Staff of Life


The quick answer:  For good health eat your grains whole.  That’s a simple statement—to implement it you must reinvent your food culture and avoid factory foods.


Tracing One’s Footsteps

I’m a stay-at-home guy but with some encouragement the Beautiful Wife and I are taking a trip to the Derwent Valley in north England.  Derwent Valley is notable for two things:  First, it was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution—the water-powered textile mill was invented at Cromford in 1772.  You can read about it here

Second, the Derwent Valley is where my Hellewell ancestors worked in the textile mills before they immigrated to the Utah Territory in 1853.  So it’s sort of like coming home—we want to walk the cobblestone streets they trod.  (If readers live in this area, please leave a comment, or send an email.)

We’ll also visit the ancient upland village of Todmorden in nearby Upper Calder Valley.  Todmorden is the center of a recent food revolution.  A grassroots sustainable farming movement has arisen here with the goal to become locally self-sufficient for food.  It started because a guy named Nick Green—the perfect name—planted a cabbage and rhubarb garden in a vacant lot (without permission) and posted a sign inviting people to help themselves.  That was the start; now there are dozens of such lots and a local food movement has found traction.  People who didn’t own cookbooks and got their food from packages are rediscovering real food, and cooking.  You can read about Todmorden here.

The Roller Mill

The Industrial Revolution changed everything, including the nature of food.  Not long after Cromford’s textile factory, the roller mill was invented.  The roller mill separated the starch in wheat from the nutritious germ and bran (the latter became animal food).  The benefits were irresistible:  Now you had white flour that was sweet and lasted forever because the perishable nutrients had all been removed.  It wouldn’t even keep a weevil alive.  Soon similar processes were applied to the other grains—polishing for rice, and degerming for corn.  It was a nutrition catastrophe we’re still trying to cure.

Staff of Life

If we didn’t have grains most of the planet would starve to death—grains really are the staff of life but for best health you should eat them whole.  We talked about the importance of this at In Praise of Whole Grains.

 Gluten is problematic for a few people.  Gluten intolerance is hard to diagnose but if you’re in this group you need to heed the guidance of your doctor—it’s a serious issue.  We’re not sure why gluten intolerance is a growing problem but there are two factors:  First, many new wheat hybrids have been developed which contain new forms of gluten to which mankind is unaccustomed.  Second, we have gone from slow-rising sourdough breads to fast-rising yeast breads so there is less breaking down of the gluten before consumption. 

In our home we’re buying sourdough mostly whole wheat bread these days and want to start baking our own.  (We also grind our own flour at the time of use for freshness.)  Does anyone have sourdough experience or a recipe to share?

Healthy Change

Comment:  Whole grains are one of the best food values but we think it best to enjoy a variety.  Please comment on how you include whole grains in the diet of your family, or share a favorite recipe.

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Reader Comments (9)

Thank you for the honest and concise explanation about gluten. I do my best to keep it out of my diet, as it makes me bloat pretty severely, but it's a new recognition or discovery. I never placed the concept of slower food with the rise of digestive reactions, but it makes a lot of sense now.

I've never successfully made a sourdough bread, but I've recently started grinding my own grains and flours (for the non-GF in the house). I look forward to seeing if anyone has tips to share!

On a related (maybe) note: is there any reasoning behind using glass or plastic over metal, wood or ceramic bowls when baking, other than contamination?

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

Michael Pollan has a book out. COOKED. It has a sourdough recipe from scratch and is a great read.

March 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAleen

I have no problems with gluten as far as I know, but sourdough bread is the only kind of wheat bread that does not give me indigestion. Besides it is totally delicious!

March 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Another good book is "The Art of Baking With Natural Yeast." It talks about the benefits of baking with slow-rising, natural yeast (for example, it breaks down gluten to make bread easier to digest and this is the same yeast that our ancestors have always cooked with before commercial, quick-rising yeast was introduced), teaches how to grow/use natural yeast, and includes many recipes. You can even contact the author, Caleb Warnock, and get a free natural yeast start!

March 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKarissa

I've found Celia over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial to have a vast experience in sourdough bread making. Please check out her tutorial below:

March 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Yes to baking with natural yeast!! We've been using this method of bread making for about a year now. It is wonderful!

March 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

This is a timely post, with the "Grain Brain" book hitting the shelves.

March 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Falck

I get so confused reading about all the dangers of grains when the WoW so specifically recommends them. I think I'll stick with scripture.

I've been using sourdough for lots of things (no-knead bread, crepes, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, muffins, tortillas, etc) for almost 3 years now and I love it! I was nervous at first, and it took some time to find recipes that I liked, but now I wouldn't go back. I feel so much better eating sourdough. The website really helped me get it down. If you sign up for her e-course, you get all her fabulous recipes... the cinnamon rolls are amazing!

March 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I am a cardiologist and have had some concerns about grains, "the staff of life", and the issues of excessive amounts of carbohydrates in our diets. Diabetes, obesity and all of their related health problems fill up my clinics on a regular basis. Using less processed foods makes absolute sense and we are able to do this with fruits and vegetables "in the season thereof".
In the WoW verrse 14 grains are espoused as "the staff of life" for man, beasts and fowls. In verse 15 it states that "these" are for "times of famine and excess hunger." Are there comments about the use of grains "sparingly". Medically speaking carbohydrates are well used when we are using all of the calories that we ingest, but when we are overweight there are severe detrimental effects on our bodies when we eat carbohydrates.
I understand that verse 15 may be referring to the "beasts" and the "fowls" but now I am not so sure.

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHarold

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