15 Health foods that are really junk


Well, maybe none of this is news to the few who read this blog, but there are some interesting links about modern wheat in the wholewheat section, including:

Modern Wheat – Old Diet Staple Turned Into a Modern Health Nightmare

from the above link the two following:

       Use of selected sourdough strains of Lactobacillus for removing gluten and enhancing the nutritional properties of gluten-free bread. (Shows decrease of gluten in experimental doughs from 400 ppm to 20ppm by using sourdough fermentation vs. typical commercial yeast leavening, proving that slow natural fermentation significantly alters the gluten profile. Basically, if you ferment the dough properly, the gluten issue is eliminated which is why I only offer organically fermented ‘sourdoughs’.)

       Sourdough bread made from wheat and nontoxic flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients.

Evidence of decreasing mineral density in wheat grain over the last 160 years.

Lack of intestinal mucosal toxicity of Triticum monococcum in celiac disease patients

Search for atoxic cereals: a single blind, cross-over study on the safety of a single dose of Triticum monococcum, in patients with celiac disease

Characterization of Khorasan wheat (Kamut) and impact of a replacement diet on cardiovascular risk factors: cross-over dietary intervention study.

Effects of Short-Term Consumption of Bread Obtained by an Old Italian Grain Variety on Lipid, Inflammatory, and Hemorheological Variables: An Intervention Study

 The sourdough fermentation may enhance the recovery from intestinal inflammation of coeliac patients at the early stage of the gluten-free diet.  (This experiment used sourdough fermentation on gluten free doughs and found they greatly assisted celiac patients in healing gut issues. I suspect similar results would be found when eating my whole grain rye if not all breads offered.)

Some of this stuff is overly technical for many tastes (including mine), and most too extreme (why don’t they have more tests on classic sourdough whole grain rye, Red Fife wheat, spelt, the stuff most of organic bakers and eaters eat rather than rare local varieties or almost unobtainable triticum etc.? In any case, there have been scattered tests, some of which are buried somewhere in this blog.

The bottom line: modern bread comprised of modern wheats, overly processed flours, raised with commercial, single-strain factory-grown, sugar-fed yeasts are essentially what I think of as ‘mass-produced imitation breads’. And some ‘artisan-breads’ are simply small-volume, even hand-made variations on the same ingredients and techniques because the bakers (either home or small artisan bakeries) know no better.
I continue to offer with pride – despite declining sales of late as the gluten-free craze catches on in Cape Breton – heritage grain, slow-fermented breads made correctly without compromise. They are nourishing, highly digestible and good-tasting. They are real food. At some point the fashion will change and people will come back to these breads. Meanwhile I hunker down for a long, hard winter!
Btw, I have an occasional customer is a full-bore celiac who gets violent reactions if she even so much as tastes ‘normal’ bread, but she can eat as much as she likes of mine without any adverse reaction.


Rise of Artisan Bread – traditional Miche in NYC

A friend in the States just shunted this link along about Artisan Bread:

The artcicle is about his miche but I suspect this is a generic photo; in any case, can’t tell which one is the miche.

I was making I pretty good 1.5 kg Miche last year but people stopped buying it, no doubt because it’s just too expensive. I make many hearth loaves weighing around 680g/1.5 lbs which are essentially similar, but mine don’t take 60+ hours to make, ‘merely’ about 30. I suspect that quite a bit of that time is dough soaking in a cool walk-in (which I don’t have) but the article doesn’t explain.

In any case, it’s always good when articles pop up praising what I think of as ‘real bread’. And unfortunate that so many people still aren’t exposed to it or don’t understand it’s significance when they are, how basically an almost miraculously delicious and healthy food has been transformed into something that barely even resembles the authentic article. So much so that when chatting about this with my fresh fish man last week at the market, he confessed that he much prefers ‘traditional bread’ to mine – and of course by ‘traditional bread’ he means the supermarket imitation he and most people nowadays think of and are used to and even enjoy as ‘bread’.



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:


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.


Related article in local publication


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:


(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:


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.


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….


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


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.

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’.




  • 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




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


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.



Article linked in above snippet:



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.

Michael Pollan – the Science of eating well

from the podcast site Enquiring Minds: https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds

This is an unusually intelligent food discussion.

He also explains – again unusually well – what happens with proper (sourdough) bread. He also mentions the Italian research that suggests that those eating slow fermented sourdough (20+ hours) (such as mine), even some celiacs can tolerate it.

In any case, he talks about the beneficial effects of cooking, the paleo diet issues (including the problem with factory-farmed meats vs true wild meats of yore), and the value of fermentation. Also the epidemiological studies indicating plant-based diets are best, but he qualifies that very intelligently.

Towards the end of the bread discussion he speculates that perhaps the reason people nowadays are having problems with bread/gluten is that we (our gut systems) have changed due to modern diets and lifestyles, and ‘that may be at the root of a great many of the allergies we see because gluten intolerance is …. and auto-immune disorders that has to do with our relationship with bacteria.” But the growth in gluten free is far in excess of any change in our microbial cultures.

He has written a book which emphasises the importance of microbes. So I guess I’ll have to get that book!

Not sure which book, but this guy has an interesting selection starting with ‘The Botany of Desire’ to the most recent in 2013 ‘Cooked – a natural history of transformation’ and ‘Food Politics: How the Food industry influences Nutrition and Health.’

(I am still listening to this whilst writing this entry:) Ha! He is the guy whose body-bacteria was used for some experimental cheese recently (from belly-button, between the toes etc!). This playful experiment was based on noticing that stinky cheeses have similar bacteria to those we find on our bodies. I read years ago, for example, that the only place they have found the sanfrancisco yeasts naturally is in the human mouth, not in the fair fields of California.

Then he is discussing a recent article of his in the New Yorker about the behavioural and strategic intelligence of plants. Sensory sophistication. Plants have 15-20 distinct senses – smell, taste, sound – they can recognise the sound of caterpillars chomping on leaves and then prepare chemical defense against them! – also can sense chemicals in the soil, soil, volume, hardness, touch obviously, they can move towards a pole.

To demonstrate plants ability to demonstrate intention and consciousness, in a video a friend showed him a bean-plant in time-lapse photography over several days, looking nowhere except at a pole 18″ away and it throws itself over and over again until it finally makes contact, and after it has made one revolution around, it relaxes and starts to grow on it happily, so it seems they make a noise and are using some sort of radar to sense the pole, or maybe there is some other basis. The main point is that they have incredible sensory acuteness, brilliant defenses, and have kin recognition – they don’t compete with others of the same family. Also: trees in a forest are linked by fungi, so all fir trees in a forest, for example, are linked and they use the fungal network to send both messages and food. ‘The wood-wide web’ it has been called! (and why our internal flora have to do with brain function, I am thinking.) Can plants learn? Can they remember? ( I would say yes), Even though they don’t have brains. But how can you do these things without neurons? There must be other ways. (I think most of our theories about brain function are totally wrong so this is a promising direction.)

Amazing stuff!

Amazon.ca search page on him:



By the way, I came to the above interview from one previous with Deborah Blum about poisons in modern industrial/commercial practices etc.

Michael Pollan’s Plant article in the New Yorker:


The Greatest Hits of in NY Times:


Also in NYTimes:  http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/p/michael_pollan/


CBC article about benefits of sourdough fermenation viz. gluten


A loaf from Fry's Red Wheat Bread in Victoria, B.C.

A loaf from Fry's Red Wheat Bread in Victoria, B.C. (courtesy Fry's Bakery)

“The demand for gluten-free products continues to grow and sales are expected to double by 2017 in Canada.

The anti-gluten trend is fuelled by the belief that, even for people not suffering from Celiac disease, wheat can cause health problems.

A handful of recent studies have some good news for those trying to reduce the amount of gluten they eat — old-fashioned sourdough baking techniques significantly cut gluten content in bread .

Byron FryByron Fry is the owner of the wood-fired sourdough bakery. (Khalil Akhtar/CBC)

Byron Fry runs a wood-fired sourdough bakery in Victoria, B.C. The fermentation process starts here with nothing but freshly ground wheat flour and water. The rest is up to the various yeasts that are floating around us that make themselves at home in the bubbling dough.

The result is a slightly sour loaf with cavernous holes throughout and before the advent of commercial yeasts, this was how bread was made.

“We’re starting with a long overnight sourdough fermentation that’s really full of lactic bacteria, that starts to break down and enrich the flavours of the bread and also break down the gluten and give a battery of enzymes and sourdough activity,” Fry explains.

“In the end, it’s airy and bubbly and then we craft those into loaves. They rest for even longer… and then they go into a 500 degree oven and bake for an hour and then they’re pulled out, allowed to cool… and then its food.”

This is all without that trusty jar of yeast that has become ubiquitous in modern bread baking. Most packaged supermarket loaves go from flour to plastic bag in a matter of a few hours.

But that quick rise doesn’t allow time for fermentation and that means the gluten isn’t processed by that community of microbes living in the dough.

Bread from Fry's BakeryAn assortment of breads on offer at Fry’s Bakery. (courtesy Fry’s Bakery)

A  team of Italian scientists led by Luigi Greco at the University of Naples authored a 2010 study that showed significantly lower levels of gluten in sourdough made according to old methods.

The difference was so stark that celiacs in the study were able to consume the sourdough with no ill effects.

That’s something Byron Fry sees in his bakery every day. He says the vast majority of his customers are people who were previously gluten-free.

The return of sourdough baking techniques isn’t only a boon to people who have trouble with gluten. It also means a return to the idea that bread from different places should taste different.

A sourdough starter made on the shores of Vancouver Island will be home to a different ecosystem of microbes than one in Montreal or Italy — which may lend some credence to the idea that the famous and historic San Francisco sourdough can only truly exist in San Francisco.”

NOTE:  I have read other articles showing how the San Francisco yeasts exist naturally in peoples’ mouths all over the world. However, it is true that bread with the same flour and technique varies from place to place, and also baker to baker. I don’t pretend to know exactly how this works, but suspect that along with differing varieties of local yeasts and bacteria in the fields where the grain is grown – which I believe comprise 95+% of the ones that end up fermenting the dough – different recurring levels of temperature and humidity make significant difference to an ongoing population. Most bakers keep a mother starter which is regularly added to, but also develops over time in more or less similar conditions, be it in a cellar, a refrigerator, refreshed every few hours in a home that is typically around 20C etc. This explains also why bread from two different bakers on the same street is so different. In any case, I have linked elsewhere on this site that 2010 Italian study and have mentioned its results to several passing-by non-clients who mention they are gluten intolerant or actual celiacs, but when I mention that Italian celiacs can eat slow-fermented sourdoughs, they clearly disbelieve me.

I will put this article out on my booth so they can see I am not making this up!!

Good bread article

Is Your Daily Wheat Bread Healthy?


It is rare to find an article critical of wheat that also mentions how sprouting and sourdough is worth considering (and why), and also mentions ancient grains. She doesn’t include rye, spelt and Red Fife as recommended grains – because they were hybridized in pre-industrial times, but she does point out that modern ‘dwarf variety’ wheat is to be avoided like the plague, and since Red Fife is not a dwarf variety and comes from Ukraine and Mennonite Russian farmers, I feel it’s good.

Obviously, it’s all a matter of opinion – not to mention controversy.

One point she makes which I have only vaguely heard about before is how different metabolic constitutions handle grains differently. I am certain this is true. For example the Swiss – who after all gave us muesli – handle grains well whereas Eskimos do not.

My personal opinion about all this – not set in stone – is more or less as follows:

Modern methods (rapid mixing, single-strain commercial, sugar-fed yeast, preservatives and additives etc.) have turned what was a basically healthy food into a basically unhealthy food. This is true of dairy, meat, eggs, even some vegetables I suspect, but bad white bread, being highly processed and ‘denatured’/dead, is especially bad when consumed regularly over time.

Whole grains  – or at least breads with at least 50% – are better, provided this is fresh-ground or recently stone ground. And of course organic. Fresh-ground is best because you still have vitamins (which decrease rapidly within 4 days of grinding). Here you have good nutritional value and synergy, not to mention natural fibre which eases digestion.

Sourdough is the way to go: the sprouting process begins with natural fermentation in a moist, warm environment and this natural fermentation is identical in essence to natural leavening (‘sourdough’), the main (and no doubt important) difference being that the grain has first been crushed vs. remaining whole and still able to sprout. No doubt one could argue about whether or not crushing the grain is a mistake, but my suspicion is that when such grains are fresh-ground and immediately soaked, all the living enzymes and microbial cultures make for a very lively soup which is nutritious and vital. I also believe that the slower the process you can use, the better so that enzymatic processes have plenty of time along with the fermentation – and rising – functions of the sourdough process.

Moderation: good bread (like mine) is fine if not used as the basis of a diet. Most bread-eating cultures always have a meal with bread on the side, as it were, not bread as the main filler with something on top. I think this is important. Generally, it is important to have a diet which features as much living enzymes as possible (fresh produce in summer, fermented/pickled stuff in winter). Cooking kills enzymes. It’s as simple as that. And that includes bread, albeit the way flavor changes over time with my 100% rye loaves sometimes makes me wonder what’s going on. In any case, in theory the enzymes are all killed off in the cooking process and I am fairly sure that’s the case.

That being the case, we have to provide enzymes for digestion – mainly from the pancreas I believe. Over time, if there is insufficient live enzymes coming into the system from living foods, this creates real problem down below, and perhaps (this is my theory) fosters imbalanced gut flora who get too much of a role to play down there not sufficiently contained/balanced by living enzymes in the mix.

Anyway, I have not kept up with the blog much but am planning to write a series of pieces about bread – and French Road Bakery bread in particular – principally as leaflets to go on my Farmers’ Market stall, but hopefully they will be of interest here as well. Summer is well over, the sailboat is ‘on the hard’, winter preparations well underway, the fire has been lit and stayed on overnight a couple of times and soon will be on all the time meaning the timing and preparation of the dough becomes simpler, so I will focus more on the bakery and writing those pieces.


Nalanda – village farmers in ancient seat of learning point the way to a sane future for all with SRI

Sumant KumarSumant Kumar photographed in Darveshpura, Bihar, India. Photograph: Chiara Goia for Observer Food Monthly

India’s rice revolution by John Vidal of the Guardian

In a village in India’s poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?
India’s rice revolution – audio slideshow

This February 2013 article from London’s The Guardian (and Sunday Observer), is not exactly new news. I have been aware of this since researching bokashi (EM or IM – Efficient or Indigenous Microorganisms) several months ago, a method which South Korea has switched to almost completely and which interests me because of the use of micro-organisms quite similar to those used in making bread, cheese, pickled vegetables, wine and properly prepared sausages, aka ‘fermentation’.

Further, it is personally gratifying in that I was in the first graduating class of Naropa University, the first offspring of Nalanda Foundation, named after Nalanda University (Naropa was the Head Chancellor of Nalanda around 1070 AD, about 100 years before Persian Mongol invasion flattened this huge university to which came advanced students from all over the Asian world from China, Japan and elsewhere – it took three months, it is said, for all the books to finish burning there after it was ransacked and tens of thousands of monks killed by the Muslim invaders who wished to stamp out (aka ‘genocide’) all Buddhists in India. Basically, they succeeded.)

In any case, this article is about SRI (System of Rice Intensification), albeit it works with most other crops. Simply put, it’s a way of cultivating individual root systems more efficiently – and with less water interestingly enough – than traditional methods, along with good manure/compost management. Yields not only are far better than with agro-business methods, but double or triple. In short: organic methods are far more efficient and productive without doing all the damage of the life-killing methods of the ‘scientific’ approaches based on a combination of materialistic anti-spiritual pseudo-science which regards all life processes as essentially mechanical and believes that by breaking things down to their inert chemical constituents they can thereby tweak this, control that, and ultimately mimic Nature or God, thereby improving it, taming it. In fact, what this means is corporate special interests trying to find ways to commercialise basic life processes. If they can find a way to charge us for breathing in oxygen or breathing out carbon dioxide, they will. They already charge hundreds of millions of people for water, and even fine them for collecting it from their roof, or putting in a dug well, since they ‘own’ all rights to water in that jurisdiction (whose leadership class has sold out, obviously, in return for a nice bank account in Switzerland or wherever).

There is a lot in this article. Note how the officialdom of the scientific-agro-business community is so skeptical about verifiable results. You can’t really argue with a 20 ton yield being replicated by farmer after farmer in places where 5 tons is normal using their recommended (and soil killing) methods. And truth be told – and it’s there in the article if you parse it well – they are not really disputing the results, their issue is that you cannot duplicate them with machinery and technology.

Leaving aside the issue as to whether or not that is true (I suspect over time they will figure out ways to more or less duplicate), surely we should ask ourselves: ‘why would you want to do that?’. Wouldn’t it be great if small farmers could make enough money from growing high quality, organic crops all over the world? Rural community life would come back. Those who don’t want to work in call centers and Wal-Mart could go back to the land. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also not mechanical work, it changes from season to season. It is human and humane and natural and fundamentally productive. Moreover rural life breathes sanity back into the urban populations since most of the young people coming into them do so from the country. The people in the city feed off the produce grown from the rural areas nearby which in turn they visit regularly, visiting friends and family or merely as weekend tourists. It is good symbiosis. It is natural. It is the way it was in Europe for over a millenia. It works.

Agro-business doesn’t work. It is ruinous, and only because we have such dysfunctional political systems and media do most of us not see this clearly. Most of us just cannot wrap our heads around how much damage big box stores like Superstore, Wal-Mart and others do, how many local jobs and artisan sources of productive employment are lost to the minimum wage ship-the-profit-out-of-province (or country) model that we live under.

In Sydney, where I live, you can hardly buy any organic green vegetables in the two main local supermarket chains (Superstore owned by Loblaws and Sobeys owned by the Sobey family). Given Sydney’s remarkably small size of about 22,000 (it feels much bigger because it is a harbour town – albeit the Port has not yet been developed due to regional and national political obstruction going back 200 years ) the selection available is actually pretty good, albeit a tad frustrating for those of us who have travelled further afield. Still, not bad all things considered. (We even get fresh sushi now, albeit mainly only with vegetables and weird sauces, not with thick slabs of super-fresh fish.) In any case, I want organic green vegetables. They don’t have hardly any, even in season. What do they have? Both supermarket chains feature green vegetables from the Little Bear farm in Texas (of all places!), which in 2010 had everything recalled for e-coli poisoning (i.e. using bad manure, aka cow shit, on their fields which are probably large greenhouses). And that cow shit probably comes from drug-intensive factory dairy operations. Well, I am guessing. Here is intro from their website: ”

The Company

At J&D Produce, Inc. the goal of quality and service is first and foremost.  Each of our

growers must conform to stringent quality standards.  J&D Produce employs seven field supervisors who make certain that irrigation and fertilization are correct and that we uphold safety requirements for chemical application.  Our supervisors also ensure that cultivation is performed properly and that produce is handled gently during harvest.”

J&D is owned or distributed by http://www.katzmanproduce.com/jd.html, a list of whose producers on the left margin of the page is quite long and includes entries such as Central American Produce

central american fieldsHere we see classic ‘agro-business’ mono-culture which depends upon endless external inputs onto dead soil. Plants grown on such dead soil are unhealthy with compromised immune systems (not unlike many humans with insufficient nutrients in diet or damaged microbial populations from abuse of antibiotic medication), which in turn attract infestation by insects, fungus and so forth, which necessitates the (perceived) need for pesticides which in turn further deplete, if not entirely eradicate, sub-surface soil life. Moreover, the already unhealthy produce is harvested early before being properly ripe so that it can be transported thousands of miles over several weeks to its delivery point. Unripe produce has significantly less nutrient value, but who cares about that?! Indeed, most of us in urban North America have no idea what truly fresh, ripe produce – either of fruit or vegetable variety – tastes like unless we have good local produce from our Farmers’ Market AND it is picked at the right time – not early – by the farmer, many of whom themselves don’t really know the best time to pick because they were raised on supermarket produce themselves. (!)

I am beginning to rant…

SRI shows the way to truly sustainable culture. Not just agricultural or farming culture. But national culture. National cultures, societies, should be based on sound rural communities which in turn should be based on sound agricultural practices which yield good, healthy food.

Michelin recently voted on their best restaurant in the world. Guess what? It’s a small joint called ‘Noma’ in Denmark which uses only locally sourced ingredients year-round, including their bread. I will soon be ordering a new book from this bakery who supplies them (and give them a post on this blog in next few days as well). They grow their own grain – or source it locally, am not sure – grind it and bake bread which in turn is served at the restaurant. That is what I hope to do here in Cape Breton at some point, though right now there is not a single farmer on the island who grows grain, and only a handful in the entire Maritime Region (Nova Scotia, P.E.I, New Brunswick) who grown organic grain. That little factoid is in itself extraordinary evidence of the enormous, incalculable damage done by the Big Box Corporate model we have running our society these days. That we have populations of several million and only a handful of local farmers growing natural, organic grain (and very few growing non-organic for that matter).

It used to be said (by Hamlet) that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ Looks like they are on the right track, and we have to catch up now….

I have a rather strange collection of posts, and offer them sporadically. But there is some sort of theme behind it all, which is generally promoting locally made goods and services and generally offering an alternative to the Big Box anti-life anti-local community corporate model which is now dominant. I am convinced that the single main way to ‘fight back’ as it were is to support local Farmers’ Markets by purchasing things from local producers who in turn will be encouraged, both financially and psychologically, to expand, and of course also more people will become producers. This takes significant effort, especially for those of us living in Northern climates. Supermarkets are not all bad, or wicked, necessarily, but they have gone too far and their model undermines local economies and culture far more than it should. I simply refuse to believe that there are sane, good reasons why we get all our greens from agro-business mono-culture-grown Little Bear in Texas – both chains buy from the same source apparently. We have good greenhouse technology in Canada and could be producing far more for local consumption – even agro-business model style which I don’t like obviously. We could have far more preserved (lacto-fermented)/pickled vegetables during the winter which have high vitamin content rather than getting unripe produce on chemical life support from thousands of miles away.

Anyway, this SRI business is important. Staring us in the global face is a way out of systemic insanity. It is being done. It is known. There are no fundamental problems other than rotten leadership which all of us continue to support by not insisting on doing better.

Gut bacteria and weight



For many obese patients, particularly those with type 2 diabetes, gastric bypass has succeeded where nothing else has. Severely obese patients routinely lose 65 to 75 percent of their excess weight and fat after the operation, studies show, and leave their diabetes behind.

Oddly, however, the diabetes remission often occurs before significant weight loss. That has made bypass surgeons and weight-loss experts suspect that Roux-en-Y changes not only anatomy but also metabolism or the endocrine system. In other words, the surgery does something besides re-plumb the gut.

That “something,” according to previous studies, includes altering the mix of trillions of microbes in the digestive tract. Not only are the “gut microbiota” different in lean people and obese people, but the mix of microbes changes after an obese patient undergoes gastric bypass and becomes more like the microbiota in lean people.

Researchers did not know, however, whether the microbial change was the cause or the effect of post-bypass weight loss.

That is what the new study, by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, set out to answer.”

Comment: interesting, but hardly surprising, albeit something insufficiently studied by mainstream corporate medicine. This relates to the French Road Bakery in that I offer only slow-fermented ‘sourdough’ breads, nothing using modern yeast which is designed to produce copious, dependable gas ASAP so that bread-processing time is reduced for commercial bakers, raising volumes, profits, cutting labour costs etc. etc. etc., i.e. it is not about making better bread, but more profitable bread.

Slow, natural fermentation releases more of the nutrients but also, I suspect, results in less of the grain being available, during digestion, to feed certain types of gut flora which in turn not only produce gas, but end up swelling the intestines, and in so doing reducing their efficiency which results in quite a bit of sludge build-up over time as too much of what is in there is incompletely processed before the next meal comes in. This is exacerbated by the strain on the pancreas being asked to manufacture large numbers of enzymes to digest this cooked food. I suspect there is less demand for real sourdough bread, especially whole grain or sprouted, but do not actually know.

In any case, the point of including this article is to show that even in something which so many are concerned about, namely weight gain/loss, gut microbia play a key role. Just as microbia play a key role in this sourdough / natural fermentation bakery!