Bread is such an essential part of the foodscape of twenty-first century New Zealand that, apart from food preference or allergy, it is often spared little thought in people’s day-to-day lives. That was until now – people who usually bought bread regularly are now baking it (if they can get enough flour) and rediscovering the pleasure of a freshly baked loaf from the oven. We now might worry about touching the bag the flour was bought in but we don’t distrust a bought loaf. This was not the case during the 1940s, when a number of major acts regarding food hygiene were introduced. One of these laws in particular – the bread-wrapping regulation – had the attention of the Ministry of Health, bakers, grocers, and the New Zealand public for a period spanning 1946 to the end of 1948. Fears concerning an earlier dreaded virus, poliomyelitis, were at the root of the issue.
The entire New Zealand wheat industry had deep ties to the government from the First World War which controlled the price of bread. Control was slowly relaxed over time, but during the Great Depression a wheat surplus crashed the market, leading to further trouble in the economic sector. By 1934 the NZ Master Bakers Association was calling for full regulation of wheat and bread prices once more, and in 1936 the Labour government did just that. Labour also created a Wheat Committee, involving representation for farmers, millers, bakers, grain merchants, and grocers in the new industry processes. The committee would buy the entire seasonal wheat crop and sell it on at a uniform price for everyone. Although this systematic restructuring benefited countless people, lower bread prices brought lower profit margins. It was for this reason that the costly practice of wrapping bread in waxed paper declined.