Illustration: Pep Montserrat

Most students think about bread only as a menu choice in the cafeteria — but for one Princeton graduate student, it can be much more. 

“I really want to develop bread-making as a methodology for intercultural dialogue,” said Nadezhda Savova, who sounds much like the sixth-year Ph.D. student in anthropology that she is. 

Savova has founded the Bread Houses Network (BHN), a nonprofit group that builds friendships among people who gather to bake and share bread. “It is my hope that it will really bring people together,” she said.

Fifteen undergraduate, graduate, and former students gathered Oct. 12 for an event hosted by Savova in Mathey College. The theme was Brazil, and as the group worked on preparations for small breads with cheese called pão de queijo, Savova talked about the country’s culture and the anthropology of bread-making.

Four undergraduates cut blocks of Parmesan cheese into small cubes while Savova mixed together eggs and cassava flour (farinha de mandioca) to produce a chewy dough. Bread Houses has an affiliate in Brazil that holds bread-and-music events in an old mill that was used to make mandioca

After mixing the ingredients, Savova passed around globs of dough for the students to knead into rolls. Maria Cury ’12, a Brazilian-American who is studying anthropology, said she often makes this type of bread at home. “My mom taught me how to make it,” Cury said. “And even though I do anthropology, I’ve never thought about it through an anthropological lens.” 

Two years ago, Savova began the Bread Houses Network while she was doing fieldwork in her native Bulgaria. As she researched community art forms, she discovered that people had intense feelings toward bread and the art of making it. “It was important to them, and I found that I also enjoyed it,” she said. Savova set up a community bakery at her grandmother’s home, and it became a success. 

She began spreading the gospel of bread while attending anthropological conferences around the world. “It simply started spreading, almost without me forcing it,” said Savova, who is serving as president of BHN while completing her dissertation. 

After putting the bread in the oven, the students moved to the Mathey common room for a slide show of BHN’s affiliates in 12 countries across six continents. As the bread arrived with the pleasant aroma of Parmesan cheese, Savova showed videos of Brazilian samba dancers and capoeira martial artists. 

Joe Ramirez ’07, who works in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, said the event was about more than just making bread: “We’re learning about the place bread holds within the context of Brazilian culture.” 

Savova wants to make Bread Houses Network an official campus organization and said she hopes it will help close the gap between rich and poor in the community. 

The group will be raising funds for “a mobile Bread House that can connect neighborhoods,” Savova said. Through the power of bread, she added, “I’m sure this gap could be bridged.”