Having lived in France for the last 10 years let me give you an example dear to the French. I’m sure you have come across the delicious and simple bread pudding also known as “the pain perdu” or the lost bread.
Originally, this French toast was a recipe for using old bread that had not been consumed. In the classic recipe for the French toast you find the common and basic ingredients: bread, milk, eggs, sugar and butter. You can imagine that during famine or war you needed to find something simple, cheap, filling and uplifting. Before the consumeristic society imposed itself by making us indifferent and throw away the remining food there was a period when we needed to be ingenious and recycle the remains. With such basic and cheap ingredients, our grandmothers and great grandmothers created real delicious meals.
The metaphor of the “Pain Perdu” explains in a simple way how we can be ingenious and creative problem solvers. When faced with scarcity and constraints in daily life it’s a choice on how we decide to perceive the resources at hand and how we deal with them. We can either see the glass half empty and complain about the missing resources, the missed opportunities and the inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or we can choose to see the glass half full and ask ourselves what is the next best thing that I can do in the current situation with the resources in hand to keep the ball rolling?
Bread across cultures
In all cultures we have the reference to bread. Humans have eaten some form of bread since the Neolithic era, when cereals were crushed and mixed with water to form a thick paste that could be cooked over the fire. In India we have the rotis, chapatis or parathans made with flour which we use in multiple innovative to transform into a delicious breakfast or tea-time snacks. We break the pieces into smaller bits, season with some spices and roast them to make what we call poha in the north or kottu parathan in the south. The Tunisians have lablabi a simple and filling chick pea soup for breakfast with pieces of stale bread and a poached egg and some olive oil. The Jews have Challah Kugel, a lovely cake made with remaining challah (bread) after sabbath with eggs, vanilla, sugar, salt and apples. Italians have the Ribollita a vegetable soup with various vegetables and herbs in a white bean stew and pieces of leftover bread.
The English to have their version of the bread pudding which apparently originated in the 13th century and was popularly known as the poor man’s pudding. It was made by layering bits of leftover bread and pouring over a custard sauce before baking it. You can of course find many sophisticate versions of this recipe on the internet which is quite in fashion. (at the end of the book you can find all the recipes and more ideas with leftover bread)
This is a universal phenomenon and a beautiful metaphor that we see across every culture of transforming constraints into opportunities or this notion of resilience of bouncing back from harsh conditions that life throws at you, be it a stormy weather, be it a bad day at work, be it an existential crisis, even when you are in the uncertainty of being able to feed yourself the next day. In India you call it Jugaad, in Finland you call it Sisu and in Japan it is known as Ganbaru but is it same wine in a different bottle?
Across cultures this notion of resilience takes various forms and interpretation and every culture has a different story based on its cultural heritage.
Tracing back to our common roots, we were hunter and food gatherers, and we knew how to be self-sufficient with resources at hand. From how to start a fire from twigs of course without a lighter or a matchstick, to storing water in a gourd made out of calabash made by hollowing the fruit out and drying it. Hunting for the prey and looking for fruits and plants to feed ourselves as well as finding the medicinal plants to heal ourselves. We were connected to matter and nature and the force of nature transformed us to survivors.
What has happened to those survival skills and ingenuity in today’s resource scarce world ? We need to revisit the stale bread philosophy?