Menachem's Writings

The Secret Art of Bread Making
and preparation of edible food

In the past, I have written about vegetarians and vegans, and why the "raw food fad" doesn't sit with human ingestion in the long term.

The thrust of my argument is that the good Lord produced man and ruminants with different internal organs. Ruminants have four stomachs, man (and other primates) but one. In addition to being created with supplementary internal organs, ruminants chew a cud, regurgitating partially digested food from the first stomach back into the mouth and giving it an extra chew.

In layman's terms, even three additional stomachs are not sufficient to assimilate the goodeness in grass into one's body without an extra chew, remixed with saliva. [If your mother used to tell you to chew your food well, she was giving you sound advice. Even in humans, mixing food with saliva starts the digestive process, making absorbtion more complete, giving you more benefit from the food you eat. Saliva and pancreatic juices both serve to catalyse the hydrolysis of starch to sugar to produce carbohydrate derivatives.]

I postulated that man was "given" the knowledge of food preparation to compensate for his lack of an efficient system to assimilate grass into his body.

So I was pleased to recently rediscover a Midrash supporting my claim, and which incidentally answers another vexing question re human food preparation.

It would seem that during their existence in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were nourished purely by fruit trees -- "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat". But this, albeit brief, episode in idyllic surroundings, is not a model for the future of mankind. This short-term sojourn in Paradise was supernatural and we should not generalise from this period to learn human biology and physiology.

Their fall from lofty heights was marked by a new reality, an actuality which continues to define mankind's reality from that day hence. Our control over the agricultural process has certainly developed in the intervening millennia; however the basic requirements to grow grain remain unchanged throughout human history. (The harvesting combine combines the tasks of cutting, threshing and cleaning processes into one man's task, though technologically, the three individual processes do occur in the machine.)

Our commentary presents a conversation between Adam and God. "By expelling me from the Garden, you have relegated me to the level of my donkey. Just like the ass eats grain from a feedbag, I too will have to join him for my meals." Thereupon, the Midrash tells us, God taught Adam the eleven tasks to make bread.

These tasks are: ploughing, planting (sowing), reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading and baking. As presented in our sources, these tasks use different technologies. Eg threshing traditionally uses animal power, winnowing uses the wind and grinding uses the action of water. (The best work I know on both the technologies and the halacha of producing bread is the Eglei Tal, written by Rabbi Avraham Borenstein, a leading posek in nineteenth-century Europe and the founder of the Sochatchover Hasidic dynasty. He is also known as the Avnei Neizer, after his responsa.)

It is worth noting here that these creative steps of food production are eleven of the thirty-nine activities from which we refrain on Shabbath. The other creative tasks relate to making clothes and producing food from animal sources (including slaughter, flaying, tanning, shearing, dying spinning, weaving and sewing), building, recording information and lighting fire.

Our exegesis also explains another aspect of human development and technology that are otherwise difficult to comprehend. I understand that man find chewing wild grass as a way of eating. Observing the animals would teach him this. This may lead to his chewing seeds. From this the primitive human may draw some nutritional benefit.

But to "discover" the eleven steps on his own is a most unlikely occurrence. Attributing this to the Supreme Intelligence may be anthropologically less satisfying, but the fact that the Midrash decided to relate the episode demonstrates the difficulty our Sages had with the issue.

Yes, man can consume grasses (wheat, barley, rice, quinoa and others) but not necessarily from a feedbag. Harnessing relevant, God given, technologies we transform grass into edible and delicious foods.


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