So in January of this year I took a month off of grain (mostly). The goal was threefold: 1) see if I felt any difference physically, 2) see if I would lose weight, and 3) get people (including the internet) off my back regarding how evil grain is. I got my older three boys onboard with it too. They weren’t happy about it and they fussed the whole way. My oldest, who plays football, came home with a diatribe from his coach on how being a teenager and cutting out grain was a bad idea for growth, strength, and energy. Noted. Austin and Jack whined the most but stuck with it (for the most part) as well. Oh and while many people crumbled around me, I fudged only two days.
It was an interesting experiment. Here is what happened.
I DIDN’T feel ANY different physically. I woke up no more full of energy or less stiff or less or more of anything. I felt the same. I went to the bathroom the same. I still have some dry skin on the palms of my hand and generally saw no effect one way or the other. Of course the peeps in the community told me that I “just didn’t do it long enough,” that it takes “6 weeks to form a habit” and that I “should have given up dairy and sugar and….” etc. That that was the only way to see a true change. Look, I didn’t set those parameters. I was simply trying to give up grain (corn, wheat, rice, all of it). I wasn’t going on a “cleanse” or a “whole 30” or any of the other fad-diet-new-year-kickoffs. The internet anti-grain propaganda machine was in full whirl, and so were some of my surrounding peeps, and so I wanted to see if I could it and if there was any noticeable change. Nothing…physically.
I DID feel different mentally. I was cranky, irritable, grumpy, and sometimes angry. The people around me thought I was “detoxing” or something. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I didn’t like being so irritable. My kids were crabby too. I didn’t like the new negative energy in my home.
I DID daydream a lot more. I think about food a lot, that is true. I am like some of those cooks who are always thinking of what to make next. What will that taste like? What will that smell like? What if I did this or that? That sort of thing. Soon after January 1, I began to daydream about grain. One day it was a piece of crusty bread. The next a bowl of fried rice. The day after that a floury breakfast burrito. And then it was the lure of cookies (of course). Any cookie. From anyone. Didn’t even have to be homemade. I just wanted a cookie. This was tough.
I researched. Here is honestly how I attacked that month: I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could feel better, and then figure out why I would feel better, and why people didn’t complain about grain 25 years ago and for millenia prior. Bread and grain is such a part of the fabric of society and religious and cultural tradition that I had to know why it was now viewed as being evil. There are a lot of opinions out there of course, but why now? Why so loud and obnoxious about it? Why are big food brands trying so hard to capture a market that didn’t exist even 5 years ago? It seemed a little suspicious and funny to me so I wanted to dig a little more. Sorting through the web is tough, so who do you turn to for input that is trustworthy and not just loaded with fear-mongering, or biased opinion, or subject exclusively to a marketing strategy?? What I wanted to find out was why and what has happened to grain in our country.
I am not a scientist, rather someone who doesn’t want to cut out whole swaths of ingredients simply because it is trendy to do so. I had read the following books, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and Catching Fire (no not that one, this Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human). I have read and re-read many posts with various thoughts, interviews, and opinions of people that I believe are much smarter than me, probably don’t have an agenda (except to educate – I hope), and then added conversations, on the phone, with local bakeries, restaurants, a state University, and farmers. The problem seemed to be the wheat itself. Something clearly had changed and I wanted to know what, or how I can get access to grain that hadn’t been messed with as much as some of the more recent flours, and so forth. Was it possible to get wheat products and flour that goes back far enough in our country’s history that it hasn’t been “modified” in the chemistry-lab-sort-of-way (it needs to be noted that there is no GMO wheat in Washington State, but that term is pretty loose after several high-level discussions)? Were there farmers in some states that were using an heirloom or ancient wheat variety that hadn’t been stripped of everything? What about my State? Armed with these questions and some data I decided to dig a little further.
I started by calling our biggest ag university in our state, WSU. I first called the school of agricultural economics who sent me to a lobbying organization in Ritzville, who sent me to a grain co-op in Pullman who told me that he didn’t know how to answer my question on “where can I get better flour.” He said he dealt with thousands of bushels of wheat at a time and would probably not be the right resource for me. During this round-robin of calls, I did however learn something that is pretty important – the role of the grain co-op. The grain co-op, those big cylindrical metal tubes that dot the landscape as you cross I90 through eastern Washington, is a collection (co-op) of wheat/corn/whatever from all over the area, in other words, this is the first place that grains get mixed from one farmer to the next. This is the first challenge in sourcing grain. Once its in those tanks, who knows what farmer did what to his/her wheat versus the other. I am not saying its bad…we just don’t know. And after it leaves the elevator? It goes to a mill, where it is mixed with even more local, intrastate, interstate, and even sometimes international grains, is milled, and then separated into bags or freight cars or whatever. Yet another “mix” that is impossible to track. No wonder we are all confused…
After essentially no luck with this round with the ag department at WSU (I will probably go further in this research as I have heard some good things since – specifically about their food “lab” in Mount Vernon, WA), I changed tactics and decided to call local bakeries and restaurants that I respect, who are committed to sustainable and healthy practices and source their base ingredients. This was most enlightening! I contacted Macrina Bakery, The Herbfarm, Sitka & Spruce, and the Dahlia Bakery, and found out that they ALL use one of two flours for all of their baking. It should be noted that the previous list of bakers and restaurants and their chefs/owners are considered leaders in both taste and in sustainability in the Seattle area. They are vetted to be sure.
What I found was that most used Shepherd’s Grain (Reardan, WA) flours and some added Fairhaven (Bellingham, WA) to their pantry of flours. I contacted Shepherd’s Grain (and looked at their website) as well as Fairhaven and discovered a couple of things: 1) Shepherd’s Grain is a collection of farmers, with real names of people, who, when you punch in the code (or call them up) of the flour you bought, you can get the exact wheat spec, family name, date of harvest, a full source of that flour! None of it has been genetically modified. Fairhaven is all certified USDA organic and when I contacted them, a nice gentleman answered the phone. It turns out that some of their grain, comes from Canada, Idaho, and Montana, as they ensure they have the right stuff for their wholesale and retail consumers.
Now knowing where the area’s leading bakeries and hip, sustainable-conscious chefs get their flour is imperative. I now feel like I have a legitimate source for buying the right kind of whole wheat, AP, and bread flours. Most cases are organic, and all cases are sourced and are not GMO and are as healthy and nutrient-rich a wheat-based flour can get in Washington State. This certainly was great news.
My experience, coupled with research, and my own inherent beliefs in our human, cultural, and religious histories, has led me to what I believe are pretty good solutions. Again, I am not a scientist, a biolgist, or an expert at any level but am simply a guy who wants to continue to bake and eat delicious bread and grains that will continue to nourish and provide happiness to those that I care about. Here are a couple of arm-chair solutions I think can work:
- Source your Flour – My research of local bakeries who work with flour and other grains everyday and are at the forefront of the local food scene get their flour from one of two places: Shepherd’s Grain (Reardan, WA) and Fairhaven (Bellingham, WA). These two flour/grain sources have been vetted and seem to be the the very best sources of good whole wheat, AP, and bread flour in our state. For the home baker, you can find these flours either in the bulk bins (Shepherd’s Grain) or in packages (Fairhaven) at local PCC’s and Whole Foods in the East King County area. You can also get Shepherd’s Grain AP flour in 50 pound sacks at Cash and Carry (Bellevue, WA location for sure, saw it myself!). You should probably research your part of the state for other places that sell this flour.
- Fermentation – One of the nation’s preeminent bakers is Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. He has written several baking books and is always considered one of the forerunners in baking high-quality, nutrient-rich breads in his bakery and helping the at-home baker accomplish similar results. One of his method’s for success? Fermentation. Not only does letting the dough sit for 12-18 hours improve the crumb and chew of the bread itself, the fermentation breaks down the wheat, gluten, etc. along with the yeast and salt at a molecular level, where wheat becomes more easily able to digest. Think of how cows chew. They have more than one stomach, and stomach one (essentially) ferments the grain and grass in such a way that allows for easier digestion as it passes to stomach two, and so forth. The science is fascinating but the key is simply our ability to break down grains. It is no wonder so many traditional breads have fermentation as part of the process (ciabatta, baguette, sourdough, naan, injeera, just to name a few). Let your dough sit and plan accordingly!
- Nutrition – If you are worried that all of the nutrients have been stripped from the AP or bread flour, then add 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour and/or wheat bran to your bread dough. The fermentation will help break this down, keeping the nutrition, but won’t compromise the delicious crumb you want to experience. You can also use spelt and kamut flours, which will lead to a more dense, less traditional bread but still bakes well. There is a lot more to the nutrition conversation, and I hope to add to it down the road, but hopefully you will see some hope here 😉
- Enjoy – I can’t say this emphatically enough. I sound like a broken record, but bread is meant to be enjoyed. Stop feeling so guilty, do a little research in your community and get back to buying or better yet, baking good, wholesome, delicious bread for you and your family. You don’t have to be embarassed any longer.
1 thought on “Grain Free for One Month – The Results are In!”
What? Shocked that you didn’t say .cause Wheat is a toxin, an opiate on the brain slnnaliigg you to EAT! lol Maybe once ppl get away from the constant cravings and the other sufferings due to wheat, smoking and other bad vices would fall away too .wanting to be completely healthy in the long run! Just sayin