Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Whole Wheat vs Whole Grain


A while ago I was reading some food blog or article and I read a comment where the person writing went off on our misguided belief that whole wheat flour was somehow better for us. Now, I have to admit, I always thought it was. Then I started reading more on the subject and looking into the nutritional breakdown between whole wheat flour and white flour. I was only looking at high end organic products. White flour has 1 gram of fiber, whole wheat on average has 4. Well, as a diabetic, I know that anything with less than 5 grams of fiber is not significant. Meaning, I think, from neither a statistical nor a health point of view, that it makes really no difference if you eat whole wheat or white flour. The idea that whole wheat is better for you is nothing more then another market ploy. This is very apparent when you start to look at loaves of bread. Most whole wheat products have molasses in them to make them appear browner and healthier then they really are.

In trying to find out more about this I came upon some interesting articles that have lead me to believe: we need to buy grinders (I saw a hand one at my local hardware store for $35) and grind our own WHOLE GRAINS. Alas, even if we choose to grind our own, we will never find whole grains at a grocery store because whole grains are filled with nutrients and therefore, being appealing to organisms that can eat them, have a short shelf life and so make terrible "products".

The other drag to this realization is that freshly ground whole grains are not consistent like processed flours so you have the problem of having to adjust your baked goods recipes to work
with this new substance. I think it would be really interesting to have a business, a bakery or cafe, where you made all your bread, pies, cakes and cookies from local grains that you grind as you need.

Sounds like a lot of work and I imagine it really is. First you have to find a source for your grains, then you have to buy a grinder and actually use it. And this returns us to the dilemma of who has the time to make food properly so that one can eat properly? This is a full time job! And so, we return the historically true, but currently radical idea that someone in a home needs to actually work full time in the home so that members of the household can eat well.

But everything is so expensive now. How is it possible to have such hyper-consumer lives and pay the mortgage and afford health care and pay for our kids' tuition and, at the same time, not have someone working not for a salary, but in the home, to obtain and prepare the food for us? And so, to pay for it all, we have let go of something that is so essential to our health and well being: the food we eat.

Why is something that is so essential so disregarded? Why have we as a culture chosen to moved the preparation and eating of food to the back burner? If it can't be accomplished with a microwave in 5 minutes from freezer to plate we can't be bothered? Yet everyone who visits our home and eats one of my honest, home cooked meals goes on about it like it was a great mystery, that i must have some special and elusive talent.

As a middle aged man who has never really worked for "the Man" and who is now in his 6th month of unemployment, I am beginning to wonder about how our culture is set up and why it is we perceive the idea of a "housewife" with such disdain? In part, the history of sexism that goes along with the concept of "wife" in our modern age has helped to create this idea that women have every right to find meaningful employment. This leads me to the radical idea that maybe, just maybe that a man might actually in some couples be more suited to the job of home caretaker and that the assigned gender roles are only in place because a hundred years ago it was unheard of that a woman would work. Things are different now, but it doesn't stop me from feeling badly that somehow I have failed to be a proper man, that being at home, which has no doubt improved the quality of our lives leaves me feeling like a failure. Even though I see clearly the advantages, our cultural constructs (or at least the ones in my head), suggest to me we still live in a time when men are the bread winners and if anyone is going to stay at home it's "the wife."

And even though there are many cliches that abound about gay men I don't really want to be anyone's wife. I find such terminology emasculating and uncomfortable. I want to be someone's equal partner. Is that possible or some crazy ideal? And can you ever possibly be equal when the thing our cultural values more then anything is money.

Of course the other dilemma is: "how are we going to make ends meet if we both don't work?"
Good question and I'm not sure what the answer is for you, but for us, I'm amazed we're doing ok and constantly anxious about whether it will continue. I thought for sure my unemployment would signal the end to everything (yes, I'm a drama queen) and indeed our lives have changed because of it, but we're still managing to keep our heads above water (though sometimes barely).
[Neil chimes in: And the fact is that while the money isn't there for luxuries or even minor extravagances at the moment, there is NO question that our home is more of a home, and that we're eating more healthily, cheaply, and deliciously than ever - because Mark has the time to really do it well. If/when he goes back to work, our life at home will not be as complex and delicious and "sustainable" in the ecological sense. What will we give up in order to have the extra money?]

I seem to have a lot of questions and not so many answers, but I feel it is impossible to talk about food and sustainability without beginning to think about the tough questions of how can we re-organize our culture, change our priorities and move forward to living more meaningful lives that are not only good for us but good for the planet.

OK - well - that really got off topic now didn't it? Here is an article that talks more directly and clearly about the whole wheat vs whole grain controversy. Oh and here is part two of that article.

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