Eating bread that nourishes you every day is one of the single most powerful decisions you can make towards long term health and wellness.
Vanessa and the team have worked for the past decade on the premise that ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new’ (Dan Millman, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior).
Vanessa believes that the true cost of cheap bread is a price no one should pay. It costs people their health – and its production takes a costly toll on the health of the planet. This is why we have created the Systems Change Programme.
The current food system is broken at multiple levels, from the pesticides used in our soils to the emulsifiers and additives adulterating industrially-processed foods. Nowhere is this more apparent than in breadmaking.
Modern processing methods strip heart-healthy whole grains of their nutrient contents, resulting in low-fibre bread with a high glycemic index. Over time, white processed bread can increase a person’s risk of insulin resistance and disrupt sleep patterns also.
We’re on a mission to revolutionise the breadmaking process at every level- from soil to slice. The rules governing this are laid out in our Baking As Lifestyle Medicine protocol.
Comprising seven principles and reflecting over 20 years of research, our BALM protocol is built upon the six pillars of lifestyle medicine and guides everything we do here at the school.
Vanessa says: ‘Criticising bread is easy. Fast-leavened, industrially processed white bread, devoid of fibre, is an easy target. It literally ticks every negative box: it raises blood sugar; it often contains emulsifiers, preservatives or enzymes; it is likely to have been contaminated with weedkiller; it comes wrapped in plastic; and it starves your gut of the fibre needed to produce short-chain fatty acids, which support your immune system and sustain the microbes that produce the metabolites needed by your brain. I believe that consuming bread devoid of nutrients over a lifetime is a majority contributing factor to the epidemic lifestyle diseases and the mental health issues we are currently facing in society. It is time we address the nutritional value of our most basic of foods and count the true cost of cheap bread.’
It is easy to just say ‘bread is bad’, but criticising is not the solution. Criticism elicits a defensive reaction – you simply make people feel bad for eating a sandwich. It is far more powerful to change by inspiring and educating.
How do we inspire change?
At the heart of Vanessa’s approach is the firm belief that everyone should have access to bread that nourishes them, just as they have access to fresh air and clean water. To bring about this change, it’s crucial to first address the current system and inspire individuals to explore, learn, and apply knowledge to the most fundamental food: bread.
Vanessa believes that when people are equipped with knowledge, encouragement, and information, they are empowered to make better choices and choose to eat good, nourishing, flavorful bread. This structured activism aims to create a ripple effect, inspiring change on multiple levels, from individuals to communities and beyond.
To achieve this, we focus on the following strategies:
- Education: We provide comprehensive courses, workshops, and resources to teach people about the BALM Protocol and the importance of nourishing bread. By sharing knowledge and empowering individuals, we help create a community of informed bread enthusiasts who can spread the message and encourage others to join the movement.
- Collaboration: We work closely with bakers, healthcare professionals, and industry stakeholders to create a supportive network that champions the benefits of nourishing bread. This collaboration helps to amplify the message and reach a wider audience, promoting change on a larger scale.
- Advocacy: Through various platforms, such as social media, publications, and speaking engagements, Vanessa passionately advocates for the importance of bread that nourishes the body and mind. By raising awareness and generating discussions around the topic, we inspire others to reevaluate their relationship with bread and make healthier choices.
- Support: We provide ongoing support to individuals, bakers, and healthcare professionals who are implementing the BALM Protocol and Diversity Bread principles. By offering guidance, resources, and encouragement, we help them to stay committed to the cause and become ambassadors for change within their communities.
By combining these strategies, we create a structured activism approach that has the potential to inspire change on a global scale, ultimately transforming the way people create, bake, and eat bread.
The starting point for changing the way we look at bread has to be sharing knowledge, freely and openly. It’s one of the reasons that our basic recipe is free on The Sourdough School website, why the core knowledge of how to refresh a sourdough starter is also free, and why we make it a part of our routine to share information, and provide support and answers to our almost quarter of a million collective followers on social media. And we encourage others to share this knowledge, too, whether in their local community or online.
Share knowledge, recruit teachers: Our Social Change is not just online
Each year, the aim is to teach one to the power of ten, to the power of 1,000, and so on.
We have a programme for people working with charities and organisations. Although the programme is called Sourdough Sisters, it is entirely inclusive and open to anyone who meets the criteria, regardless of their gender identity.
The idea is to teach ten people how to bake sourdough, and about its nutritional benefits, particularly with regard to the gut microbiome and mental health. The ‘Sisters’ each then commit to teaching and passing on that knowledge to another hundred people, for free, and so on, to keep passing on the knowledge and skills, empowering more and more people to make their own truly healthy bread and to share it with those who are less privileged.
Some examples of the causes that last year’s Sourdough Sisters have been working on include:
- Supporting young people in deprived areas in Scotland – several youngsters have since gone on to get jobs baking
- Supporting children with special educational needs, especially autism
- Helping foster carers and their children
- Teaching ex-offenders who are rehabilitating
- Working with women who have been victims of sexual exploitation
- Teaching those who have been in treatment units for anxiety disorders and other mental health issues
- Baking with people who have recently come out of rehab
- Supporting those involved in food, arts and environmental-focused social enterprises
- Teaching and sharing specific recipes with adjusted flavour profiles for those living with cancer
Sourdough Sisters is also sponsored by several UK flour mills to enable the Sisters’ access to free flour – these were Marriages, Gilchesters Organic, Doves Farm and Sharpham Park. Our Sourdough Sisters are not just UK-based: we have international students, and the concept has spread to Hungary, America, etc.
We ensure the information we share about fermented food and gut health is passed on to all Sourdough Sisters.
Working with Industry:
For the past decade, we have collaborated with wheat breeders and manufacturers to develop new varieties of grain that boast higher levels of polyphenols. These grains are significant because they have the potential to offer more nourishment to the gut and support beneficial microbes.
Over the past five years, Vanessa has been sharing her extensive knowledge of sourdough with large industrial companies. Her goal is to encourage bakers at all levels, including those in the manufacturing sector, to improve and effect change in their production processes. Vanessa’s aim is to facilitate the creation of an industrial sourdough bread that is nourishing and serves as a healthier alternative to bread made using the Chorleywood bread-making process.
To achieve these objectives, we engage with industry partners through various means:
- Research and Development: We work closely with wheat breeders and grain manufacturers to identify and develop new grain varieties that are both high in polyphenols and suitable for large-scale production. This collaboration helps to bridge the gap between the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, ensuring a more sustainable and health-focused supply chain.
- Consultation and Training: Vanessa offers her expertise to industrial companies, providing consultation and training services that focus on sourdough techniques and the BALM Protocol. By sharing her knowledge and practical experience, she helps manufacturers to understand the benefits of nourishing bread and supports them in implementing changes to their production processes.
- Partnerships: We forge partnerships with key industry stakeholders, including ingredient suppliers, equipment manufacturers, and food retailers, to promote the adoption of the BALM Protocol and Diversity Bread principles. These collaborations help to create a supportive network that drives change throughout the entire food industry.
- Advocacy and Outreach: Through industry conferences, trade shows, and other events, we actively engage with the wider food industry to raise awareness about the importance of nourishing bread and the benefits of the BALM Protocol. By fostering dialogue and sharing our vision, we inspire other industry players to join the movement and contribute to positive change.
By working closely with industry partners, we aim to create a more holistic and health-focused approach to bread-making that extends beyond artisanal bakeries and into the larger manufacturing sector. This collaborative effort can lead to a significant shift in the way bread is produced and consumed, ultimately benefiting both people’s health and the environment.
Free Tutorials Through Our Website:
The Sourdough School website serves as a valuable resource for anyone eager to learn more about bread. We openly share our research through our study database, making nearly 400 studies we use in our work available for people to reference. We strive to incorporate these references throughout our website in features, recipes, and articles, encouraging individuals to explore the core research we utilize at the School and understand its relevance to the bread they consume daily.
We continually research and write articles and features that share fundamental knowledge on various topics. These include flour and ways to enhance the nutritional value of bread, studies on the gut microbiome, our understanding of the gut, and probiotics and prebiotics.
Our primary focus is sharing the knowledge of how to make bread and understanding its crucial role in our daily diets, as well as the long-term impact it has on our lives. By offering free tutorials and resources on our website, we empower people to take control of their health through informed bread-making choices and promote a deeper understanding of the interconnection between baking and overall wellbeing.
Optimizing Nutritious Bread for Social Equality through The Sourdough Club:
At The Sourdough School, we are committed to fostering social equality by providing ongoing support and resources to our students even after they complete our courses. One way we do this is by offering alumni-level access to the School for our students.
The Sourdough Club is an inclusive community that empowers individuals to take charge of their health by equipping them with the knowledge and skills required to bake nutritious bread using the BALM (Baking as Lifestyle Medicine) approach.
To further promote social equality and ensure access to healthier bread for all, we offer a socially discounted membership. This allows our graduate healthcare providers to prescribe The Sourdough Club membership to their patients at a reduced cost. By doing so, we extend the benefits of our research, knowledge, and community to a wider audience, ultimately fostering a more equitable society where everyone can enjoy the advantages of nutritious bread and embrace the principles of BALM for better health and well-being.
The Sourdough Club. Membership is also available by subscription.
Spreading the word
Several times a year, Vanessa is invited to be a keynote speaker at conferences. She uses these opportunities to discuss the transformation of grains through sourdough fermentation, the increased bio-availability of key nutrients and how that might benefit the gut.
She is also publishing the second Sourdough School book in September. Both books have been written with her core knowledge and research applied to the recipes.
The school is regularly contacted by newspapers and other media outlets. We were recently involved in a CNBC documentary and have been featured in Waitrose & Partners Food magazine, the Telegraph and on BBC Radio 4.
Courses – Teaching BALM and Optimizing Nutritious Bread for Social Equality
At The Sourdough School, we are passionate about sharing our mission to create fermented bread using a diverse range of ingredients with our students. Our courses have taught thousands of students about BALM (Baking as Lifestyle Medicine) and how to optimize nutritious bread for social equality. The knowledge and research we’ve gathered over the years support the idea that diversity is beneficial to the gut microbiome, which in turn contributes to overall human health and well-being, both physically and mentally.