Saturday, September 13, 2008

Feedback on your Feedback

Through a cerain viewpoint, life is just a cycle of energy moving around. As we interact with each other, we are simply moving energy around, whether we are aware of it or not. In this great baking adventure, I have learned much about life through this energy cycle between me, the baker, and the people who eat the baked goods. And in the past few weeks, I have been thinking much about this aspect of my art form.

Here I want to focus a bit about, what we would normally term, "negative" feedback. That is, feedback where a customer comminicates to me "complaining" about a product; or aspect they found not to their liking. Here are some examples of such comments:

"Last week the spelt levain was the best ever. The texture was amazing, and the flavor really full. Bravo! The babka on the other hand, was not my favorite. It had a slightly dry quality, and tasted slightly of "refrigerator", and had a bit of a more slick feeling on your tongue after chewing. Also, I didn't receive the two bagels I ordered." -Customer from West Philly

[Note: this came in the same day as the prior comment] Lately the loaves of spelt levain have been tougher than usual and very hard to chew. did you change ingredients? would like them to be a little more soft. thank you. -Customer from Havertown area.
Labeling Problem: Michael, you advertise loaves by weight. Last pickup, scales were out at Pennypack, so I weighed my loaves. They all came up short. I know this is not because you attempt to defraud customers, but because loaves shrink, because of temperature, humidity, and ingredient variation. Nonetheless, you should make clear what is the contract. Is one buying 2 pounds raw, pre-baked weight, or 2 pounds of packaged bread. -Horsham customer

My mind is interesting to watch when I get comments like this. My first reaction is usually "ego"-based or "small'-mind and it says something like this: "I am a failure since I can't please this person; I expect my products to be perfect, everytime; and it's just not acceptible to have inferior products leaving my bakery." A tyical reaction in my mind to this message is to look outside myself and attempt to blame the customer for the problem.

But this thought doesn't last long before my "large"-mind takes over and says: "Wow, this customer cares enough about my breads to tell me when it doesn't meet their expectations; what an incredible gift to know that people are really paying attention to how my breads are each week, and even take the time to let me know about their experience."

So in checking-in with myself about my reaction, I noticed that this type of feedback has a peculiar effect on me; going way beyond the substance of the comment. That is, the comment itself takes on meaning. The realization that people are "paying attention" prevents me from getting lazy. It's as if all of my customers are watching everything I do in the bakery. This goes beyond a parent figure watching over my actions, judging me. This is about tapping into a resevior of exchange of energy that is taking place as I bake for all the people who are eating the food. There is literally an exchange going on at all times in the process, although much of it is out of our awareness. So every comment I get, positive or negative, is a reminder to me that I am part of this exchange and I am not working alone or in isolation. I am more able then to tap into a higher level of Awareness of the exchange of energy.

But without the feedback, I forget. It's like I need a constant reminder that people are paying attention; and they care about what they are getting. Ultimately, I bake to tap into this Awareness; baking is just a means to make this happen for me. So every comment I get is pushing my Practice along. It's an amazing gift and a blessing.

1 comment:

sianifairy said...

Michael's bread is the freshest and most wholesome in the DelVal region right now, and even though I am one of those customers who did 'drop off' for a time, I am back on the list.


I run a farmer's market in Germantown, and I run it because I have a committment, slowly and steadily blossoming, to see about bringing fresher food into at least one neighborhood that needs more food choices. Most of us living in Germantown have to travel a ways to get to fresh food, even farther to get to gourmet or organic or free range or whatever.

As I read Michael's blogs about his bakery, his bread, his process of interacting with customers, I compare and and contrast with what I am doing.

The hardest nub, the one that I stumble on most, is that Michael's bread is expensive, compared to some other breads. I see his ingredients, taste the skill, and I am not one bit surprised. I know, too, that if I were to sell it at those prices at our market, I would have some real selling to do...my free range meats are less per pound, and those cost more too than supermarket meats for sure.

Our market here is supported partly by people who seem educated enough, affluent enough, to know about fresh foods and their connection to health and local economy. The market is also supported by folks who are knowledgeable about such connections but must consider very carefully before opening their wallets, because they must buy less food in order to afford what we sell. Less food may not be so bad if it means we still have choices, and really choose carefully what will go into our bodies, especially if that choice is made for food that is more wholesome. But that still does not account for what must happen when there is not enough income to make enough wholesome choices to add up to enough food period, and compromises must be made simply to get enough calories.

Michael's notes make me think about conundrums like this, all the time really, since I don't want to shrug my shoulders and give up thinking about these paradoxes. Ultimately there are more questions than answers...what if most farmers produce organically someday soon? Will that level prices, or will everybody have to eat less? Will food security really become such a pertinent issue that we really have to work together to make it happen...even in the poorest neighborhoods? Where, as in Germantown, food stamps also have to be used outside those neighborhoods in order to buy fresher foods. (Our market accepts EBT, and is but a tiny, though appreciated, stopgap in the exodus of shoppers to the supermarkets on Saturday)

For the makers of artisan foods, like Michael's breads...how do we make access to these things broader?

A little light thinking. And these issues are part of a much bigger picture, but I'm grateful to Michael and his blogs as much as his breads, for keeping these sorts of issues at hand, at least for me.