When I moved from Toronto to Hamilton in the winter of 2012 it was for the usual reasons. I came looking for a place that is shaped like a city, combined with affordable housing. While I found what I was looking for, I’ve also discovered some deeper differences which, though jarring at first, have strongly convinced me that I made a good move.
For one thing, people in Hamilton talk to one another. It surprised me at first when strangers said hello as we passed on the street, and I came to enjoy this change from Toronto, where the amassed energy of so many other people forces each individual to retreat behind a personal shell when out in public.
Bus drivers here are much friendlier. On my third day taking the bus, my driver already recognized me. By the end of the week, we were on a first-name basis. I noticed something else: when people get off the bus, they thank the driver. This feedback loop of friendly operators and polite riders is not an isolated phenomenon.
Two years after moving my home to Hamilton, I finally moved another part of my life: my job. Now instead of seeking work at an established business, I started my own: a bakery on King William Street called Made for You by Madeleine.
Again, I did this for the usual reasons. And again, I quickly discovered that there were deeper reasons underlying the ones by which I had made my plans.
The idea at the heart of Madeleine bakery is my intent to make food that is nutritious as well as enjoyable. After years working as a baker, I experienced a quandary while taking a nutrition course when I was confronted with the fact that most of the food I was making was not particularly healthy.
My attempt to reconcile my love of baking with my understanding of nutrition led me to locally sourced, freshly-ground, organic whole grain flour.
Flour is composed of three parts: the bran, which is the fibrous outer skin; the endosperm, which supplies energy in the form of carbohydrates; and the germ, which contains the vitamins and minerals the seed needs to sprout and grow.
Most of the dense nutrition in a grain of wheat is packed into the germ which spoils quickly. Industrially-processed flour – even “whole-wheat” flour – is missing the healthiest part of the grain!
The only way to retain the complete nutrition of the germ is to mill the whole grains fresh on site and use the whole-grain flour promptly. The integral benefit (pun intended) is that baked goods made with this flour are richer and more flavourful and have a wonderful texture.
My purpose in opening this bakery is to make a living, of course. However, it is also to leverage a multiplier effect on my choice to use a healthier process. If I grind my own flour for my own use, I am helping one person make better food choices. By opening a store that uses fresh-ground flour, I am helping thousands of people make better food choices in a marketplace dominated by industrially-produced, nutritionally-lacking flour.
I believed that Hamilton would be a good place for such products. For one thing, no one else was providing them – I’m not aware of any other bakeries in the region that use locally sourced, organically grown and freshly-ground flour. For another, I believe there is a community of people in Hamilton who see the value of supporting food made in an ecological and health-conscious manner.
And as with my original decision to move to Hamilton, I’ve since learned that there is a deeper benefit: Hamilton is possessed of what I’ve come to regard as a conscious community – a community of people, both individuals and businesses, who choose to live according to their values and who contribute meaningfully to the wellbeing of the city as a whole.
There’s a palpable sense of we in Hamilton – and a profound belief that we’re all in this together. I hope that I can contribute in a small way to this larger we of Hamilton, tie my efforts into the efforts of other people and organizations to live more consciously and responsibly – and in so doing, leverage an even larger multiplier to make better choices available to many more people.