“It’s the best thing since sliced bread.” I’ve heard this phrase all my life. It’s always made me think, “Boy, slicing your own bread must have been pretty difficult in order for sliced bread to become the demarcation for the establishment of best things.” I’ll admit it’s been hard for me to fully appreciate this marvel of human ingenuity since, having grown up with sliced bread, I’ve never known another way of life. Lately however, I’ve pondered the phrase a little more and am starting to question if maybe modern food niceties like sliced bread aren’t as good as we’ve come to believe.
One evening, while I kneaded homemade pizza dough in my little enclosed galley-style kitchen and listened to a podcast just to get some sort of adult interaction, I was surprised by how at peace I felt. The rest of the house was noisy, as it usually is around dinner time, with children playing and fighting. The dogs were barking to go out and then, moments later, barking to come back in over and over and over. My to-do list was the same length as it had been when I made it early that morning in that I hadn’t managed to get hardly any of it done in the course of the day. Instead, I had dealt with interruption after interruption and if anything, I’d added more to-do’s to the list. Yet despite all of it, I had this wonderful feeling of peace.
I looked down at my flour-covered hands in the dough. I watched the dough squish and stretch with the rhythmic kneading. It was extra time and work I didn’t need to do given the frozen pizza possibilities in our modern world and yet, I did it week after week.
The handmade pizza tasted better, most definitely, but that wasn’t reason enough to motivate me to make it from scratch each week. The kids didn’t care if it was homemade, from a fast-food restaurant or the cheapest pizza in the store. To them, pizza was pizza. There was something beyond the better tasting product that was impelling me to slow down and take extra time out of my full day. Especially since it was much easier and less time consuming to buy pre-made.
That something was the fact that making the pizza dough myself gave me a feeling of serenity that was few and far between in my hectic life. I suspect that we find peace making things by hand because it taps into something deep within us. We are made in the image and likeness of our Creator and He is just that, a Creator. Being made in His image and likeness, we are creators too. We were meant to create, not just consume. Anyone who has ever made something and also bought something knows that there is a big difference in the resulting internal congruence. When you buy something, there is an initial thrill, but it eventually wears off and is sometimes even replaced by an emptiness. When you create something, the thrill never wears off no matter how many times you gaze upon your creation or tenderly handle it. There’s a little bit of you in your creation. There’s a connection.
A pizza crust isn’t the Mona Lisa or anything, but I think it does tap in to the same something that created the Mona Lisa, even if just a small amount of the same something. I am taking the bounties of the earth and making something out of them. There is a connection created with the food as my hands work the dough while my life goes on around me. It generates an inner harmony because this is what I was created to do. To create.
Life did become easier with sliced bread. Mass manufactured food saves so much time and energy for us in our modern society and yet anxiety levels are off the charts. The dissonance, irritation, anger and discontent are palpable. We’re doing a lot of consuming but not a lot of creating, making it difficult to find an internal balance. There is no connection to the food we are eating. I suspect we can mitigate some of these problems by getting our hands back into dough. In all of our souls, there is something that wants to make things. We will find more peace if we hearken our soul’s call and start creating.
I would agree that sliced bread is a convenient thing – it makes a very kid-friendly peanut butter and jelly sandwich – but I cannot concede that it is a best thing.
The conveniences of modern times have given us freedom from a lot of the drudgeries of pre-modern life. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying that, every once in a while, it might be a good idea for us to slice our own bread.