Created By: dragonslip on August 4, 2012 Last Edited By: Morgenthaler on October 13, 2016

Bread Equals Civilization

People tend to mention the ability to bake bread when listing the things that mark out civilisation.

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In fiction there are many things people mention when they attempt to list things that make humans special, make us the civilisation builders we are, farming, conceptualisation, morality, curiosity, language. One thing that tends to oddly be involved in such lists is the ability to bake bread.

In fact, it is fair to say that not only is bread a mark of a civilized culture, but the type and quality of the bread may act as a marker of the type and quality of the culture and its moral codes. For instance, The Bible speaks of unleavened bread during the Passover, this was to distinguish themselves ritually from the Egyptians. And again in Ezekiel, when it says to mix several grains and even lentils and beans to make a very healthy bread. And according to one history book, Hitler was a great proponent of whole grain breads, possibly due to his fanaticism with the strength and racial purity of his citizens.

Bread is found nearly everywhere, from unleavened matzos and pita in the Middle East, to filled steamed buns in China and Japan, to all manner of types and qualities. There isn't even a requirement that one use wheat, any sort of grain will do, whether rice or barley, or even potatoes. Why is such a thing used to stand for civilization? Who knows, but it is.


Examples

Film
  • In 28 Days Later the leader of the soldiers puts baking bread on the list things the infected cannot do that will lead to their starvation.
  • In The Matrix almost all of Zion's food is synthesized, and is a disgusting gruel. However, they are able to produce a very small grain crop which is used to make bread. Because their bread is so rare, it's treated with reverence and saved for special occasions. This can be seen in The Matrix Reloaded when Zionites give loaves as offerings to Neo with requests, as if he were a living god.

Literature
  • Ur-Example: In the The Epic of Gilgamesh, the title character seeks after immortality, and is challenged to stay awake for 7 days. He can't even stay awake seven minutes due to the fatigue of his trip, so fearing he was declare that he was awake, Utnapishtim (the one in possession of immortality) and his wife bake bread, one for each day.
  • There are 255 mentions of bread in The Bible. It's not a key concept like sin or eternal life, but it still gets a huge number of mentions.
  • In Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, one passage of Fauxlosophic Narration contrasts the growing of grain and baking of bread that nourishes civilizations with the Patriotic Fervor that drives them towards mutual annihilation.

Video Games
  • Civilization: In Civ 5, all nations start with Agriculture and all subsequent techs grow out from there. What this amounts to is, the only resource that can be worked from the very start of the game, without any scientific advancement, is Wheat. In real-world terms, Civ treats the start of civilization as when a people learns to grow wheat and bake bread.

Real Life
  • In Real Life bread is a synecdoche for food (i.e. it's used to mean "all food, including non-breads") in many languages.
  • The idiom "The best thing since sliced bread" refers to the idea that pre-sliced bread was an improvement on something that was already considered perfect.

Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • August 4, 2012
    Bisected8
    • In Real Life, bread is a synecdoche for food (i.e. it's used to mean "all food, including non-breads") in many languages.

    • The idiom "The best thing since sliced bread" refers to the idea that pre-sliced bread was an improvement on something that was already considered perfect.
  • August 4, 2012
    fulltimeD
    If we had a trope for everything people equate with civilization, it would be pointless. Why not just one Mundane Thing Equals Civilization trope? Doesn't have to be that name, but this to me seems Too Specific To Trope.
  • August 4, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Maybe Mundane Metaphor For Civilization? After all, the bread thing really is just a metaphor. A symbolic pattern of metaphors for civilization equating it to mundane objects or things that the audience might take for granted would be tropeworthy.
  • August 4, 2012
    dragonslip
    what the hell was I thinking?
  • August 4, 2012
    fulltimeD
    It's cool man, I was just trying to be constructive by saying you could expand this into something that's definitely tropeworthy. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings.
  • August 4, 2012
    bulmabriefs144
    Keep it. Including the name (I just changed = to "equals" because punctuation generally doesn't work. It's not Too Specific To Trope either, and nothing but bread either. Also, this has some serious Did Not Do The Research. Virtually every culture has some sort of bread equivalent, from filled buns and rice-based doughs in Asia to potato based pancakes, to flatbreads, to even unleavened breads). For this reason, I'm gonna help with the description.

    Also, I don't like just anything used as a metaphor (nix Mundane Metaphor For Civilization), let's stick to bread, listed in media as an overall measure of civilization, or the lack thereof (such as a dystopia in fiction serving nothing but wonder bread).

    Literature
    • Ur Example: In the Epic Of Gilgamesh, the title character seeks after immortality, and is challenged to stay awake for 7 days. He can't even stay awake seven minutes due to the fatigue of his trip, so fearing he was declare that he was awake, Utnapishtim (the one in possession of immortality) and his wife bake bread, one for each day.
    • There are 255 mentions of bread in The Bible. It's not a key concept like sin or eternal life, but it still gets a huge number of mentions.

    Real Life

    • Bread has labels on it saying "No High Fructose Corn Syrup" which is often seen as a harmful chemical. There are very few other foods that claim one way or another in this regard; that is, people consider it important enough to not treat bread like soda.
  • August 4, 2012
    fulltimeD
    good points bulmabriefs
  • August 4, 2012
    TBTabby
    The first event in Achewood's Badass Games is a bread-baking contest, on the logic that only a true Bad Ass has the skill to create his own staff of life from scratch.
  • August 5, 2012
    dragonslip
    @bulmabriefs144

    it's site etiquette to ask me first even if I got the info wrong

    By bread I was basically meaning "the stuff made out of grain", I forgot there where other kinds
  • August 5, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    I think you're onto something here. Since bread is the end product of a cooperative effort (different skills to grow and harvest the grain, grind it into flour, turn the flour into dough and bake it, it works a a metaphor for the collective efforts to build civilization.

    That said, IIRC the unleavened bread from Passover recalls the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt. In other words, it's not that the Jews didn't use yeast ordinarily, but rather that they were in too much of a hurry to leave the country to wait for their bread to rise.
  • May 15, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Since it seems the OP has forgotten about this one, I'll take up sponsorship.
  • May 15, 2016
    Antigone3
    The third entry under Real Life (the "No High Fructose Corn Syrup" label) might have been accurate back in 2012 when it was posted, but it's definitely not accurate now. I just got back from the grocery store, and there's a lot of foods these days with that label.
  • May 15, 2016
    Generality
    • In The Matrix almost all of Zion's food is synthesized, and is a disgusting gruel. However, they are able to produce a very small grain crop which is used to make bread. Because their bread is so rare, it's treated with reverence and saved for special occasions. This can be seen in The Matrix Reloaded when Zionites give loaves as offerings to Neo with requests, as if he were a living god.
  • May 16, 2016
    IronicMouse
    Not sure if this fits, but

    • Civilization: In Civ 5, all nations start with Agriculture and all subsequent techs grow out from there. What this amounts to is, the only resource that can be worked from the very start of the game, without any scientific advancement, is Wheat. In real-world terms, Civ treats the start of civilization as when a people learns to grow wheat and bake bread.
  • June 5, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Added ^ & ^^, deleted ^^^.
  • July 6, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Bump for examples.
  • July 13, 2016
    DAN004
    Maybe you wanna add Bookworm's comment about how making bread is a combination of several jobs.
  • October 12, 2016
    Prfnoff
    • In Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, one passage of Fauxlosophic Narration contrasts the growing of grain and baking of bread that nourishes civilizations with the Patriotic Fervor that drives them towards mutual annihilation.
  • October 13, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    ^ Thanks, added.
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