Every so often I find my food historian hairs standing on end. This week was one of those times. The unlikely source was the Summer/Autumn 2008 issue of Time Out Buenos Aires for Visitors. Now I’ve loved Time Out since I first encountered it as a bit of humble newsprint during my student days in London. But as something that gets my historical juices going? Well, not until now.
Under the title, Bakers Unite, Layne Mosler (author of a nifty blog that recounts her pioneering survey of taxi drivers’ favorite places to eat in Buenos Aires) starts off with a fairly bald statement. “Anti-military, anti-clergy and anti-establishment, the Italian anarchist and baker Enrico Malatesta arrived in Argentina in 1885 and promptly organized the country’s first union . . . publishing the radical newspaper El Obrero Panadero (The Bread Laborer).”
The mind starts flying. Yes, the international anarchist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Yes, the Italian immigration to Argentina. Yes, the position of the baker in the front line, as provider of the most important item of food, as small employer, as intermediary between the millers and the public, as always subject to government regulation.
So bakers as radicals. A quick google and bakers were radicals in Peru as well. In Italy? perhaps. I want my books. I want to check Stephen Kaplan on the bakers of Paris, Peter Laslett on bakers in England, perhaps Edward Thompson on bread riots. Another quick google and I discover that Born, of Bunge and Born the international grain merchants, did not establish the first steel roller mill for flour in Argentina until 1897. Until then, wheat went to Belgium for processing. And did the bonarenses, people of Buenos Aires, eat white bread in the 1880s? or were they still eating maiz pisado, pounded maize?
So I need too to check out the details on Malatesta. And even if he and his followers did name some breads to ridicule the institutions of Argentine society (cañoncitos or little cannons, or vigilantes), other of their names came straight from centuries of tradition in Europe such as nun’s sighs (often known as nun’s farts). But perhaps that too is points to some kind of resistance to authority.
Lots to think about here. I bet some of you know more about this than I do.