Seeds of Revolution

A collection of articles read in the past couple of days, sparked by a kind submission from ‘follower’ Suzanne of the link which has ‘whole wheat doesn’t suck’ in the text (!).

The artisan as scientist: baker Jonathan McDowell in the Bread Lab Photos: Tom Philpott

Seed/Grain Research series:

http://m.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/02/toms-kitchen-100-whole-wheat-bread-doesnt-suck-and-pretty-easy

Suzanne’s article about a laboratory in Washington State University researching wheat varieties that make good whole grain breads, which modern wheat varieties, mainly bred to make good white flours, do not.

http://magissues.farmprogress.com/WFS/WS09Sep13/wfs006.pdf

Related article in local publication

http://news.wsu.edu/2013/11/12/bread-lab-helps-artisan-bakers-analyze-perfect-recipes/#.UwSO9hCZd8J

Another related article showing how others are interested and involved, including King Arthur Flour’s Hemmelman, without question one of the most influential bakers in America.

General Comments: I find these articles encouraging in that they make me feel less alone. I run a small operation in Sydney, a town with few people interested in such matters and indeed, the majority of ‘health food types’ here are so into gluten-free approach even though, as these articles show, what I do might be regarded as being on the cutting edge of a recent movement in creating healthy, traditional breads using heritage grains which only a small minority of artisan bakeries offer in Europe and North America. Reading these articles gives me encouragement that perhaps such efforts are not in vain, despite the relative lack of response to date.

Personally, and even thougoh I don’t use them because they cost double my current Milanaise Red Fife white, my favorite flours are the Speerville ‘Whole Whites’ made from either Red Fife or Acadia wheats; these retain most of the germ but have sifted out most of the bran. Yet I suspect that different varieties in the experiments mentioned in these articles might well have less brittle bran structures and so might make better whole grain breads, obviating the need for ‘whitening’ them. The past century, we have been favouring very hard grains not only for white flour production, but also to function optimally in steel-rollers which do not – unlike stone mills – favour soft grains. Moreover the recent hybrids have been bred to grow in dead soils augmented by synthetic nitrogen fertilizers (and a few other) chemical inputs developed by the scientist who gave us mustard gas in WWI and Zyklon B in WW II (!), and therefore are not necessarily the best grains to use for organic farmers.

These articles give hope, because I agree with the premise in some of them that it is time for us to use not only heritage varieties versus post-war hybrids, but also develop new varieties bred to flourish in particular regions and in organically cultivated (aka ‘biotically alive’) soils, and bred to make good whole grain versus white, breads. The way in which local artisans, successful chefs and millers and farmers can come together on this – even if only via an occasional conference – is a new wave in wheat growing and bread baking development, and I hope it succeeds. At the very least, it’s a refreshing example of a time-honoured battle-cry:

IIEGITIMI NON CARBORUNDUM !!

(don’t let the bastards get you down!)

I wish more farmers here in Cape Breton could grow such stuff, but because of the dominance of agribusiness these days, not a single farmer on the island even grows conventional bread grains. I wish the regional Agricultural College and the Department of Agriculture were more involved in this sort of thing, but of course they mainly promote an agri-business approach to farming even if they might say, and sincerely believe, they don’t. What choice do they have? Rural communities and small farm holdings are a thing of the past; rural populations are dying out throughout the developed west with literally hundreds of villages in food-friendly France virtually empty (one occupant surrounded by thirty empty houses is quite common). Presumably, we are all supposed to move into the city and work at call centers shuffling data around. Heavy manufacturing and farm work is done by low-wage coolies in China and, no doubt in a few decades, Africa.

Anyway, these articles give me hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be a place for local and regional artisanal approaches to food and culture and more alternatives to Big Box culture in general.

Related Mother Jones articles series:

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/10/radical-chefs-launch-seed-revolution

Oct 4 2013: “I’m fairly confident when I say that last week at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture—a sprawling farm/restaurant nestled in a rural corner of Westchester County, New York, on land donated by the Rockefeller family—I witnessed the globe’s first-ever meeting between a roster of renowned chefs and a set of utterly obscure, highly accomplished plant breeders, mostly from US land grant universities.”

Top chefs from around the world meet to consider ways to work on developing more diverse, nutritious and flavourful locally grown plant varieties; new wheats developed to make pleasing whole grain loaves play big role in demonstration.

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/05/organic-vs-conventional-agriculture-nature

May 2 2012: “Like a good buffet, Nature‘s recent meta-analysis comparing the productivity of industrial and organic agriculture offered something for every taste.

For enthusiasts of large-scale, chemical-intensive agriculture, there was this headline finding: Yields on organic farming—the amount of crop produced per acre—are on average 25 percent lower than those of industrial farming.”

The article then goes on to argue that it ain’t that simple – at all….

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/06/vilsack-usda-big-ag

June 15 2011: the distortions and lies Big-Ag tell themselves and moreover try to force onto the rest of the world.

http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2007/07/organic-farming-can-feed-world

July 11 2007. The effectiveness of well-administered organic farming is old news: “Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land. A new study from the University of Michigan refutes the long-standing assumption that organic farming methods can’t produce enough food to feed the global population. The researchers found that yields in developed countries were almost equal between organic and conventional farms, while food production in developing countries could double or triple by going organic. The study also found that equal or greater yields could be accomplished using existing quantities of organic fertilizers, and without putting more farmland into production. Ivette Perfecto, of U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, said the idea that people would go hungry if farming went organic is ridiculous. “Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies—all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food,” she said. JULIA WHITTY” {That’s the complete article, btw}

I will try to find links to the new RSI (?) methods in Asia which have been winning yield prizes in rice for several years now and are organic and use only self-made fertilizers, i.e. No need for corporation-supplied ‘inputs’ or subsidies or GM tyranny – the farmer can be master of his fate again.

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/08/green-revolution-cullather

Aug 5 2011: “In 1968, India’s farmers cranked out a record-setting wheat crop at a time when many observers feared the nation would plunge into famine. That triumphant harvest represented the culmination of decades of work by a group of foundation-funded US technocrats. Their effort, which became known as the “green revolution,” still casts an imposing shadow more than four decades later.

Its technological architect, the Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, was all but beatified upon his death in 2009. In its obituary, Reason Magazine proclaimed him “the man who saved more human lives than anyone else in history,” while The New York Times wrote that he “did more than anyone else in the 20th century to teach the world to feed itself.”

Meanwhile, the powerhouse funding institution most associated with the Green Revolution, the Rockefeller Foundation, has joined forces with today’s richest funder, the Gates Foundation, to recreate Borlaug’s magic in Africa. Their “Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa” push got a de facto endorsement from President Obama when he tapped Gates’ chief ag-development man, Rajiv Shah, for a top research job at USDA. Today, Shah serves as director of United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Thus the “green revolution” idea still percolates in high-level development policy circles. But if our top foundations and development policymakers are pushing to recreate the green revolution for an entire continent, than it’s worth figuring out precisely what led up to that famous bumper crop nearly half a century ago—and what it means for the future. In his 2010 book The Hungry World, the University of Indiana historian Nick Cullather does just that.”

Sure enough, the real story is quite different. Again and again in so many fields (journalism, medicine, education, politics, food, you name it) there is a revealing pattern of greed and outright deception. It is time we collectively stop buying and eating the BS they keep shovelling down our throats and psyches.

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