Will the Real Bread Please Stand Up?

With all the excitment around Victory Gardens, including the Obamas putting in a vegetable garden at the White House for the first time since the 1930s, why not inject “Victory Ovens” into the public forum?

The pitch should be simple:  “American consumers have been eating fake bread for over 30 years. Its time to take back the ovens.”

Since the early 1970s, bread-like food products, which had been required to be labeled “imitation” prior to a change in legislation, have been competing directly with Real Bread in the nearly $17 billion bread product market.  Here is an example of what Sara Lee is offering consumers, according to Michael Pollan in his latest book “In Defense of Food” (pages 150-154).

Here’s the complete ingredients list for Sara Lee’s Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White Bread (Wait a minute – isn’t “Whole Grain White Bread” a contradiction in terms? Evidently not any more.)

Enriched bleached flour [wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], water, whole grains [whole wheat flour, brown rice flour (rice flour, rice bran)], high fructose corn syrup [hello!], whey, wheat gluten, yeast, cellulose.  Contains 2% or less of each of the following: honey, calcium sulfate, vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed oils), salt, butter (cream, salt), dough conditioners (may contain one or more of the following: mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, ascorbic acid, enzymes, axodicarbonamide), guar gum, calcium propionate (preservatives), distilled vinegar, yeast nutrients (monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate), corn starch, natural flavor, beta carotene (color), vitamin D3, soy lecithin, soy flour.

Check out Cooking Up A Story blog for its primer on decoding bread labels.

Then there is the “Victory Oven” (home-baked) version, in this case King Arthur Flour’s Classic Sandwich Bread. This white bread recipe doesn’t try to confuse people with “whole grain” claims, but does offer substituting 100% white whole wheat flour for “added whole-grain goodness.” The basic ingredients include:

Unbleached flour (or whole wheat flour); milk; water; butter, margarine or vegetable oil; sugar; salt; yeast

That’s it!

Seems like a pretty straightforward decision.  And for those people that don’t have the time or inclination to spend time in the kitchen baking bread (the smell alone is incentive in our home), there are likely many small bakers in your community baking real bread every day.

I choose REAL BREAD!


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8 responses to “Will the Real Bread Please Stand Up?

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with this. I find all the rules for labeling products to be so useless. Manufacturer’s write something in huge print on the front of a package and consumers believe whether the raw ingredients corroborate the claim or not. Consumers need to be more informed about what goes into packaged food and producers need to be held more accountable for claims they make about their product.

  2. I have to also agree. When I developed an allergy to sulfites and was attempting to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from my diet, I was appalled to actually see how little bread you could buy (even from big box bakery) that didn’t have it in it. I make my own now.

  3. I hope you don’t mind an endorsement for a cookbook that will make the “bake your own” movement a little easier for interested parties (I have no financial investment in it, am just a huge fan). It’s called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” (www.artisanbreadinfive.com). Written by a chef and scientist, they have come up with the simplest method to make really good bread–no kneading; dough keeps for 2 weeks so you can make a fresh loaf or even a single bagel every day–in a bunch of healthy varieties.

    It’s fair to say I am a bread snob and was skeptical, but it really comes out well, light airy inside, good toothy crust.

    Love the old fashioned way of baking bread, but being short on time, this was a great solution.

    Sorry for the proseletyzing, but I thought it would be helpful.

    Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful discussions, Rob.

  4. Rob, I love your consistent, practical approach to spreading the gospel of what makes sense. We are buyers these days, happy to have a good local, 4 ingredient bakery on the next block.

  5. Pingback: Unsustainable Food: 30 Years in the Making « Every Kitchen Table

  6. All good points, thank you. I make real bread and pride myself on doing with as few high-quality (organic when available/feasible) ingredients as possible. But please note that white whole wheat is 100% whole grain flour, made from a naturally lighter strain of wheat than the more common hard red wheat (looks brown). While some critics day the flavor of white whole wheat is less robust, it does appear to be a good way to get kids and some seniors to eat whole grain bread. Forsome reason, seniors are the only customers who want white bread, and won’t buy anything else.

  7. I added a potato to mine today.

    • Lisa: Thanks for chiming in! It’s the simple, whole and tasty additions to the 4-5 core ingredients that make bread so much fun. Of course, having the ingredient list jump to 30-40 food additives is NOT what I mean. 🙂

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