Geopolitics again

http://naturalsociety.com/theyre-not-telling-monsantos-role-ukraine/

This blog is largely not being updated any more, mainly because I don’t feel there is much to say. The battle lines have been drawn for many years: a world that promotes sanity and goodness based on bedrock human feeling, or one that is increasingly dominated by financial spreadsheets and bizarre technological shortcuts which devise way to control supply and production in order to maximise profits by basing things on patented or otherwise exclusive methods. In so doing, the latter sort of destroys the basis of its own existence, simple things like clean air and water, beautiful wild and cultivated vegetation and animal life, healthy good-hearted family lives and so forth.

You either get it or you don’t.

You either keep believing most of the compromised crap being promulgated in terms of fake food, or pseudo-organic products, terrorist threats, the stupidity of those into organic food, those skeptical of hysterical warnings of climate change – which conveniently ignores the horrific degree to which our bad agricultural and corporate practices are raping and ruining our world – are ridiculed, just like those who don’t reflexively wave the flag as government after government pass laws edging us into full state control and virtual tyranny, crappy entertainment with stupid plots and characters devoid of most norms of decency, norms, intelligence, good heart and so forth.

You either get it by now, or probably you never will.

Meanwhile, they want to take historically the bread basket of Europe and in a few short years chemialize the soil, ruining it for generations to come and calling it all ‘free market progress’ without pointing out that this always comes with a terrible price for the local people involved. Ask the farmers in Iraq whose thousands-of-years based seed stocks were destroyed after our invasion and have almost lost the ability to feed themselves without first paying our central banks and international corporations.

Meanwhile ordinary human goodness persists, although mainly in the hearts and minds of ordinary good people everywhere, the vast majority amongst us, who struggle to maintain personal and spiritual viability in the midst of this tremendous onslaught. In the end we will ‘win’ because such aspirations and motivations are based on bedrock decency in line with the fundamentally good nature of life and our world. But meanwhile, many bad things will continue to unfold, whilst far too many of us burst into laughter at the canned jokes provided by shallow sit-coms on the goggle box.

 

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Eco-Villages

Global EcoVillage Network

Baltic EcoVillage Network

EcoVillageRoad.eu – an EU-govt-aided initiative

Some manuals written by the Baltic EcoVillagers about their experiences, methods (energy conservation/technology, farming, construction etc.)

About the project

Project “Ecovillages for sustainable rural development”

Idea
Nowadays people start thinking about changing their living habits towards being more socially, economically and ecologically responsible. One of the possible ways to do this is proposed by Ecovillage movement. Ecovillage principles aim to combine social–cultural environment with a low–impact way of living. Choosing to live in the ecovillage is choosing an alternative way to the individualistic, materialistic and consumer-oriented lifestyle.

Aim
Project aims at fostering ecovillages development as more sustainable way of living in rural areas of the Baltic Sea Region

Duration and budget
Project is implemented from 2010 to 2013. It is working under “Baltic Sea Region programme 2007-2013” and has total budget of 1.333.426 EUR, funded by European Union as well as contributed by project partners.

Main outputs
• 3 manuals based on case studies, covering guidelines for:
– Eco-settling practices;
– Environmentally – friendly technologies;
– Community living and social development in ecovillages.
• An ecovillage socio-economic sustainability assessment on-line tool;
• Recommendations for decision makers concerning ecovillages proper development;
• Ecovillage road for the Baltic Sea Region including ecovillages which are ready to introduce tourists into ecovillage life as well as pursue internship programs.

Partnership
5 partners from different Baltic Sea Region countries are implementing the project. Project also has 10 associated partners.

Lead partner
Lithuanian Institute of Agrarian Economics, www.laei.lt

Project partners
MTT Agrifood Research Finland, www.mtt.fi
Latvian State Institute of Agrarian Economics, www.lvaei.lv
The West Pomeranian Business School, www.zpsb.szczecin.pl
Suderbyn cooperative society, www.suderbyn.se

Associated project partners
ZEGG , www.zegg.de
GEN Europe, www.gen-europe.org
GEN Finland, www.rihmasto.fi/skey
Centre for Independent Social Research, www.cisr.u
St.Petersburg Forest Technical Academy, www.ftacademy.ru
Permaculture in Sweden, www.permaculture.se
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, www.slu.se
Ekoboforeningen Njord, www.ekobogotland.se
Ecohome, www.ecohome-ngo.by
Council of the Baltic Sea States, CBSS Baltic 21 Unit, www.cbss.lt

Ash Comments:  I am currently mulling over ideas around the notion of what I am now calling ‘Village Farms.’ There are single-family farms, small scale farms, agribusiness farms. This idea is simple: a working farm or farms around which are developed a residential population, varied in age and livelihood, which both enjoys living in a rural, farm atmosphere and also supports the farm operation by purchasing its produce, helping at harvest times, and some of them have independent secondary production operations (like cheese-making, bakery etc.), whilst many do not do farm-related work at all, rather are doctors, lawyers, consultants, drive to work at nearby town or whatever. There could also be financial anchors such as a retirement home which has both residents on fixed income and also hires staff from the village and elsewhere.

Rather than being organised mainly around a philosophy or political cause (environmentalism, a particular religion etc.) this idea is very simple and secular: it is simply a population clustered around a working farm operation. In this way, it is hoped that more people can make a go of it in rural areas, which is not currently the case due to an almost complete abnegation of rural society by current governments throughout the developed world, who have basically ceded the most important policy decisions (how we live, our economic system etc.) to multinational corporations who in turn have foisted agribusiness on all of us using corporate ‘supermarket’ distribution points (aka ‘Big Box Store model’) which drive out local operations and turn small towns everywhere into dying wastelands which young people can’t wait to leave, meaning there is no generational continuity and therefore really only 3 classes: the chronically poor and usually unemployed; the employed but really just working to afford a basic lifestyle and with no generational continuityin terms of place or family fortune; the rich, many of whom also have no continuity, but some of whom – the super-rich – do. It’s not a very advanced system, unless if you count the raw numbers involved which indeed are greater than at any time in known history.

I am thinking of trying to mount a web-based drive to raise money to make in-depth studies of the bad effects of the Big Box model, but more importantly to analyse various hierarchical/organisational models for such a village, finding success and failure examples in places like the EcoVillage initiative highlighted above. Also maybe raise funds via IndieGogo or other methods to pay for studies from cyber-bases analysis services to project ideal population numbers in various climate zones (how many villagers per X-sized farm), also research the legal and funding issues, and also maybe come up with a plan to start 5 model Village Farms in Cape Breton, which plan including

a) how to fund them

b) how to organise them both in terms of project development and subsequent actual ongoing living management

c) how to actualize them

d) how to maintain ongoing interest and networks so that lessons are learned and more such Village Farms can be facilitated – if they prove worthy – in a wide range of terrain and jurisdictions throughout the world.

Ambitious? Yes, I guess. But really this is a one-step-first approach which mainly involves chewing over this idea and seeing if there is an affordable way to come up with a plan for how to go forward with 1-5 Village Farms on Cape Breton Island. That hardly qualifies as hugely ambitious.

A correlated idea is to launch a global ‘Think Tank for the 99%’, i.e. a cyber-funded Think Tank that tackles issues like this Village Farm example, both in terms of funding but also in terms of participation, in that they vote with their dollars as to what to study next. There could be many other topics (Common Law, organic farming methods in colder climates, various small business model templates to help people with start-ups, a research operation that takes peoples business ideas and spits out a comprehensive business plan for them (often the main stumbling block for startups) along with a funding initiative from within the 99% Think Tank community). Now this is ambitous and probably too hard to put into practice, but with all the automation possible nowadays, who knows. If I have time and ongoing interest, would like to look into this sort of thing further if for no other reason than the market numbers have been falling of late in Sydney (both during but also before the bad weather) and it is getting harder and harder to survive here in this situation with deteriorating economy and declining population. A recent Commission reported that this sort of thing is probably going to happen throughout Nova Scotia (not just the rural areas as has been the case for decades, and with urban Sydney the past 20 years), in which case things are going to get tough. And since the Commission did not look favourably on small business inititiatives (if I understood the 120 page report recommendations correctly), rather big business solutions (chiding us for not being Big Business friendly), and since big business has no real reason for being here really, I am not holding my breath that they will do anything substantive.

There is a chance they will allow the Ports Sydney PanamaxPlus container initiative to go forward, but with Chinese shipments down steeply this year, it could be one of those things that gets put on hold for 5-10 years – a very short time globally, but a long time for a local region in systemic crisis.

Meanwhile, although I have no doubt that it will never happen, also I have no doubt that if it did many of the world’s problems today would be solved by: simply banning agribusiness operations and making all farms authentically organic. This would bring rural to urban population ratios back into line (with more people living on or near farms than in cities), end chronic unemployment (and bad minimum wage for corporations employment) and generally promote a saner, healthier society and culture, which in turn would naturally revive a people and economy less beholden to corporate banking and other related cartels (energy, medicine, science, education etc.). It could work, although realistically speaking as we all know, it is highly unlikely.

Still, it says something about the current state of our societies in the developed and developing world that a high probability of success initiative seems so hopelessly out of the question. Indian farmers have been fighting back. And winning yield-per-acre prizes across the board using small-scale, non-agribusiness-input methods. Hopefully more people around the world, like the ecovillagers at top of this page, will make further progress.

 

Let us hope and pray they, and we, can do so.

 

 

Global Risk Assessment of GMO’s – paper

http://www.naturalnews.com/044409_GMOs_global_ecocide_precautionary_principle.html#

The paper: http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/pp2.pdf

Excerpt: “In a new study, which is still in draft form, this professor of risk engineering from New York University uses statistical analysis to make the case that GMOs, by their very nature, will disrupt the ecosystems of this planet in ways that mankind is only just beginning to comprehend. Because they represent a systemic risk rather than a localized one — GM traits are known to spread unconstrained throughout the environment — GMOs will eventually breach the so-called “ecocide barrier,” leading to catastrophic ecosystem failure.

“There are mathematical limitations to predictability in a complex system, ‘in the wild,’ which is why focusing on the difference between local (or isolated) and systemic threats is a central aspect of our warnings,” Taleb is quoted as saying by Fool.com, noting that it’s essentially impossible to contain the inevitable spread of GMO traits far and wide.

“The [precautionary principle] is not there to make life comfortable, rather to avoid a certain class of what is called in probability and insurance ‘ruin’ problems,” write Taleb and his colleagues in their paper. “For nature, the ‘ruin’ is ecocide: an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.”

GMOs are not ‘scientific,’ and nearly every argument used in their defense is flawed

Besides using math and risk-based analysis to show that GMOs simply cannot coexist with nature as is commonly claimed — GMOs will eventually contaminate the natural world around them — Taleb also deconstructs many of the “arguments” used by GMO advocates to defend the commercial use of untested transgenic materials, including the oft-repeated lie that GMOs are no different than natural organisms.

“Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs fall squarely under [the precautionary principle]… because of their systemic risk on the system,” explains Taleb. “Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.).”

“There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another. Saying that such a product is natural misses the statistical process by which things become ‘natural.'”

Taleb also draws attention to the deceitful strategies of biotechnology companies in trying to legitimize the continued use of GMOs through fear. Claiming that famine, starvation and widespread crop failures will occur if we all fail to adopt GMOs is no different than playing Russian roulette in order to get out of poverty, claims Taleb — such an approach is hardly scientific or logically sound, and yet these and other tactics are the basis of the pro-GMO agenda.”

Ash Comment: it continues to amaze me how arrogant all these large businesses are, and also how little they seem to care for the lovely world we all live in. They are what are called ‘asuras’ in the buddhist six realm cosmology, people aspiring to be gods living a life of perfect ease, delight, unbroken happiness, stress free etc. but not being so, hence they are involved in perpetual achievement struggles, either clambering over those below in order to get to the top, or pulling down those they see as higher up, they are continuously and forever paranoid, greedy, selfish and essentially humourless – unless laughing at another’s misfortune or lack of asura skills. So although their goal is peace and stillness, their means to achieving that goal perpetually engenders the opposite – strife and stress.

GMO’s, quite simply, should be banned. Monoculture and agribusiness farming should be banned. As organised societies with governments for which ultimately we are responsible – not matter the system – we should do better at preventing this asura mentalility from dominating our cultures and ruining our beautiful world. They are heartless and do not deserve the degree of influence and control our complacent naivity has been affording them this past century or so.

Will it ever end? I keep hoping that young people all over the world will rise up and overthrow the old order we have given them. Peacefully if possible, of course, but thoroughly and without compromise. Maybe if more of us prayed for that every day, it was magically unfold.

Well, I for one will start praying every day, and maybe soon will offer such a prayer here on the blog….

Private Life of Plants

tune into the plant kingdom by watching David Attenborough’s marvellous ‘Private Life of Plants.’ Lots of loverly time-lapse pictures of which below a still screenshot.

https://archive.org/details/ThePrivateLifeOfPlants_581

Flower1I am reading some of Michael Pollan’s book, including last week ‘Botany of Desire’ in which he tries to advocate a little on the world from the point of view of the plant kingdom. The article in the New Yorker Mag. which I linked a few weeks ago is better in that regard.

But these time-lapse photos are simply amazing. The Buddhist Dzogchen masters have it aright: space and consciousness/awareness/intelligence are inseparable (as confirmed by the Quantum Crowd decades ago), albeit different forms reflect that intelligence in different ways, and intelligence should not be confused with a self or ego. But that’s not the topic of this little post, nor of this little blog!

Enjoy the Plants!

Small Scale Organic Farming is best way to feed the world

Last year on this blog I put up a page with lots of information about bokashi, a natural method of fertilization which has been widely adopted in several Asian agricultural zones, and also mentioned the new RSI (?) methods of rice and grain growing that have been winning the yield-per-acre wars. The following article links to several studies endorsed by relatively mainstream sources indicating that contrary to all the propaganda which most people have swallowed, organic farming is simply more efficient, not only more sustainable (which in itself is a long-term requisite for any sort of authentic efficiency) but higher yielding. What has to go, though, is huge monoculture fields serviced by enormous single-crop-at-a-time harvesting and other machines, and a return to a more labour-intensive and locally diverse method of managing farms.

http://naturalsociety.com/new-un-report-small-scale-organic-way-feed-world/

organic green 263x164 New UN Report: Small Scale Organic is the Only Way to Feed the World

We are all aware at this point that we need to transform the way we think about farming. Our food system is broken, and the same paradigm that created its systemic problems will not fix them. According to a new publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), small scale, organic farming can create strong local food systems – the only viable, sustainable way to feed the word.

Sixty experts from around the world weighed in on the problem in Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, which includes a commentary from IATP. Within its pages were a detailed look at more sustainable agriculture, better research, re-allocation of land use, reform of global trade rules and climate change.

The report calls for ‘ecological intensification,’ or a shift from conventional mono-culture planting to independent, small-scale production and permaculture, which can create a mosaic of sustainable regenerative systems which can feed all of us.

In an article previously featured at Natural Society, Russians Prove Small Scale Organic CAN Feed the World, this suggestion by the UN has already been put into place. Small scale gardens and farms helped feed Russia even through a collapsing economy. Many of the key indicators in the report are the types of transformative action agriculture has already undergone in places like this small town in the UK, and despite government agencies forcing people to dig up their well-established organic gardens grown on their own properties.

The UNCTAD report the following as needs to transform our food supply:

  • Increase soil carbon content and better integration between crop and livestock production
  • Increase incorporation of agroforestry and wild vegetation
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions of livestock production
  • Reduce GHGs through sustainable peatland, forest, and grassland management
  • Optimize organic and inorganic fertilizer use, including through closed nutrient cycles in agriculture
  • Reduce waste throughout food chains
  • Change dietary patterns toward climate-friendly food consumption
  • Reform the international trade regime for food and agriculture

Notice that nowhere in the report does it suggest the reduction of herbicide and pesticides or GMO foods. Instead, while offering some sound advice, it also focuses on trade negotiations with the WTO and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While these agreements undermined locally-based food trade, and they should be reconsidered, it does not address the support of Big Ag instead of the local farmer – in the US and elsewhere.

Fortunately, the report does not support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is really just another way to monopolize the food supply like Monsanto’s attempt to monopolize seed.

Another report issued in 2007 by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) with a similar list of international experts came to similar conclusions. The report stated that ‘business as usual was not an option,’ and policy transformation must take place ‘before it is too late.’

Blast from the Past – Graham on Bread

http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0203cat/020321.graham.bread.htm

”  But while the people of our country are so entirely given up as they are at present, to gross and promiscuous feeding on the dead carcasses of animals, and to the untiring pursuits of wealth, it is perhaps wholly in vain for a single individual to raise his voice on a subject of this kind. The farmer will continue to be most eager to increase the number of his acres, and to extort from those acres the greatest amount of produce, with the least expense of tillage, and with little or no regard to the quality of that produce in relation to the physiological interests of man; while the people generally, are contented to gratify their depraved appetites on whatever comes before them, without pausing to inquire whether their indulgences are adapted to preserve or to destroy their health and life. Yet if some one does not raise a voice upon this subject which shall be heard and heeded, there will soon reach us, as a nation, a voice of calamity which we shall not be able to shut our ears against, albeit we may in the perverseness of our sensualism, incorrigibly persist in disregarding its admonitions, till the deep chastisements of outraged nature shall reach the very “bone and marrow” of the human constitution, and fill our land with such a living rottenness, as now in some other portions of the earth, renders human society odious and abominable.” …

(Boy, he sure called that one right!)

From the Chapter ‘Laws of Diet’

“Again, if man were to subsist entirely on food in a natural state, he would never suffer from concentrated aliment. Every substance in nature which God has prepared for the food of man, consists of both nutritious and innutritious matter. The proportions vary in different kinds of food. Thus in a hundred pounds of potatoes, there are about twenty-five pounds of nourishing matter; while in a hundred pounds of good wheat there are about eighty pounds of nourishing matter. There are a few products of the vegetable kingdom which are still higher in the scale of nutriment, than wheat; and on the other hand there is a boundless variety ranging below wheat, extending down to three or four per cent. of nourishment. But nature, without the aid of human art, produces nothing for the alimentary use of man which is purely a concentrated nutrient substance. And God has constructed man in strict accordance with this general economy of nature. He has organized and endowed the human body with reference to the condition and qualities of those substances in nature, which He designed for the food of man. And consequently, while man obeys the laws of constitution and relation which should govern him in regard to his food, he preserves the health and integrity of his alimentary organs, and through them of his whole nature; and so far as his dietetic habits are concerned, secures the highest and best condition of his nature. But, if he disregards these laws, and by artificial means greatly departs from the natural adaptation of things, he inevitably brings evil on himself and on his posterity.” …

{ although many would quibble with certain factoids, in general what he is saying seems basically correct to me. In modern lingo he is simply saying: eat whole, not processed, foods. Personally, I think he is right as do increasing numbers of latter-day food gurus, versus the science-dominated ones of a few decades ago who were so blinded by their belief in the superiority of Man over Nature that whole generations of children grew up malnourished because mothers were persuaded that their chemical concoctions were better than natural breast milk. Oh what folly! And yet it continues today as we see by the miles of processed foods in shiny packages gleamingly lifelessly from supermarket shelves.)

From the Chapter “Properties of Bread”

“WHETHER our bread is of domestic manufacture or made by the public baker, that which is made of superfine flour is always far less wholesome, in any and every situation of life, than that which is made of wheaten meal which contains all the natural properties of the grain.

It is true, that when much flesh is eaten with our bread, or when bread constitutes but a very small and unimportant portion of our food, the injurious effects of superfine flour bread are not always so immediately and distinctly perceived as in other cases. Nevertheless, it is a general and invariable law of our nature, that all concentrated forms of food are unfriendly to the physiological or vital interests of our bodies.

A very large proportion of all the diseases and ailments in civic life, are originated by causes which are introduced into the alimentary canal as articles of diet; and disturbance and derangement of function—obstructions, debility and irritations, are among the most important elements of those diseases.” …

{now he starts to get nasty! :}

“But the testimony in favor of coarse wheaten bread as an important article in the food of man, is by no means limited to our own country nor to modern times.

In all probability, as we have already seen, the first generations of our species, who became acquainted with the art of making bread, continued for many centuries to employ all the substance of the grain, which they coarsely mashed in their rude mortars or mills. And even since mankind began, by artificial means, to separate the bran from the flour, and to make bread from the latter, the more close and discerning observers among physicians and philanthropists, have perceived and asserted, that bread made of fine flour is decidedly less wholesome than that made of the unbolted wheat meal.

Hippocrates, styled the father of medicine, who flourished more than two thousand years ago, and who depended far more on a correct diet and general regimen, both for the prevention and removal of disease, than he did on medicine, particularly commended the unbolted wheat meal bread, “for its salutary effects upon the bowels.” It was a fact well understood by the ancients, that this bread was much more conducive to the general health and vigor of their bodies, and every way better adapted to nourish and sustain them than that made of the fine flour. And accordingly, their wrestlers and others who were trained for great bodily power, “ate only the coarse wheaten bread, to preserve them in their strength of limbs.” The Spartans were famous for this kind of bread; and we learn from Pliny that the Romans, as a nation, at that period of their history when they were the most remarkable for bodily vigor and personal prowess and achievement, knew no other bread for three hundred years. The warlike and powerful nations which overran the Roman Empire, and finally spread over the greater part of Europe, used no other kind of bread than that which was made of the whole substance of the grain; and from the fall of the Roman Empire to the present day. a large proportion of the inhabitants of all Europe and the greater part of Asia, have rarely used any other kind of bread.

“If you set any value on health, and have a mind to preserve nature,”—said Thomas Tryon, student in physic, in his “Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness,” published in London, in the latter part of the fifteenth century,—”you must not separate the finest from the coarsest flour; because that which is fine is naturally of an obstructive and stopping quality; but, on the contrary, the other, which is coarse, is of a cleansing and opening nature, therefore the bread is best which is made of both together. It is more wholesome, easier of digestion, and more strengthening than bread made of the finest flour. It must be confessed, that the nutrimentive quality is contained in the fine flour; yet, in the branny part is contained the opening and digestive quality; and there is as great a necessity for the one as the other, for the support of health: that which is accounted the worst is as good and beneficial to nature as the best; for when the finest flour is separated from the coarsest and branny parts, neither the one nor the other has the true operations of the wheat meal. The eating of fine bread, therefore, is inimical to health, and contrary both to nature and reason; and was at first invented to gratify wanton and luxurious persons, who are ignorant both of themselves, and the true virtue and efficacy of natural things.” ” …

{But now we get to the part I created this post for, an extended dietary experiment carried out on over 80,000 people (soldiers) for several years and which changed the diet of the entire country, so obvious and remarkable were the results of a switch from mainly white to whole grain dark breads due to the exigencies of war-time supply logistics.}

“”During the war between England and France, near the close of the last century,” says Mr. Samuel Prior, a respectable merchant of Salem, New Jersey—”the crops of grain, and particularly wheat, were very small in England, and the supplies from Dantzic, the Netherlands and Sweden being cut off by the French army, and also the usual supplies from America failing, there was a very great scarcity of wheat in England. The British army was then very extensive, and it was exceedingly difficult to procure provisions for it, both at home and abroad—on land and sea. Such was the demand for the foreign army, and such the deficiency of crops at home and supplies from abroad, that serious fears were entertained that the army would suffer, and that the continental enterprise of the British government would be defeated in consequence of the scarcity of provisions; and every prudential measure by which such a disastrous event could be prevented, was carefully considered and proposed. William Pitt was then prime minister of state, and at his instance, government recommended to the people generally throughout Great Britain, to substitute potatoes and rice as far as possible, for bread, in order to save the wheat for the foreign army. This recommendation was promptly complied with by many of the people. But still the scarcity was alarmingly great. In this emergency, parliament passed a law (to take effect for two years) that the army at home should be supplied with bread made of unbolted wheat meal, solely for the purpose of making the wheat go as far as possible, and thus saving as much as they could from the home consumption, for the better supply of the army on the continent.

“Eighty thousand men were quartered in barracks in the counties of Essex and Suffolk. A great many were also quartered throughout the towns, at taverns, in squads of thirty or forty in a place. Throughout the whole of Great Britain, the soldiers were supplied with this coarse bread. It was deposited in the storerooms with the other provisions of the army; and on the day that it was baked, and at nine o’clock the next morning, was distributed to the soldiers—who were at first exceedingly displeased with the bread, and refused to eat it, often casting it from them with great rage, and violent execrations. But after two or three weeks they began to be much pleased with it, and preferred it to the fine flour bread.

   “My father,” continues Mr. P., “whom I have often heard talk these things over, was a miller and a baker, and resided in the county of Essex, on the border joining Suffolk, and near the barracks containing the eighty thousand soldiers. He contracted with government, to supply the eastern district of the county of Essex, with the kind of bread I have mentioned: and he used always to send me with it to the depositories on the day it was baked: and though I was then a youth, I can still very distinctly remember the angry looks and remarks of the soldiers, when they were first supplied with it. Indeed they often threw their loaves at me as I passed along, and accompanied them with a volley of curses. The result of this experiment was, that not only the wheat was made to go much farther, but the health of the soldiers improved so much and so manifestly, in the course of a few months, that it became a matter of common remark among themselves, and of observation and surprise among the officers and physicians of the army. These gentlemen at length came out with confidence and zeal on the subject, and publicly declared that the soldiers were never before so healthy and robust; and that disease of every kind had almost entirely disappeared from the army. The public papers, were for months filled with recommendations of this bread, and the civic physicians almost universally throughout Great Britain, pronounced it far the most healthy bread that could be eaten, and as such, recommended it to all the people, who very extensively followed the advice:—and the coarse wheaten bread was very generally introduced into families—female boarding schools, and indeed all public institutions. The nobility also generally used it; and in fact, in many towns, it was a rare thing to meet with a piece of fine flour bread. The physicians generally asserted that this wheaten bread was the very best thing that could be taken into the human stomach, to promote digestion and peristaltic action; and that it, more than anything else, would assist the stomach in digesting other things which were less easily digested, and therefore they recommend that a portion of it should be eaten at every meal with other food.

“Still, after this extensive experiment had been made with such happy results, and after so general and full a testimony had been given in favor of the coarse wheaten bread, when large supplies of superfine flour came in from America, and the crops at home were abundant, and the act of parliament in relation to the army became extinct, most of the people who had before been accustomed to the use of fine flour bread, now by degrees returned again to their old habits of eating fine bread. Many of the nobility, however, continued to use the coarse bread for a number of years afterwards. General Hanoward, Squire Western, Squire Hanbury and others living near my father’s, continued to use the bread for a long time, and some of them still used it when I left home and came to America, in 1816.”

The testimony of sea captains and old whalemen is equally in favor of wheaten bread. “I have always found,” said a very intelligent sea captain of more than thirty years’ experience, “that the coarser my ship bread, the healthier my crew is.” ”

VOILA! Whole grain is better. Case closed in 1837! (I have read that after the King of England took up this whole grain bread he was nicknamed ‘Brown George’.)

About Graham:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvester_Graham

“Grahamites, as Graham’s followers were called, accepted the teaching of their mentor with regard to all aspects of lifestyle.[3] As such, they practiced abstinence from alcohol, frequent bathing, daily brushing of teeth, vegetarianism, and a generally sparse lifestyle. Graham also was an advocate of sexual abstinence, especially from masturbation, which he regarded as an evil that inevitably led to insanity. He felt that all excitement was unhealthful, and spices were among the prohibited ingredients in his diet. As a result his dietary recommendations were inevitably bland, which led to the Grahamites consuming large quantities of graham crackers, Graham’s own invention. White bread was strongly condemned by Graham and his followers, however, as being essentially devoid of nutrition, a claim echoed by nutritionists ever since. Some Grahamites lost faith when their mentor died at the age of fifty-seven. Other than the crackers, the Grahamites’ major contribution to American culture was probably their insistence on frequent bathing. However, Graham’s doctrines found later followers in the persons of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg. Their invention of corn flakes was a logical extension of the Grahamite approach to nutrition.”

Given how young he died, perhaps we should take his recommendations with a grain of salt (and a cracker!), but I find the story of the soldiers in the war quite interesting, to say the least, and assuming it is true, then it provides fairly convincing evidence that whole grain breads are good for you.

Of course, then we get into issues pertaining to methods of preparation and type of grains used (their grains were no doubt different from ours, albeit supposedly the Red Fife I use came from 1850’s stock, i.e. less than a couple of decades after this piece was written).

For those interested, more from the book, now on yeast:

The next thing indispensably necessary to the making of good bread, is good lively sweet yeast, or leaven, to produce what is called the panary, or more properly, the vinous fermentation of the saccharine matter, or sugar.

Some bread-makers will do best with one kind of yeast or leaven, and some with another. I have generally found that people do best with those materials to which they have been most accustomed; but I am sorry to find so general a dependence on breweries for yeast. To say nothing of the impure and poisonous substances which brewers employ in the manufacture of beer, and which always affect the quality of their yeast, I am confident that domestic yeast can he made of a far superior quality. However light and good in other respects that bread may be which is made with brewers yeast, I have rarely if ever seen any in which I could not at once detect the disagreeable properties of the yeast.

There are various ways of making domestic yeast. One of the simplest, and perhaps the best, is the following, which was communicated to me by one of the best bread-makers I ever saw:

“Put into one gallon of water a double handful of hops;—boil them fifteen or twenty minutes, then strain off the water while it is scalding hot;—stir in wheat flour or meal till it becomes a thick batter, so that it will hardly pour;—let it stand till it becomes about blood warm, then add a pint of good lively yeast, and stir it well; and then let it stand in a place where it will be kept at a temperature of about 70° F. till it becomes perfectly light, whether more or less time is required; and then it is fit for use;—or if it is desired to keep a portion of it, let it stand several hours and become cool; and then put it into a clean jug and cork it tight, and place it in the cellar where it will keep cool; and it may be preserved good, ten or twelve days, and even longer.”

Another way by which yeast when thus made may be preserved much longer, and perhaps more conveniently, is, to take it when it has become perfectly light, and stir in good indian meal until it becomes a hard dough: then take this dough and make it into small thin cakes, and dry them perfectly, without baking or cooking them at all. These cakes, if kept perfectly dry, will be good for several weeks and even months.

When yeast is needed, take some of these cakes (more or less according to the quantity of bread desired) and break them fine and dissolve them in warm water, and then stir in some wheat flour till a batter is formed, which should be kept at a temperature of about 60° F. till the yeast becomes light and lively, and fitted for making bread.

Others, in making this yeast, originally put into the water with the hops, a double handful of good clean wheat bran, and boil them up together and strain off the water as above described: others again, boil up a quantity of wheat bran without the hops, and make their yeast in all other respects as above described.

The milk yeast is greatly preferred by many; and when it is well managed, it certainly makes very handsome bread. The way of making it is simple. Take a quart of milk fresh from the cow, (more or less according to the quantity of bread desired,)—a little salt is generally added, and some add about half a pint of water blood warm, but this is not essential;—then stir wheat flour or meal into the milk till it forms a moderately thick batter; and then cover it over, and place it where it will remain at a temperature of from 60° to 70° F. till it becomes perfectly light. It should then be used immediately: and let it be remembered that dough made with this yeast will sour sooner than that made with other yeast; and also that the bread after it is baked will become extremely dry and crumbly much sooner than bread made with other yeast. Yet this bread, when a day old, is exceedingly light and beautiful: albeit some dislike the animal smell and taste which it derives from the milk.

In all these preparations of yeast and dough, it should ever be recollected that “the process of fermentation cannot go on when the temperature is below 30° F., that it proceeds quite slowly at 50°, moderately at 60°, rapidly at 70°, and very rapidly at 80°.”

If, therefore, it is desired to have the yeast or dough stand several hours before it is used or baked, it should be kept at a temperature of about 50°. But in the ordinary way of making bread, a temperature varying from 60° to 70°, or about summer heat, is perhaps as near right as it can well be made.

Prof. Thomson gives the following directions for making yeast in large quantities:—”Add ten pounds of flour to two gallons of boiling water;—stir it well into a paste, let this mixture stand for seven hours, and then add about a quart of good yeast. In about six or eight hours, this mixture, if kept in a warm place, will have fermented and produced as much yeast as will make 120 quartern loaves” (of 4 lbs. each.)

A much smaller quantity can be made by observing due proportions of the ingredients.

To raise bread in a very short time without yeast, Prof. Thomson gives the following recipe:

“Dissolve in water 2 ounces, 5 drams and 45 grains of common crystallized carbonate of soda, and mix the solution well with your dough, and then add 7 ounces, 2 drams and 22 grains of muriatic acid of the specific gravity of 1,121, and knead it as rapidly as possible with your dough;—it will rise immediately—fully as much, if not more than dough mixed with yeast—and when baked, will be a very light and excellent bread.” Smaller quantities would be required for small batches of bread.

A tea-spoonful or more (according to the quantity of dough or batter) of super-carbonate of soda dissolved in water, and flour stirred in till it becomes a batter, and then an equal quantity of tartaric acid dissolved and stirred in thoroughly, will in a few minutes make very light batter for griddle or pancakes; or if it be mixed into a thick dough, it will make light bread.

Good lively yeast, however, makes better bread than these alkalies and acids: howbeit these are very convenient in emergencies, when bread or cakes must be prepared in a very short time; or when the yeast has proved inefficient.

We see then that wheat meal consists of certain proportions of starch, gluten, sugar, bran, &c.; and that in making loaf bread, we add yeast or leaven, in order to produce that kind of fermentation peculiar to saccharine matter or sugar, which is called vinous, and by which the gas or air is formed that raises the dough. But the sugar is an incorporate part of every particle of the meal, and is therefore equally diffused throughout the whole mass; and hence if we would make the very best loaf bread, the fermentive principle or yeast must also be equally diffused throughout the whole mass, so that a suitable portion of yeast will be brought to act at the same time on every particle of saccharine matter in the mass.

But let us endeavor to understand this process of fermentation. To speak in the language of chemistry, sugar is composed of certain proportions of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The yeast, acting on the sugar, overcomes those affinities by which these substances are held in the constitutional arrangement of sugar, and the process of decay or decomposition of the sugar takes place, which is called vinous fermentation. By this process of decay, two other forms of matter are produced, of an essentially different nature from each other and from the sugar. One of them is called carbonic acid gas or air, being formed by a chemical combination of certain proportions of carbon and oxygen. The other is known by the name of alcohol, and consists of a chemical combination of certain proportions of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Carbonic acid gas is also produced by animal respiration or breathing, by the combustion of wood, coal, &c. &c. and in other ways of nature and of art: but neither in nature nor in art is there any known way by which alcohol can be produced, except by that process of the decay or destruction of sugar called vinous fermentation.

The carbonic acid gas, produced in the manner I have stated, is the air which inflates or puffs up and swells out the bread, when there is sufficient gluten or other cohesive matter in the dough to prevent its escape.

If the dough be permitted to stand too long in a warm place, the fermentation, having destroyed most or all of the sugar, will begin to act on the starch and mucilage, and destroy their nature, and produce vinegar; and therefore this stage of it is called the acetous fermentation: and if it still be permitted to go on, it will next commence its work of destruction on the gluten; and this is called the putrefactive fermentation, because it in many respects resembles the putrefaction of animal matter.

The vinous fermentation, therefore, by which the dough is raised and made light, may be carried to all necessary extent, and still be limited in its action to the saccharine matter or sugar—leaving the starch and gluten, and other properties of the meal, uninjured; and this is the point at which the fermentation should be arrested by the heat that bakes the dough. If it be permitted to go beyond the sugar, and act on the mucilage and starch, and produce acidity, the excellence of the bread is in some degree irreparably destroyed. The acid may be neutralized by pearlash or soda, so that the bread shall not be sour; but still, something of the natural flavor of the bread is gone, and it is not possible by any earthly means to restore it; and this injury will always be in proportion to the extent to which the process of the acetous fermentation is permitted to go in destroying the nature of the starch, and the bread will be proportionably destitute of that natural sweetness and delicious richness essential to good bread. Yet it is almost universally true, both in public and domestic bread-making, that the acetous fermentation is allowed to take place; and saleratus, or soda, or some other chemical agent is employed to neutralize the acid. By this means we may have bread free from acidity, it is true, but it is also destitute of the best and most delicious properties of good bread; and generally, by the time it is twenty-four hours old—and this is particularly true of bakers’ bread—it is as dry and tasteless and unsavory as if it were made of plaster of Paris.”

Comment: he says quite a lot here, much more than is usually mentioned in modern bread books. Later on (not included) he goes into how bad it is to have bread that is too sour etc., but his critique about over-fermentation is well taken. That said, he doesn’t appreciate the alimentary benefits of fermentation sufficiently (imo). In the last sentence though, he basically nails it in terms of what can most easily be observed, namely the keeping quality of a properly made loaf: sourdough breads simply last longer, retaining moisture, aroma and taste far better than yeast breads which tend to dry out and become tasteless within a day or so of baking. Barring obvious over-fermentation, that in itself is a sign of a properly made bread. For those of us using rye starters (such as myself), even when the timing and duration is perfect, there will be more sourness in the finished bread because of the nature of rye fermentation.

Speculation about gluten issues raised by this reading: I find it quite plausible to speculate that perhaps the problem with gluten stems from having consumed too many processed foods, not enough plant foods and moreover in all categories not enough natural fibre (which is in plant foods). (His point about the potatoes.) The fibre helps the alimentary canal process food both initially and as it gets broken down into an ever more liquid soup. Without the fibre, perhaps everything is turning into a sludge which doesn’t move down the bowels well, accumulates and ferments and rots and causes inflammation and so on. Perhaps. So perhaps those with gluten issues should get into eating far more fresh roughage – carrots, celery, cabbage and so forth, and then maybe – just maybe! – try a fresh-ground whole grain rye or spelt loaf and see how it sits. I have quite a few customers who swear by these loaves and who otherwise can’t handle bread at all.

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.

Sailing & Baking

My current fantasy during the slow months during which I lament lack of customer demand, review the annual disaster sometimes called a ‘financial statement’ or, more optimistically, a ‘budget’, and dream of better days is as follows:

During the warm months when such things are possible, I’ll bake double the usual amount (which is pretty much exactly the maximum capacity of my small commercial brick oven and which I expected to be selling every week a couple of years ago but which has never happened due to lack of demand), sell half (or as much as I can!) at my main Sydney Farmers’ Market, and then on Sunday, after a good long sleep Saturday night, will load up the remaining half (more or less) of the Bake onto my new 45′ flat-bottomed gaff-rigged Sharpie yawl which will be anchored (hopefully!) in Gabarus Bay about 12 km from where I live, and then sail down boat and bread to Louisburg Harbour (about 10 nautical miles away or 1-2 hours as the boat sails wind depending) and then sell my bread there on the public wharf.

Oh what fun that will be! Oh, how romantic! (Though the hard-bitten cynical side of me suspects/expects that nobody will be interested and I’ll be lucky to sell 20 loaves! We’ll see. IF the boat makes it up here this spring from Chesapeake Bay 2000 km away (yes, am looking for experienced, cheerful crew!), I’ll be trying it out. I won’t divulge here how much I paid for her, but put it this way: less than one would usually pay for the dinghy that comes with her, and considerably less than the canvas for the mainsail alone. In short, a real bargain (appropriate for a humble brick oven baker on Cape Breton Island), albeit the catch is: she’s all the way over on the Chesapeake!! Still, one of the virtues of a sailboat is: if you sail her (and not motor her), she costs very little per mile, albeit she does need time for her journeys. But then that’s why I like sailing: it makes you take your time so that you can enjoy simply being somewhere in a natural setting. So a journey of 2000 km would mean 2-3 weeks of taking one’s time to journey simply and responsibly, but also beautifully, day by day on the Ocean. My ancestors sailed over from England to Plymouth, Mass in the 1600’s on the Mayflower. I look forward to sailing back over some of the waters they crossed so long ago.

Meanwhile, my old friend Suzanne from Dharma Days era in my previous life as hard-core Buddhist practitioners aeons ago in the Sexy Seventies (!), sent me this link:

http://bk17bakery.com/blog/2013/11/6/vermont-sail-freight-project

Her intention is to encourage my fantasy. I hope those guys succeed, but at least they are going up and down the Hudson (which ends in a rather large city known as NEW YORK CITY, which has, I believe, a slightly larger population than Sydney, let alone Louisburg, so with any luck they will make a go of it.

First a picture of my boat though, albeit without sails up:

1 from sternActually, if I wanted to (which I don’t) I could build a brick oven into this boat, which is more than big enough at 45′ and 11′ 6′ beam, and sail around baking and selling. But I got this one to have a nice place to sleep in the summers instead of my mosquito-infested woodlot environment. Also, I love sailing. A picture of a similarly rigged yawl:

 

A Tale of Two Breads – first draft of work in progress

This is the latest of a series of 1-2 pagers I am putting together as handouts at the Farmers’ Market booth. Previous offerings including a basic Ingredient list and something about commercial yeast vs. organic yeast have been a tad lackluster. This one shows some promise…

A Tale of Two Breads

 

Bread is a tricky subject these days. On the one hand increasing numbers of people have been experiencing not only celiac but also ‘gluten intolerance’, with books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain making persuasive cases that anything containing gluten is toxic. On the other hand, you have the seeming circumstantial evidence of people having consumed gluten-containing bread for about 5,000 years as a staple part of the diet. Whole books should be written about this, but here we shall look at two core aspects involving first: the quality and type of grains used for the flour, and second: the way these grains are fermented or otherwise processed, for I believe these two aspects go a long way towards explaining why something which used to be so good (‘real bread’) has become so very, very bad (modern imitation bread). I am not saying this is the whole story necessarily, but both are key characters in our ‘Tale of Two Breads’.

 

GRAINS:

 

  • Modern wheat hybrids have been bred to accommodate post-industrial production methods which began with mechanical harvesters in the mid 1800’s shortly followed by steel-rollers at large, industrial mills, followed by mechanical mixers in ever-larger commercial bakeries which all but eliminated small artisan bakeries and communal village bake-oven traditions. (One of the first commercial applications of Watt’s steam engine was for the Albion Mill in 1786.) Desired qualities in modern hybrids include:
    • Softer husks to facilitate mechanical threshing during mechanical harvestng
    • Harder grains (= more protein = more gluten) for the steel-rolling process
    • more elastic, resilient gluten to facilitate intense mechanical mixing
    • dwarf variety plants to prevent drooping of tall stalks from heavy nitrogen inputs needed to facilitate growth in soils deadened by chemical inputs
    • grains which can tolerate heavy pesticide use needed because sick plants raised on dead soils lack normal immune systems which repel pests.
  • Heritage Grains: Heritage grains come from seed stocks prior to post-industrial hybrids, so they: are not dwarf varieties, do not have unnaturally dense gluten, are grown in microbially vibrant organic soils and thus have healthy immune systems and so do not need chemical fertilizers to survive until harvest time.
  • French Road Bakery uses the following grain from certified organic farmers provided by both Speerville NB and Meunerie Milanaise QC (from whom I get steel-rolled Red Fife white flour).
    • Wheat: mid-1800’s Red Fife or 1930’s Acadian ( Maritime variety)
    • Rye – organic, believed not a modern hybrid since no need, grows everywhere
    • Spelt – ancient variety going back to Egyptian times
    • Barley, Buckwheat, Oats* – used in smaller quantities, not sure about varieties
    • Khorasan, a heritage grain from which comes durum used for pasta

 

PROCESS

 

Recently, cutting edge (albeit far too rare) research in Italy and also from the American Gut Project (both on my blog) is indicating that most gluten and related problems are most likely due to modern agricultural and processing methods which increase profits by lowering costs by saving time, extending shelf life and underpricing locals. Machines save time during tilling, planting, watering and growing, weeding, protecting, harvesting, threshing, washing, drying, grinding, mixing, leavening, baking, packaging and shipping – not to mention questionable chemical and other additives used to prolong flour storage and finished bread ‘products’. All of the above have degraded the nutritive content and digestibility of this time-honoured staple. In the 1800’s the average person in England ate a pound a day of slow-leavened bread, a working man often more like 2.5 pounds, with similar amounts in France, Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe including Russia. And this had been the case for centuries. Indeed, the way in which bread has gone from being a healthy staple to a possible killer is testament to the failure of modern, ‘scientific’ methods as practiced by mainly commerical, profit-driven corporations.

 

Along with fresh-grinding whole grains for the dark flour content (which avoids the vitamin degradation which takes place within a few days of grinding) French Road Bakery only uses fresh starter cultures grown from the grains themselves, not the factory-produced freeze-dried single-strain commercial product used by most commercial, home and even ‘artisan’ bakers today.

 

Traditionally, there are two main types of bread: those using specialised beer yeast remainders from nearby breweries (favoured by the English), and those using ‘sourdough’ leavens which are complex starter cultures grown from the flours in the breads. With either method the dough and/or starter cultures are soaked and/or fermented overnight at room temperature or for several days in cooler cellar temperatures, during which time a multitude of marvellous enzymatic, yeasty and bacterial ‘fermentation’ phases unfold, producing layers of esters, acids, vitamins and proteins, some being released from the previously dormant, chemically bound seeds, others from the microbes themselves, the end result being that when baked – the final transformational process which gelatinizes the starch rendering it soft and digestible – the breads rise and aerate into a well-woven textural and aromatically delightful tartan, with crunchy, rich-tasting, anti-bacterial crusts without, and soft, redolent organoleptically delicious crumb within, creating what we, in typical linguistic shorthand call simply: ‘bread’.

 

 

Back to our Story

 

Well, the thing is: such traditional slow-fermented bread really isn’t the same thing as modern bread, both that which is supplied from high-volume machine-led processes in commercial ‘production facilities’, and also that produced by home bakers using commercial single-strain yeast. The same word ‘bread’ is describing two very different things. Significantly, every single anti-bread book or article I have read thus far fails to make any substantive distinction between what can be called ‘real bread’ and modern ‘imitation bread.’

 

How many times do people walk past my booth refusing a sample, telling me they don’t buy ‘bread’ any more, and how many times do I think to myself ‘good for you, that is a wise choice, but I can’t help but wonder: do you know the difference between traditiona Real Bread like mine, and the modern imitation?’ Of course, most of them are not even aware there is such a difference, especially since you can use the same word, ‘bread’ to describe two very different things. (Same goes for properly processed/fermented, vs. improperly/too rapidly processed ‘gluten’.)

 

In sum: instead of ‘bread’ as most people think and speak of it today, French Road Bakery offers traditional ‘Real Bread’, a bedrock staple of a healthy diet in the West for millenia, versus the modern imitation which has been adulterated by mechanical shortcuts and is proving increasingly unhealthy, along with so many other poorly farmed and processed foods distributed via high volume supermarket systems which have undermined locally grown and prepared fresh foods, and in so doing have fostered no end of auto-immune and other systemic health problems along with almost wiping out vibrant rural and small town community culture by eliminating so many sources of local employment. This is a problem endemic throughout the developed world these days, but maybe in Cape Breton, with our deep roots in local community culture, we can show the rest of the world a way forward. Yes:

 

You CAN fight ‘the system’!

Buy a loaf of ‘Real Bread’!

Buy local produce at your Farmers’ Market!

 

Some of my best friends are germs – Pollan again

http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/some-of-my-best-friends-are-germs/

I like this guy so much I ordered a few of his books last night. Increasingly am using the internet to find things of interest on the radar, so to speak, but if I want to drill down to any level of detail. I buy books. That said, this long magazine article is probably as good as most books.

I like the way Mr. Pollard is a truly excellent writer; you don’t have to agree with him to enjoy his crisp, colourful, and moreover very clear prose. Really a pleasure to read.

And this is a very long article, so I won’t try to summarize or anything. Just take a snippet from a part in the middle I found particularly interesting because I had a lot of dental work (and antibiotics) the past few years (no more, I had all the back teeth taken out so no more work needs to be done!).

These days Blaser is most concerned about the damage that antibiotics, even in tiny doses, are doing to the microbiome — and particularly to our immune system and weight. “Farmers have been performing a great experiment for more than 60 years,” Blaser says, “by giving subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics to their animals to make them gain weight.” Scientists aren’t sure exactly why this practice works, but the drugs may favor bacteria that are more efficient at harvesting energy from the diet. “Are we doing the same thing to our kids?” he asks. Children in the West receive, on average, between 10 and 20 courses of antibiotics before they turn 18. And those prescribed drugs aren’t the only antimicrobials finding their way to the microbiota; scientists have found antibiotic residues in meat, milk and surface water as well. Blaser is also concerned about the use of antimicrobial compounds in our diet and everyday lives — everything from chlorine washes for lettuce to hand sanitizers. “We’re using these chemicals precisely because they’re antimicrobial,” Blaser says. “And of course they do us some good. But we need to ask, what are they doing to our microbiota?” No one is questioning the value of antibiotics to civilization — they have helped us to conquer a great many infectious diseases and increased our life expectancy. But, as in any war, the war on bacteria appears to have had some unintended consequences.

One of the more striking results from the sequencing of my microbiome was the impact of a single course of antibiotics on my gut community. My dentist had put me on a course of Amoxicillin as a precaution before oral surgery. (Without prophylactic antibiotics, of course, surgery would be considerably more dangerous.) Within a week, my impressively non-Western “alpha diversity” — a measure of the microbial diversity in my gut — had plummeted and come to look very much like the American average. My (possibly) healthy levels of prevotella had also disappeared, to be replaced by a spike in bacteroides (much more common in the West) and an alarming bloom of proteobacteria, a phylum that includes a great many weedy and pathogenic characters, including E. coli and salmonella. What had appeared to be a pretty healthy, diversified gut was now raising expressions of concern among the microbiologists who looked at my data.

“Your E. coli bloom is creepy,” Ruth Ley, a Cornell University microbiologist who studies the microbiome’s role in obesity, told me. “If we put that sample in germ-free mice, I bet they’d get inflamed.” Great. Just when I was beginning to think of myself as a promising donor for a fecal transplant, now I had a gut that would make mice sick. I was relieved to learn that my gut community would eventually bounce back to something resembling its former state. Yet one recent study found that when subjects were given a second course of antibiotics, the recovery of their interior ecosystem was less complete than after the first.

Few of the scientists I interviewed had much doubt that the Western diet was altering our gut microbiome in troubling ways. Some, like Blaser, are concerned about the antimicrobials we’re ingesting with our meals; others with the sterility of processed food. Most agreed that the lack of fiber in the Western diet was deleterious to the microbiome, and still others voiced concerns about the additives in processed foods, few of which have ever been studied for their specific effects on the microbiota. According to a recent article in Nature by the Stanford microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg, “Consumption of hyperhygienic, mass-produced, highly processed and calorie-dense foods is testing how rapidly the microbiota of individuals in industrialized countries can adapt.” As our microbiome evolves to cope with the Western diet, Sonnenburg says he worries that various genes are becoming harder to find as the microbiome’s inherent biodiversity declines along with our everyday exposure to bacteria.

Catherine Lozupone in Boulder and Andrew Gewirtz, an immunologist at Georgia State University, directed my attention to the emulsifiers commonly used in many processed foods — ingredients with names like lecithin, Datem, CMC and polysorbate 80. Gewirtz’s lab has done studies in mice indicating that some of these detergentlike compounds may damage the mucosa — the protective lining of the gut wall — potentially leading to leakage and inflammation.

A growing number of medical researchers are coming around to the idea that the common denominator of many, if not most, of the chronic diseases from which we suffer today may be inflammation — a heightened and persistent immune response by the body to a real or perceived threat. Various markers for inflammation are common in people with metabolic syndrome, the complex of abnormalities that predisposes people to illnesses like cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and perhaps cancer. While health organizations differ on the exact definition of metabolic syndrome, a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 34 percent of American adults are afflicted with the condition. But is inflammation yet another symptom of metabolic syndrome, or is it perhaps the cause of it? And if it is the cause, what is its origin?

One theory is that the problem begins in the gut, with a disorder of the microbiota, specifically of the all-important epithelium that lines our digestive tract. This internal skin — the surface area of which is large enough to cover a tennis court — mediates our relationship to the world outside our bodies; more than 50 tons of food pass through it in a lifetime. The microbiota play a critical role in maintaining the health of the epithelium: some bacteria, like the bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus plantarum (common in fermented vegetables), seem to directly enhance its function. These and other gut bacteria also contribute to its welfare by feeding it. Unlike most tissues, which take their nourishment from the bloodstream, epithelial cells in the colon obtain much of theirs from the short-chain fatty acids that gut bacteria produce as a byproduct of their fermentation of plant fiber in the large intestine.

But if the epithelial barrier isn’t properly nourished, it can become more permeable, allowing it to be breached. Bacteria, endotoxins — which are the toxic byproducts of certain bacteria — and proteins can slip into the blood stream, thereby causing the body’s immune system to mount a response. This resulting low-grade inflammation, which affects the entire body, may lead over time to metabolic syndrome and a number of the chronic diseases that have been linked to it.

Evidence in support of this theory is beginning to accumulate, some of the most intriguing coming from the lab of Patrice Cani at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Brussels. When Cani fed a high-fat, “junk food” diet to mice, the community of microbes in their guts changed much as it does in humans on a fast-food diet. But Cani also found the junk-food diet made the animals’ gut barriers notably more permeable, allowing endotoxins to leak into the bloodstream. This produced a low-grade inflammation that eventually led to metabolic syndrome. Cani concludes that, at least in mice, “gut bacteria can initiate the inflammatory processes associated with obesity and insulin resistance” by increasing gut permeability.”

I think that this is important work and an intelligent article; moreover that most if not all problems with bread – which of course concerns me as an organic sourdough baker – derive from this issue, namely a degraded internal system due to degraded (over-processed = overly denatured) inputs.

We all need more fresh air, exercise therein, and fresh and/or well fermented foods. It’s not rocket science.

 

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Article linked in above snippet:

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/09/14/1000087107

Abstract

The indigenous human microbiota is essential to the health of the host. Although the microbiota can be affected by many features of modern life, we know little about its responses to disturbance, especially repeated disturbances, and how these changes compare with baseline temporal variation. We examined the distal gut microbiota of three individuals over 10 mo that spanned two courses of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, analyzing more than 1.7 million bacterial 16S rRNA hypervariable region sequences from 52 to 56 samples per subject. Interindividual variation was the major source of variability between samples. Day-to-day temporal variability was evident but constrained around an average community composition that was stable over several months in the absence of deliberate perturbation. The effect of ciprofloxacin on the gut microbiota was profound and rapid, with a loss of diversity and a shift in community composition occurring within 3–4 d of drug initiation. By 1 wk after the end of each course, communities began to return to their initial state, but the return was often incomplete. Although broadly similar, community changes after ciprofloxacin varied among subjects and between the two courses within subjects. In all subjects, the composition of the gut microbiota stabilized by the end of the experiment but was altered from its initial state. As with other ecosystems, the human distal gut microbiome at baseline is a dynamic regimen with a stable average state. Antibiotic perturbation may cause a shift to an alternative stable state, the full consequences of which remain unknown.”

This page has further links on this topic for those who wish to explore further.