Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Good Loaf of Bread

Why is it so difficult to get a good loaf of bread? I don’t mean that it is difficult to buy one; our grocery stores have shelf after shelf of various loaves wrapped in colorful plastic. What I want to know is why it is so difficult to get a good loaf of bread-a loaf of bread that is not only tasty, but good for you, nutritious, one that will be an asset to your body, not simply another ingested alien item that it must detoxify from your system. I never realized such a thing was so difficult until I recently took a class on nutrition.

Let me give you an example, one of America’s most beloved breads, Wonder Bread. Here are its ingredients: Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% or less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono- and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness). Even my spell checker is not recognizing some of those ingredients; it’s underlined them in red. I randomly chose one of those mystery elements to google. Here is what Wikipedia says about diammonium phosphate:

DAP is used as a fertilizer. When applied as plant food, it temporarily increases the soil pH, but over a long term the treated ground becomes more acidic than before upon nitrification of the ammonium. It is incompatible with alkaline chemicals because its ammonium ion is more likely to convert to ammonia in a high-pH environment.
DAP can be used a fire retardant. It lowers the combustion temperature of the material, decreases maximum weight loss rates, and causes an increase in the production of residue or char.[4] These are important effects in fighting wildfires as lowering the pyrolysis temperature and increasing the amount of char formed reduces that amount of available fuel and can lead to the formation of a firebreak. It is the largest component of some popular commercial firefighting products.[5]
DAP is also used as a yeast nutrient in winemaking and brewing mead; as an additive in some brands of cigarettes purportedly as a nicotine enhancer; to prevent afterglow in matches, in purifying sugar; as a Flux for soldering tin, copper, zinc and brass; and to control precipitation of alkali-soluble and acid-insoluble colloidal dyes on wool. [1]

I need to stop myself now from Googling Wonder Bread ingredients, fun and horrifying as it is, or this will turn into a research paper. Each ingredient seems to have quite a tale to tell. Let’s just leave it by saying, Grandma didn’t make bread like that.

I find it both amazing and distressing to live in a society that knows more than any other about health only to be the least healthy society I’ve ever heard of. In the world today, there are more books, movies, studies, ads, clubs, clinics, and workshops than in the entire history of humanity combined, yet, the modern way of life is the least healthy way to live. We’ve tried hard and successfully for many years now to make things easy, accessible, and cheap, only to seemingly have forgotten how to make them good, nutritious, and life enhancing. In fact, we’ve gotten so far from such things that to obtain those most important aspects of a diet has become quite a chore. If I desire a loaf of bread and go to the store, what I find there are odd chemical concoctions mixed with flour and preservatives. That cheap common store-bought bread bounces like a ball when squished into one (try this with Wonderbread; it’s quite a disturbing sight). Realizing the horror of the “Frankenfood” and taking it upon myself to make a “good old fashioned” loaf, I still need to examine all the ingredients at length. Ingredients ain’t what they used to be. For example, I must consider what kind of flour to buy. I don’t want white. I don’t want bleached flour from wheat that had pesticides on it. I wonder as I buy my nice unbleached whole wheat if it has been genetically modified. I wonder about the processing plant it came from. There’s no way to tell these things. A dash of salt? No, better get sea salt and avoid the additives in “regular” table salt (I just found out a month or so ago, after 46 years, that my good old iodized salt doesn’t just contain salt. I’d never thought to read the ingredients). Should I really add brown sugar to it? No, that’s not good. Cane sugar is addictive. I’d better get honey. But where did that come from? Is it even real honey? Has it been processed? And so it goes down the list of ingredients. That one staple bread, the one food item some say was the cause of civilization when people began to grow grain rather than hunt so that they could bake a loaf, has nearly become extinct.

I think I shall become a food preservationist and rescue these dying and endangered food species. They are highly vulnerable right now. If not protected and preserved, they will certainly fade away into the distant memory of humanity. One by one they will vanish into embodied modern chemical metaphors of food. The only thing left will be a fossilized rye or sourdough with a forlorn spent Red Star Yeast packet by its side. Alas, how the mighty will soon fall! The fresh cow’s milk, the chicken eggs, the homemade bread replaced forever by Lactaid, egg beaters, and Wonder Bread. This must never happen. Somehow, we must ensure that in days to come Mommy and Daddy never have to gather the family around a microwave to tell a story of the magical bread that once could sustain whole civilizations as little Timmy and Mary listen doubtfully, bouncing a ball of Wonder Bread back and forth under bright fluorescent lights.


Kate L said...

I love this post. Something as simple as bread should never be terrifying, but it is. Gotta stick to Ezekiel Bread... the best I can find anywhere.

Mykljak said...

Depressingly true and truly depressing.