Home baking seems to be the thing of the moment, the perfect antidote to the bling years; home, hearth, family, nurture, simplicity. The same people who, only yesterday, were telling us it was all about location, location, location are now selling us Labradors, gingham and a warm loaf in the Aga.
It's a very middle-class response to austerity, complete with well-heeled foodies handing over three or four quid for an artisan sourdough, glossy coffee-table books and £100-a-day baking courses.
But bread isn't just a comfort zone for already comfortable people. Bread is political. To see why, just look towards France:
"All of French history in some sense is the story of 90% of the population eating a dark bread made of rye, barley, oats, seeking to imitate the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy by ascending to wheat and white," says Professor Steven Kaplan, author of more than a dozen books about bread and France.
By the time that Rousseau, in his Confessions, mentioned a princess who, on being told that the peasants had no bread, declared "let them eat brioche" (it wasn't Marie Antoinette and it wasn't cake), it was already established in French folklore as the kind of thing silly princesses were wont to say – a mark of the failure of the most privileged to understand what life was like for the vast majority. Good French kings were dubbed "bakers", bad ones excoriated as "grain speculators".
And because bread was emblematic of the divide, it was more than just a staple, it was a harbinger of revolt, with the eaters of black bread throwing their crusts at the feet of the rulers if they broke the social contract by failing to fulfil the role of "nourishing prince".
Indeed bread is still so symbolic of political legitimacy in France that its price remained fixed by the government until the end of 1986 and, to this day, bakers in Paris are told by the authorities when they may take their holidays lest les citoyens are unable to buy their morning baguette.
In Britain, politics play out rather differently, yet when Dan McTiernan set up the Handmade Bakery in the Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite he saw it as a thoroughly political act. It's not just that Handmade is a not-for-profit workers co-op, it's because he sees the daily choices we all make about food, to whom our money goes and for what, as political.
However, as McTiernan says, many of those choices have now been in effect devolved to scientists and nutritionists, not to mention their employers in "big food". Big food meanwhile pursues a policy of cheap food subsidised, not from its own deep pockets and out of the goodness of its heart, but through the low wages of people working in the food industry. While a cheap food policy gives poorer people access to affordable food, it's also the reason that a good number of poorer people are poor in the first place.
It also means that we undervalue what they produce. Sixty years ago we spent roughly three times as much on food as healthcare. Now those figures are reversed and many people suspect that the two are linked.
So when communities seek to reclaim some of those political choices about food, as often as not they do it through allotments and community bakeries. Some projects, as with the community bakery I visited in Dunbar, Scotland, for an upcoming Radio 4 series on bread are hard-headed, well-funded initiatives to save local high streets from atrophy. Others have taken their lead from Slaithwaite, while at the more modest end of the scale there are people building communal wood-fired bread ovens from discarded building materials or starting bread clubs.
And it's in such projects one can glimpse bread's real power – as a catalyst for bringing people together and as common ground upon which they can meet. If people bake together, they don't just talk bread – they also taste the possibility of self-sufficiency, community action and activism, of doing things, many things, for themselves, alone or as a group.
If bread, or the lack of it, can start revolutions, coming together to make it can also leaven regeneration. After all if you strip out just one letter from a banker, you get a baker. Just imagine if all those breadheads started making some proper dough. Now there's a thought.
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