Good as Bread

Yesterday my friend Lucy came to visit and, as always, I was reminded of my husband’s remark that Lucy is “as good as bread.” The Italians have a saying, buono come il pane, literally meaning “as good as bread” but sometimes translated into “as good as it gets.” Quintessential goodness.


I like this expression and it feels right. Bread is a basic food all over the world, whether it is roti, bannock, bagels, bannock, challah, chapatti, corn bread, pumpernickel, soda bread or any of the other varieties of the stuff. The staff that supports us. The staple in all out diets.


Important people have written about the importance of bread. Henry Miller has rhapsodized about rye bread, although in his essay “The Staff of Life” he complained that once could “travel fifty thousand miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread.” I think he was bemoaning the presence of Wonder Bread, which is less ubiquitous in these foodie times.


There are lots of religious references to bread I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever (John 6:51) and Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do (Ecclesiastes 9:7). We may thank God for our daily bread; it’s a symbol of what we need to survive. Margaret Atwood in her essay on bread uses it as a metaphor to illustrate problems of starvation and suffering.


It’s easy to accept the goodness of bread. It’s also easy to spot goodness when we see that quality in others. But, in a world in which happiness and success seem often to be equated with the acquisition of material goods and the scrabble to get more than one’s share, it’s not seen as often as one might like.


Asked whether she believed in God, Carol Shields answered, “No. Human goodness is the only thing I believe in.” Me too, when I see it. Shields also said,I do feel this sense of goodness is part of our human conversation — the biggest part of it. In Shield’s last novel, Unless, the protagonist’s traumatized daughter, Norah, spends her days sitting “cross-legged with a begging bowl in her lap” on a street corner in Toronto, the word “GOODNESS” written on a cardboard sign hanging around her neck.


 Like Norah, many of us long for goodness these days. Like bread, it is the staff of life and it sustains us. The word “staff” can also mean a support, a cane, a walking stick. Perhaps a shillelagh.


But we may need a winnowing stick to find it.



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