The Sourdough School is a social enterprise Our Mission: to support systems change in the way we approach bread across all sectors for social fairness and environmental consciousness. Our approach is rooted in the principle of microbial equality; our role is to empower people to improve health, reduce environmental damage, and challenge the dynamics of inequalities in the food system using the BALM (Baking as Lifestyle Medicine) Protocol.
The way in which we optimise our staple food for social equality is by empowering and inspiring systems change through education, research and development in the way we bake, eat and share bread. We run a self-funding systems change programme. Our research, development and sharing of knowledge of how changes can be made in the world of bread-making and baking as lifestyle medicine empowers healthcare providers and bakers to support health and wellness for customers and patients. It also supports an equitable food system that pays the farmers fairly and supports the environment through the way we approach flour.
Bread that does good- for humans and the planet.
From the outset it has been about equality. Our work has been dedicated to researching, developing and sharing knowledge about how changes can be made in the world of bread-making and baking in order to support health and wellness We teach and empower people to implement these changes and to challenge the system on both a personal and social level. We understood that our work is part of a wider change needed, and that to create change we would need to inspire, lead and support people approach bread in a way that would help, not harm, health.
Why? Bad bread makes us sick.
Over the past century, the rules of baking and eating bread have changed globally. The way we make and eat bread now fits in with industrial production systems. The result? Bread, our most consumed food, is predominantly nutritionally devoid, ultra-processed and adulterated with ingredients that harm our health. This industrially produced bread is cheap, addictive and harmful – but what’s more, the majority of the bread that we eat is made using a fast-fermented process. Eating this bread has been shown to contribute significantly to all Western illnesses, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Bad bread is social injustice.
Sourdough has been cast as a middle class privilege, but good bread shouldn’t be reserved to the upper crust, and as we taught east became increasingly clear was that people’s physical and mental health is compromised through eating poor-quality bread and refined carbohydrates. What is heartbreaking is that the majority of people are totally unaware that the bread they eat everyday has an impact on their health. Often it is only when they felt poorly and visited their doctors that the extent that diet and lifestyle became evident.
Confusion around how bread should help, not harm, health
Even when diagnosing of a non communicable diseases, and being aware of how our food choices impact health, there was very little real health advise available to healthcare practitioners to give or to patients to find. With conflicting opinions and a great deal of misinformation even from professionals made out most affordable food is difficult to understand. Consumers face misleading product information from manufacturers, and a general lack of knowledge around how to bake and eat bread that nourishes. As figure emerged of how ultra proceeded bread was a significant percentage of calories consume ( especially as the cost of living increased,) we determined that despite being a small business, is was time to do something big.
To change a paradigm, you need new rules, and we had them. If the mission Sourdough School mission to change the way we approach bread we needed to share the vision of what this ,looked like and why. The BALM protocol was created. The Baking as Lifestyle Medicine (BALM) Protocol has been developed over two decades. The challenge was to turning all this information into something you can eat, and inspiring people, so we taught, use social media and published books.
BALM is an evidence-based protocol that lays out the out the rules governing every level of the breadmaking process including baking, eating, and sharing bread, and baked goods to provide a path forward explicitly aimed at social and political change in the way we approach bread and baked goods. This protocol underpins out comprehensive systems change programme, changing not just the bread that we eat every day as home bakers, but to the whole industry. You can find many of the studies used in our research database. Developing the protocol was just the tip of the iceberg.
A way to share this with those the need to most
Creating an approach to optimise the quality of our bread as social activism. We’d have been teaching nutrition and digestibility of bread for many years to healthcare practitioners we realised that they are ideally placed to identify and empower patients who would benefit from challenging the external conditions in their lives. We knew we needed to be innovative, so we created a social prescribing system. First we created The BALM Diploma training healthcare professionals how to prescribe Baking as Lifestyle Medicine, and our graduates are awarded a prescription licence giving them ability to prescribe Baking as Lifestyle Medicine, and applied all the BALM protocol to the The Sourdough Club to deliver BALM Memberships as a social prescriptions.
Funding bread reform via our proceeds.
We didn’t have any spare capital so we built each section of the systems change programme a time. Each time we had new members or new courses we reinvested the money and creating courses, products and relationships allowing us to fund bread reform via our proceeds. All our funds from The Sourdough School Courses, The Sourdough Club Memberships, and from our the ingredients, equipment and books for a decade have been ploughed back into the programme. It would be fair to say we have been determined in achieving our vision and we believed that the next stage is even more exciting as we believed this model can be upscaled. We are currently setting our funding system up as a CIC to extend the funding options.
The Sourdough School Systems Change Programme
Our Systems Change Programme is informed by our values, and forms part of a cohesive solution to changing the paradigm of bread: reframing bread, not just as a way to feed people, but as a way to nourish us as preventative medicine that can support both physical and mental health.
Our courses, books and approach use evidence-based behavioural interventions to help prevent, treat and manage chronic disease. We share this knowledge through a team of experts who teach on our courses, as well as through Club Membership of the Sourdough Club, and our books, social media and free resources.
Systems Change Projects & Partnerships
We believe that it is vital that governments step up to tackle bread-making systems on a global scale. However, to achieve meaningful change, we also need real, working examples of how systemic change is possible. With that in mind, we have been working on the following systems change projects for the past decade.
An absolute rejection of monoculture and example of systems change in practice. We have been working in collaboration with Hodmedods millers and farmers to reimagine flour. Our Botanical Blends are a powerful act of delicious defiance against the global industrialisation of our most basic food, and represent an absolute rejection of monoculture.
These blends also provide a working example to the milling industry of systems change to improve diversity in the environment and increase revenue to the farmers. All the profits from the sale of our blends go into a fund that allows GPs to order flour for their patients to bake with, helping them learn to bake the most nourishing bread possible as part of a social prescription, as described above.
Higher levels of beneficial phytochemicals: Principle no. 4 of the Bread Protocol
We are redesigning the current approach to grain by developing, growing and milling a richly diverse, strongly pigmented, high-yielding conventional population wheat using sustainable agricultural practices. The profits from the sale of the flour produced will be used to deliver flour to the patients on the social prescription courses. We aim to inspire change by moving away from monoculture and delivering a lifestyle grain that specifically improves gut health.
3) Working with industry
Inspiring innovation and change in the bread-making industry through our research. Sharing our work is not limited to artisan bread producers. We share our approach and understanding across all sectors of the bread-making industry, and we have been working to bring about systems change within the industry with Puratos, by sharing with them our research and understanding of the gut microbiome and its impact on health in order to help them develop baked goods and new products to improve the authenticity, nutrition and digestibility of manufactured sourdough bread.