Friday, August 9, 2013

The staff of life

I like bread. I'm conscious of my need to limit carbs, and consequently limit my consumption, but I do like good bread. I'm acquainted with people who can't eat wheat at all and so am grateful for the much greater availability of gluten-free foods. At the same time I don't get the avoidance of wheat by those who neither suffer from celiac disease nor from an allergy to wheat. I found a Slate article from last February helpful in making some distinctions:
According to USA Today, up to one-quarter of all consumers now want gluten-free food, even though only one person in 100 has celiac disease, the autoimmune disorder worsened by gluten ingestion. Going gluten-free seems somewhat faddish. ....

To understand the proper role of gluten-free diets requires untangling three separate and unrelated medical problems blamed on gluten: celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten intolerance. Here’s the thing: The first problem is almost certainly underdiagnosed, but the latter two are likely to be overdiagnosed. ....

...[T]he most confusing problems arise with the third problem blamed on gluten: so-called gluten intolerance. This condition is neither an autoimmune disorder, like celiac disease, nor an allergy, like true wheat allergy. There’s not even a mediocre blood test for gluten intolerance. The diagnosis simply relies on someone’s subjective feelings of bloating, bowel changes, or mental fogginess after eating gluten. This is a set-up for all manner of pseudo-scientific self-diagnoses, especially when you consider that 2 percent of people believe they have illnesses caused by magnetic fields. ....

...[T]he data suggest that almost two-thirds of people who think they are gluten-intolerant really aren’t. .... [more]
The avoidance of wheat by those who don't need to is particularly odd when it is remembered that people in western and African civilizations always ate bread [and often little else]. From "Bread in the Middle Ages":
...[I]t was the staple of life for the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and was eaten throughout the Roman Empire.  It was made by grinding cereal grains, such as wheat, millet or barley, into flour, then kneading it with a liquid, perhaps adding yeast to make the dough rise and lighten, and finally baking. Bread comes in all shapes and sizes, but in his book Bread: A Global History, William Rubel notes that Europe has had a “loaf-bread culture” for the last 2,000 years, while flat bread remained popular in the Middle East and Africa.

By the beginning of the Middle Ages the preference was to eat white bread made from wheat - medieval physicians also recommended it as being the healthiest – but poorer peoples would bake darker breads with oats or rye. If one needed too, people could also add rice, peas, lentils, chestnuts, acorns or other foods into the mixture. In medieval France, most people would eat a type of bread known as meslin, which was made from a mixture of wheat and rye. ....

Terrence Scully notes “that bread was the basis of the medieval diet” and the amount that people ate throughout Europe was remarkably similar. He finds that records from England, France and Italy that workmen, soldiers and even patients in hospitals were supposed to get about two pounds of bread per day.

Like today, breads made in the Middle Ages came in all shapes and sizes. For example, in the Polish city of Wroclaw the people could buy and eat breads such as common white bread, common rye bread, black rye bread, wheat rolls, bagels, crescent rolls and flat cakes. Besides using bread just for food, medieval people often used it as their plates: known as trenchers, these were breads that were cut into thick flat slices. Then other foods like meats or thick sauces would be served on top of them. Once the meal was finished, the bread could then be eaten, or, if you were wealthy or generous enough, was given to the poor or to animals. .... more]
And then there is John 6:35.