If it’s possible for an entire industry to be libeled, then that is what happened to grain-based foods in the book review section of The New York Times of July 1. On page 19 of this section appeared a review of a book bearing “White Bread” as its title. Without looking at the book itself, the review, by someone named Tamara Adler, is an outrageous onslaught against the bread baking business in the United States and by innuendo on all food manufacturers. It uses outright falsehoods and scurrilous accusations to imply that the baking industry is producing loaves that are undermining the health of Americans who eat enriched sliced white bread. The review’s accusations are so blatantly wrong that the temptation is great to hope that it may stand as the lowest point in this unhappy period when people are often heard seeking to reverse all the progress made in food manufacturing and to return to eating like in some bygone era.
What makes writers of these sorts of diatribes yearn for a return to ancient foods is impossible to say. This review makes the flour ground by millstones into something deliciously “dark and nutty” that differs totally from any historical description of what grinding with stones actually produced — a flour with as much stone, dirt and other unsavory elements as wheat itself. What the review criticizes as “roll” grinding with steel roller mills is dismissed as destroying the quality of bread.
Particularly dishonest is the review’s repeat of the ancient canard attacking modern-day bread based on an experiment where dogs were fed only bread for a period of time and sickened. The question is not asked as to what food, from broccoli to butter, could have been fed for a long period of time that would not produce the same result? Instead, the review says, “Not only does our bread not sustain us, it can barely feed us safely.” If that’s not awful enough, it embraces the book’s assertion that bakers mainly responded to health concerns of the moment to change loaves, and that these adaptations were largely counter-productive. Early concerns about sanitation are related to current worries about the spread of disease.
While wanting to avoid singling out any particularly disastrous assertion, the review’s twisting of the grand history of enrichment looms large. The review says, in a statement that is unprecedented for damning what really happened, ”Enriched white bread was invented as an antidote to its own poison.” It adds, “America’s nutritional and business establishment chose to synthetically enrich our pillowy loaves.” The review praises Britain for what was a mandatory increase in flour extraction during World War II, failing to note that this came about (after extensive delays because of public resistance) as a result of wartime shortages and efforts to save wheat, not as a superior nutritional initiative. That white bread enrichment is characterized as a “debacle” is totally at odds with its contributions to the health and longevity of Americans today, as well as the international efforts to spur enrichment for populations in emerging nations currently suffering from malnutrition.
And there’s even more, such as the claim that government and American business interests “collude to manufacture both problem and solution.” Alleged is that “the story of white bread,” at least how the review manages to distort that proud record, “contains many more stories of irresponsibly deployed technology, corporate greed and public welfare placed in the hands of distant stakeholders.”
The review’s conclusions hardly bear repeating in this magazine that is happily and proudly committed, even dedicated, to speaking out for bread baking as well as all of grain-based foods. Whereas the review libelously alleges that the American dream of safe bread has been turned into a nightmare, it is our contention that American bread, in all its forms, provides a safe, nutritious and deliciously pleasant food that has benefited America in the past and will continue to do so into the future.