The programme integrates health, education, agriculture, and social justice, with bread as its unifying element.
For anyone who has attended The Sourdough School, the story of how we established a self-sustaining system change programme is woven into the bread. Our approach to bread here at the Sourdough School has been to inspire and lead a social change movement that transforms our relationship with bread, health, and the environment. One might be forgiven for thinking that this was enough, but the School has, over the past decade, created something extraordinary. The Sourdough School’s training and licensing of various stakeholders and the reinvestment of the fees back into the system is a self-sustaining system change programme, upholding the values of social justice and environmentalism at every stage and delivering social change through prescribing baking as lifestyle medicine (BALM).
Why create a systems change programme?
The short answer was to fulfil a need. In 2018, we ran the RCGP-accredited Nutrition & Digestibility of Bread courses. They were hugely popular, but as the courses ran and the students shared the challenges facing them on a daily basis, we began to appreciate that the people we were teaching did not have the tools to help patients with the serious health problems caused by ultra-processed bread and baked goods.
Our students explained as they chatted in the class how they were ill-equipped to counteract the harmful health effects of global food producers’ products. As we taught about how bread could support gut health and shared the mechanisms of fermentation and how this supports balance blood sugar and fibre-supported satiety, we learned that the healthcare providers’ training traditionally focused more on treating symptoms and less on preventive nutrition.
The question that was raised in every class was how can we get our patients to bake, eat and share the bread in the way that we taught? The truth was that the extensive knowledge and understanding was simply not reaching the people who needed it most. At the same time, the influence, power and agenda of the food giants had devalued our most basic food, not just nutritionally but financially. The baking industry, not just artisan bakers but industrial bread producers themselves, were being forced to make bread for less and less money and even when they wanted to support health, consumers themselves became more and more addicted to white sliced bread. The power of the global industrialisation of food meant a downward spiral for all.
Recognising the magnitude of the challenge, we made a pivotal decision. Instead of solely educating healthcare professionals, which represents a top-down approach, we aimed for something far more ambitious and transformative – a bottom-up systems change. What was clear was that real, impactful change occurs when we empower individuals and communities at the grassroots level, reshaping the system from the ground up.
So we created a systems change program that empowered all the stakeholders in the system and allowed us to create connections, share knowledge build bridges to connect different stakeholders. This was about creating an inclusive system that made this vital knowledge accessible to all.
Change happens when you educate
Our courses had to be the foundation, to empower far beyond teaching how to bake bread, but to make this happen, we formalised BALM as an evidence-based framework that all parties could use, and we built a self-sustaining, interconnected ecosystem to bring together industrial breadmakers, artisan bakers, and healthcare providers. Each stakeholder has a critical role to play and contributes to the system in a unique way.