How the New York City Bagel Was Born

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– Where food comes from, where food
is grown, where food is made— does that change what the food is? Bagels are a really good example
of that, because the answer is yes. (accordion and glockenspiel tune) Jewish bakers in Krakow were
banned from selling bread. And in the 17th century when Jews were
allowed to sell bread again, their round rolls had
developed into bagels. In the 19th century American wheat,
which had really high gluten content, came into the Polish market—
bagels became even more popular. But bagels really become the thing that we know them as in the New World. Traditional bagel work was terrible.
Done at night, incredibly hot, Incredibly dirty. A combination of
government regulation and organizing meant that gradually over the 20th century the conditions of making bread
got better and better. In New York the Beigel Bakers Local 338
was this incredibly powerful union. They could shut down
bagel making at a whim. And part of that control was there were
no machines, it was all done by hand. They were all Jewish men who
went from being working-class, not having any money, in terrible conditions
to through the power of their union being middle class. And then this all comes crumbling down.
(boom) (music stops) The president of the B&C, the Bakery
and Confectionery Workers Union, was corrupt. The union gets
thrown out of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO charters a new union,
the American Bakery and Confectionery Workers’ Union. The Bagel Baker’s union
in New York stays with the rump B&C. The Lenders, this immigrant family who
had been baking bagels in New Haven since 1927, start experimenting
with different kinds of machines, and start making lots of bagels
that they are able to freeze. It allowed them to then ship their bagels
around, first the Catskills and then they wanted to go to New York.
And that set up this fight. New York bagel bakers go down to
Washington to picket the AFL-CIO for supporting what they considered
to be scab bagels. In1967 they’re kind of forced into a strike.
And the strike goes on. The union never comes back. Bosses break the union, replace a lot
of the workers with machines. (song ends) I would say (elevator jazz)
nobody has had a New York bagel since 1967. What made a New York bagel was
that it was made by hand by these old Jewish men who had passed their
traditions down from father to son, and that stopped being true. The Lenders were Jewish. There was still clearly a Jewish union,
but the members were increasingly non-Jewish. And that’s what happened
in New York also. (elevator jazz swells) You start getting bagels that look
like this—that are really fat. They eventually go stale, but a traditional
bagel goes stale in five hours. A lot of the members, who at this point
were middle class remember, they go to other cities that have large Jewish
populations and open up the first bagel stores there, and really
spread the gospel of the bagel. The largest bagel factory now is in
Mattoon, IL making a million bagels a day. (bag falls repeatedly) The irony of the bagel, (bag falls)
this very Jewish food becomes popular, but the version that is known and
is eaten is no longer very Jewish. As cities have become popular again,
urban food has come back, and new ways and new questions about
how to be Jewish have come back. (bag caught)
(elevator jazz ends)

One comment

  1. Real Jewish bagels are found in Montreal. New York bagels are just rolls….but New Yorkers are so arrogant they don't know that 🙂

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