“There is a lot to unpack here,” sighs Pierre Petain, his hands clasped firmly as if to emphasize the conviction in his voice. Petain, a 67 year old lifelong baker and pastry chef, has just examined a creation know as meron pan, or melon bread.
Much loved amongst cute schoolgirls and slightly wimpy schoolboys, meron pan carries an abundance of artificial sweeteners and flavoring. Rumors related to the product are numerous. One conspiracy theory contends that pharmaceutical giants purchase meron pan companies, and then increase the levels of preservatives and additives in order to create a spread of constipation.
The veteran baker stressed the importance of people in Japan realizing that it’s far more of a candy product than a bread product. “Don’t call it bread. Don’t display it in the bread section. Don’t behave as though it’s completely alright to eat it at 7:00am.”
A man who is no stranger to fighting battles against ignorance and public misconceptions, Petain carries the burden of bakers wherever he goes. “Bakers have to be in bed early, so they don’t get the sexual opportunities that chefs, sommeliers, and maître d’s get. What they do get is laughed at for the reputation of being hopeless drunks and loners. Where is the fairness in that?
“That’s where the jokes about bakers committing indecent acts on the dough have come from. Most of those stories are overblown, but you have to ask yourself; what would you do in the same position?
“Bakers don’t get the respect that they deserve. Television tries to show us in a positive light. We see bakers bouncing around their bakeries and being enthusiastic about the finished produce. But, we’re fatigued, undersexed, hungover, and indulging in unhygienic behavior with our mixtures pre-oven. Waiters are sexy with slick hair and, ironically, firm buns which they develop through working out. Their crotches are at eye-level for the diners. Meat and veg in your face.”
The contempt for bakers extends to the product itself. Petain constantly laments that there is no bread equivalent of the 1516 Bavarian Purity Law. “We really need a historic document so that we can defend something tangible. Japanese travelers complain about sushi overseas lacking authenticity. Well… What about mayonnaise on pizza, or beer with a fake head? With bread it’s twice as bad. Surely the taste of melon bread alone should be enough to determine its classification.”
Petain listened in agitation when being told that meron pan is just the tip of the iceberg among the plethora of flavored bread choices in Japan. His face took on the appearance of a dried-plum as the full extent of the bastardization of bread became more apparent. He looked up at the ceiling before barking for the whole café to hear, “This is not good for bakers, and it’s not good for bread.”