying to promote and encourage. It’s now in its 10th year of trying to get more people enjoying real bread – and by ‘real bread’ they mean loaves made entirely without artificial additives. All you, or any baker, needs for the simplest loaf is flour, water, yeast and a little salt.

“A child of five can do it, and in the hands of an artisan, those natural ingredients can be elevated to a delicious work of art,” says Chris Young, Real Bread Campaign coordinator.

Initially, the campaign’s mission was to see people dig out their unused bread machines, but now the focus has switched more towards supporting local bakeries (“To help keep the high street alive, and create more jobs per loaf”) and getting stuck into making dough by hand. Both paths can support mental health and wellbeing.

Baking bread can help relieve stress

“We find people saying, ‘I find bread-making really helps me’,” says Young.

“Whether that’s just as something to take your mind off the stresses of work, you can just get in there – and gently massage the dough in some cases, and in others, punch the living daylights out of it – in one way or another, they find it therapeutic.”

The Real Bread Campaign ran a short pilot project with the occupational therapy team at Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, and found that bread-making really can make people feel calmer and more relaxed.

It offers a sense of achievement

“People feel a sense of achievement, taking just those three or four quite boring, basic ingredients – a mouthful of flour is nothing particularly special – and it’s alchemy, turning it into something magical,” says Young.

“Even the ugliest loaf, you go, ‘Yeah but I still made that’, and as people get better at it, you can then start giving those loaves to other people, it’s a gift from the heart.”

Baking can increase self-worth

As well as the joy and value to be found in baking bread to share with others, just the act of committing to creating a loaf can be beneficial.

For instance, the Better Health Bakery in East London, a social enterprise that’s part of mental health charity The Centre for Better Health, offers trainee bakery placements to adults recovering from mental ill health. Young says it provides a space where “people who are working through, or getting over periods of mental ill health, are able to turn up and say, ‘I can do something, I have achieved this at the end of the day, I have worked a shift, I have created something, and other people are validating that’.”

It provides an opportunity for socialising

Taking part in projects like the Better Health Bakery, and Together We Rise, also gives people a chance to socialise and meet others who might be experiencing similar things, whether that’s mental ill health, loss, loneliness, or coping with older age.

“The idea is to bring people together, ostensibly to learn how to cook,” notes Young, “and one of the simplest things you can do is bake a loaf, but at the same time, that offers a peer support group.”

And even employment

There are also bakeries offering “employment opportunities for people who have maybe, for one reason or another, found it hard to find their place in the workforce”, Young adds. Take the Freedom Bakery in Glasgow, which trains prisoners on day release, and aims to hire trainees on their eventual release.

“Beyond the value of, ‘This is delicious’, it’s that validation of someone saying, ‘I value it so much, I’m going to pay £4 for a loaf’,” says Young.

Whether you sell your loaves or not, it’s the “act of creating something real and tangible and delicious” that’s often most empowering and important.

Find out more about Real Bread Week at realbreadcampaign.org and follow for Twitter @realbread. Professional and amateur bakers are encouraged to post a picture of themselves with the hashtag #iamrealbread.

- Press Association

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