Bread and cheese

There is not, I don’t imagine, a more succinct and penetrating idiom for food than “bread and cheese”. With perhaps, according to some, the addition of wine. Maybe Champagne. But aside from the stimulants we employ at and about table, even the supplement of as basic an ingredient as meat to the jargon might be conceived a superfluity though there are admittedly compelling distortions such as grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon! But that is more a culinary infatuation than a metaphorical adaptation. In any event it came as a surprise to discover that the classic rendition of the concoction – bread and cheese – is the fabric of a long-standing Native/Canadian/British tradition. It is refreshing to awaken palatable features of our past which connect to national heredity.

TORONTO — While some Canadians mourn lost cottage weekends and barbecues because of COVID-19 restrictions, Six Nations of the Grand River has had to press pause on a 155-year-long tradition. Bread and Cheese Day is how Six Nations celebrates the May long weekend, an annual tradition that began in the 1860s when Queen Victoria began gifting Haudenosaunee people blankets for their allyship during the War of 1812.

“As a way to show her appreciation, she gifted Haudenosaunee people with a blanket, each person with a blanket,” Helen Miller, council member of Six Nations of the Grand River, told in a phone interview on Monday.The gifts stopped for more than 20 years beginning in 1901 when Queen Victoria died, and when it resumed it was with different gifts.

“In 1924, when the elected system was put in place, they revised the tradition,” said Miller. “Instead of giving blankets, they changed it to a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese.”

In 1924, the Canadian federal government replaced the traditional Six Nations council with an elected council under the Indian Act. Both the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and the elected council remain in place today. While the switch from blankets to bread and cheese are unclear, Miller believes it was an effort to save money and ensure the members of Six Nations were fed.

Apart from the irrefutable legitimacy of bread and cheese for survival there is an artistic caché to the composition. Nor by the way do I think calling it a “hunk of cheese” does anything to detract from the strength of the image. Whether ornamented by the finest porcelain upon a mahogany sideboard or stashed into a wicker basket upon a field of flowers, the combination of bread and cheese blends unhesitatingly with any environment.

This wax and wane is by way of introduction to my less than inspiring but burgeoning desire to control my appetite. More precisely, to control my protuberant belly.  My unrestrained visits of the past several months (or has it been a year) to Antrim Truck Stop (for carrot cake with cream cheese icing) and to Beckwith Bakery (for what are indisputably the world’s finest butter tarts) have damaged my erstwhile sylphlike figure. It is not my Agent calling me; instead, it is my aching knees, punished spine and declining hips which are screaming for reform!

It will not shatter you to learn that this is not my first attempt at a diet. What lingers from them is not a pair of 34-inch trousers but rather defeat. Focussing not so much upon the result as the method, the other salient feature of each of those dietary citations is the cancellation (and eventual recovery) of the food I adore.  Seemingly habit is an unconquerable trait. Rather than writing a manual for strictly protein or only vegetables or any other limitation, I am searching for a rudimentary diet which is connected not so much with a sweet tooth as with Nature’s intended constituents. This means foresight and application are required. There are for example ways to have less without having nothing. The corruption lies within the gulf between urgency and immediacy, boundaries which are easily miscalculated.

The abbreviation of food corresponds to the sparsity I venture to adopt. But short supply isn’t the goal; rather it is a narrowness of expression. It entails the admission that desire is nurtured by deceit. Nothing tastes that good! This incursion sounds unfair but its critical application is to recognize the distinction between need and dream; the two are universes apart. Preserving that separation is the secret to indulgence for once you’ve removed the appetite you’ve removed the cause; and without the cause there’s no effect.

Perhaps I must constrain myself to see smörgåsbord the way one views paintings on the wall in a gallery; viz., a hesitant disregard but with a pointed suaveté betraying a depth of knowledge and an overriding artistic appeal.


Where all this begins to fall apart – and frankly the fall is not that precipitous – is when the aspiration for the stars turns to the less futile grasp for mollification. No doubt for many of our greatest philosophers, appeasement is the answer, not sustained provocation. It even rings of sweetening and gratification. Besides which the rudimentary feature of clear thinking and logic is the acceptance of axioms and basic syllogistic reasoning:

If A (dessert) equals B (happiness);
And B (happiness) equals C (good);
Then dessert is good.

Understandably there may arise a cosmetic objection to such pure – dare I say apolitical – deductive reasoning. The challenge is to know whether to succumb to logic or dialect by which I mean the patois of the Olympic-savvy youth of today. Pleasure has lately taken a bit of a hit broadside. What with Trump and the Republicans and the insurrectionists overtaking the Capitol, the universal conversation is the prescience of history to reveal the cause of anarchists. Small wonder we feel reluctant to enjoy life unabashedly lest we are among those “letting them eat cake” or “eating cake”, not a great alternative between the palace and the gallows! Not to mention the slur upon cake!

Notwithstanding which I’m hoping there will be Chudleigh’s Butter Toffee Sticky Cakes (“every batch from scratch”) for dessert this evening!