In 1973, only months after my first wife and I moved from Milwaukee to Tampa, we drove across Tampa Bay one Sunday afternoon to the beach in Clearwater. Returning in early evening, we were entertained by the radio sermon of a Southern preacher fulminating about the evils of “the fullness of bread.” He repeated the phrase ad infinitum, to the point where we were starting to feel bloated.
Exactly what the heck his jeremiad was meant to convey never was entirely clear to us, largely because we were laughing too hard to hear all of it. But I suspect it was all about one of the Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony.
In all likelihood, Preacher Man had no idea his message was prophetic. In those days, the harmful effects of modern bread weren’t well-developed or diagnosed yet. Bread up to 1960 was produced differently than in the succeeding decades. Today’s bread and its relatives – muffins, donuts, pastries, pasta, etc. – are one of the major causes of the epidemic of obesity. In fact, noted Wisconsin cardiologist William Davis defines it as the biggest cause.
Here’s what he says in his best-selling book Wheat Belly, first published in 2011: “I believe that the increased consumption of grains – or more accurately, the increased consumption of this genetically altered thing we call modern wheat – explains the contrast between slender, sedentary people of the fifties and overweight twenty-first-century people, triathletes included … I will make the case that the world’s most popular grain is also the world’s most destructive dietary ingredient.”
“For 10,000 years,” the website Grainstorm Heritage Baking says, “we cultivated wheat, stored it, milled it and consumed it. The system worked, and it nourished civilization. Then, in the industrial era, we changed things. The way we process it and the way we eat. The very wheat itself.” The changes were in two areas of technology: 1) milling and 2) cultivation and farming.
“First we invented mechanical technologies to turn wheat into barren white flour. Then, we invented chemical and genetic technologies to make it resistant to pests, drought and blight and easier to harvest, dramatically increasing yield per acre. And, while we were tweaking genetics, we also figured out how to increase glutens for (fluffier baking results).”
In his book, Dr. Davis writes that “this thing being sold to us called wheat – it ain’t wheat. It’s this stocky little high-yield plant, a distant relative of the wheat our mothers used to bake muffins, genetically and biochemically light-years removed from the wheat of (60) years ago.”
“And now,” says Grainstorm, “scientists are starting to connect modern wheat with all manner of chronic digestive and inflammatory illnesses.”
Indeed, Amazon’s descriptive notes for Wheat Belly say Dr. Davis uncovered, through thousands of participants in his international online heart-health program Track Your Plaque, “how foods made of wheat actually CAUSED heart disease and heart attack. Eliminating wheat (in diets) yielded results beyond everyone’s expectations: substantial weight loss, correction of cholesterol abnormalities, relief from inflammatory disease like arthritis, better mood – benefits that led to prevention of heart disease but a lot more benefits in other areas of health.”
Nutritionists say sourdough bread is far healthier than the regular kind, but not the sourdough variety found in most grocery stores, which use processes rendering it fake sourdough. Some specialty food stores have the real McCoy, and people who have the time and inclination can make it at home (the internet provides instructions).
Otherwise, the only alternative is swearing off of bread, except for such occasions as, for example, taking Holy Communion in church, where you certainly don’t want to swear. Just know it’s not the same bread believers partook of 2,000 years ago.