As a continuation of our discussion of art, bread, cheese, mass production, etc... I will present part of a further comment from The Masked Chicken and respond to it. Why? Because my response will begin to get too lengthy for the combox, and also because this stuff is what this blog is all about and, feeling as strongly as I do, I don't think it's possible to have too many posts on the subject.
The Masked Chicken comments, in part;
Art is, supposedly, a unique expression, not only of the indivdual, but of things that are common to man. The process of making things is unique to man and som personalized bread-baking falls into that, but the bread expresses a preference of the individual moreso than music, which has to go beyond itself, ideally.
Thus, bread, by its very nature, can survive being mass-produced in a way that art cannot.
I'm still probably not clear enough. Feel free to criticize so I can clarify, further. We do not substantially disagree. I just think that the art of bread-baking, while an art, is not an art-form and has less stringent conditions for cultural adaptation than the visual or performing arts.
I doubt that we really do disagree at the bottom of things, but putting these foggy concepts into words is a dicey and imprecise business, especially the way I go about it. I use language the way Jackson Pollock used paint.
I think it is clear that bread will always be a commodity in a way that art is not, because when it comes to it, people eat bread not generally in order to have a culinary experience, but because they are hungry. The expressive and cultural aspects of bread are incidental (except in France, maybe). People buy and eat bread mainly because it is a practical, versatile and reliable staple food, and other considerations are secondary, unlike art or music, which carries no quantifiable, practical benefit... no survival value.
So in that sense, I think you're correct.
Brewing one's own beer at one time did carry practical benefits. It was more nutritious than modern mass-market brews ("liquid bread") and because of the alcohol content it was safe to drink when water often was not. Even children drank beer.
In our time, however, there is no real practical or economic benefit in making one's own beer (or bread). These things can always be bought somewhere more cheaply than they can be made at home, and if you consider the time and trouble, the motivations for making these things by hand must come from other considerations... poetic, expressive or even spiritual. That is why, in modern Western culture, I look at baking bread and brewing beer as being similar to making art. Both endeavors are, in a material sense, wholly unnecessary.
However, I don't think it is merely a subjective matter to observe that home-baked bread is "better" than the spongy white sandwich fluff we buy at the store, any more than it is only a matter of opinion that a Mozart symphony is "better" than a commercial jingle. Quantifying that judgment may be impossible, but it is more than simply a matter of taste.
In theory, of course, a bread recipe could be mass produced with more or less exactly the same result as the first time it was baked in your mom's kitchen. In practice, though, things almost never happen this way. Once a product makes it to the assembly line, there begins a process of adaptation - driven by profit concerns, competition and marketing - that invariably pulls quality in a downward direction. It takes active and positive resistance even to maintain a steady position against that constant downward pressure.
I worked in product design for a long time, and what happens is that, in the beginning, the manufacturing process seems to be constructed around the product. Over time, however, the product becomes more and more built to accommodate the process. When big numbers are involved, cutting this or that corner can result in hefty increases in profits. Whereas factory methods are supposed to make it easier to manufacture things, it becomes more a matter of making the things easier to manufacture.
It's a rare business owner who will say, "Yes, I know we could make more money if we tweaked this recipe, used cheaper ingredients and quickened the process, but I'd prefer to continue making a decent, modest profit and keep the quality just as it is.". If one generation manages to hold the line, the next will likely move it gladly enough.
Then there are marketing factors. Making and selling a lot of one thing is always more profitable than making smaller amounts of different things, so there is always the pressure to make one product as broadly appealing as possible and sell the hell out of it. In many cases, this means making a product as inoffensive as possible. Because people have such widely varying tastes, though, the easiest way to make sure they aren't offended at the flavor of your product is to make it with as little flavor as you can get away with... case(s) in point: white bread and light beer. These may not make anyone swoon in ecstasy, but if you bring them to a picnic, at least no one could very well be offended or make a face.
Serve a robust, multi-grain sourdough bread, or a creamy stout beer and you run the risk of a certain number of people just hating it. It will happen. Little Billy will gag on the sandwich you give him (burying his face in her skirts "Mommy, I want chicken nuggets"), and Uncle Ted will grimace and maybe swear at the brew and say acidly, "I don't know what the @!%&+# this is... can I have a beer now?".
I don't know if it is the actual flavors and textures themselves that offend, or if it is simply the rude and un-looked-for shock of particularity to which modern man is unaccustomed. The tang of articulated character becomes like a kind of assault.
So, whereas bread and beer will always - in theory - be more amenable to mass production, in fact the result is nearly always that the process removes from these things even the incidental expressive and cultural characteristics they once carried. The aim may be to mass produce a certain loaf of bread - say, Mom's Homemade Bread - but in the end, the loaf of mass produced bread is not the one we had in mind in the beginning. We have not succeeded in mass producing the loaf of Mom's Bread, as we supposed. We have in fact invented a new thing... the Production Loaf, if you will, which is like Mom's bread almost only by analogy.
Incidentally, Chicken, it does not surprise me at all that you have distributist leanings. I remarked at first that it was with great trepidation that I disagreed with you in print, because I have, through my interaction with you over at Jimmy Akin's blog, come to have the highest regard for your opinions. At bottom, as I say, I doubt we would really disagree about much.