Baking & Food Food for Thought

Modern Food

Industrial production of food has substantially changed what we eat. Our food has become higher quality, but in doing so it has also lost some of it’s benefits. Delilah recently sent me on a newsletter from pointing out that dirty is better – carrots covered in dirt last longer and are probably better for you (especially if they’re organic). The benefits of not being too clean are reasonably well known, but almost all food you get in a shop these days is well cleaned. I’m guessing because it lets you see what you’re buying, bruises and damaged veg can’t be hidden by mud. And I’d also say it’s to prevent short changing when goods are sold by weight – a 10Kg bag of spuds could become 8Kg of potato and 2Kg of mud and how can you tell?

So there are reasons for the cleanliness I guess, but it doesn’t detract from the benefits of the dirt, or what we’re losing through the standardisation and industrialisation of food making. So much has been changed to make food look better, last longer and be easier to prepare. Not that it’s all bad, the convenience is amazing, but it’s good to realise what we’re missing, and perhaps how we can improve things a little.

We bake our own bread when we get the time to do it, and this article (“Flour power: meet the bread heads baking a better loaf“) in the Guardian gave me some, well, food for thought, on where exactly our flour comes from and how good it is (not very).

The best thing since sliced bread turns out not to be sliced bread. Our supermarket loaf, which accounts for 80% of all the bread bought in the UK, is sweetish, soft and pappy. The ingredients listed on the plastic sleeve include added E-numbers, enzyme “improvers”, extra gluten, protein powders, fats, emulsifiers and preservatives. It is baked according to the Chorleywood process (named after the location of the lab where it was invented) developed in the 1960s for speed, from grain that has been milled between steel rollers, removing the germ where the oils and nutrients reside, and the bran husk where the fibre is, leaving only the endosperm, a pure starch so nutritionally void that by UK law vitamins must be added back into white flour.

Mechanised food factories demand ingredients that are standard, stable and easy to transport, and make products that are standard, stable and easy to transport. New wheats have been bred for high yields and high protein content that require inputs of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. To increase efficiency, hedgerows and copses have been eliminated and farmland agglomerated into increasingly larger tracts of monoculture.

We should strive for a better balance, I’m trying to incorporate better quality flours into our homemade breads for starters. The ultra industrialised flour is pretty poor in comparison, although it has the benefit of being really cheap in comparison to high-quality organic flours.

Which brings home the fact that eating quality food made at home is the province of someone with not only money but time on their hands too. There’s no easy answer to food industrialisation and monocultures – the alternatives are expensive, but perhaps there’s a third way – a mix of both surely could be achieved at less cost to the environment while not making foods overly costly?