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Magazine Issues » October 2020

Opinion: Our daily bread

Fiona_RintoulIf you’re anything like me, you’re probably sick of the Covid-19 pandemic by now. The early days when battening down the hatches at home had a certain retro charm are long gone. I don’t want to do Zoom yoga any more; I want to do yoga in a studio with a teacher. I don’t want to see friends in little fuzzy squares on a computer screen; I want to see them in front of me – ideally with a coffee or a glass of wine in their hands. 

But there is one thing that I am going to hold on to from the pandemic and that is home-made bread. I had already purloined a sourdough starter from a friend before the pandemic, but since the end of March we have been eating nothing but delicious homemade sourdough in our tiny, isolated household. 

I know we are not alone. Books and YouTube tutorials on how to make your own bread abound. The BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, tweets almost as much about sourdough as he does about technology. 

This feels like a metaphor for something more fundamental: our very survival perhaps. For, as Croatian writer and scholar Predrag Matvejević points out in Our Daily Bread: a meditation on the cultural and symbolic significance of bread throughout history, bread is the foodstuff that defines modern humans, separating us from the hunter-gatherers who preceded us. 

“The man who made bread was different from his ancestors: he found himself standing on the treshold of history,” writes Matvejević in his fascinating analysis of bread’s place in history. 

Our Daily Bread has just been published in English for the first time with the support of English PEN. It first appeared as Kruh naš in 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis, with climate change and environmental pollution nipping at our heels. 

It feels like nothing much has changed. For all the huffing and puffing about the environmental catastrophe that faces us, decisive action remains elusive. Matvejević’s closing message is just as resonant today – more so – as it was then: “The human race began without bread and it could well end without it.”

The good that could come out of the present crisis would be for us to heed this. “The reality is the coronavirus has served to push issues such as climate change and plastic pollution deeper into the public conscience,” says Sacha Bernasconi, portfolio manager of the SYZ Green Bonds Fund. “To tackle these great issues of our time will demand innovative solutions.”

Green bonds are one of those, and Bernasconi documents new government and corporate issuance. If such initiatives do take off, they will most likely be driven by the millennial generation of engaged investors and facilitated by new tools. 

An example is Tickr, a Bcorp-certified app “built for the next generation of investors to make money whilst having a positive impact”. Tickr allows investors to allocate money to the themes of climate change, equality and disruptive tech. Perhaps such facilities will be a game-changer. For, as Bernasconi notes, even if you are a climate change denier, sustainability makes sense. “We already have technology that can clean the oceans and reduce plastic use that is affordable and will drive new areas of economic growth. There is no argument for postponing change.”

This “wake-up call” could be the Covid-19 catastrophe’s silver lining. We must hope it is. Otherwise, we come face to face with another warning in Our Daily Bread, quoted from Tristes Tropiques by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss: “The world began without the human race and it will end without it.”

Fiona Rintoul, editor-at-large at Funds Europe

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