Time to fight back our enemies

by Morton Sosland
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It is not customary for this page to begin with a quotation from another publication, but what follows is especially emphatic about a hugely important issue facing grain-based foods. The source is the Stanley Bing column that closed the June 2 issue of Fortune magazine. The quotation follows:

“I’d like to raise an alarm about a trend that should concern anyone who likes food and considers it an important part of the daily pursuit of whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing, including happiness. In the past several decades there have appeared, sneaking up in the gustatory underbrush, what I will call the Enemies of Food. Often garbed in the vestments of reformers and right-thinkers, sometimes armed with medical research of one form or another, they have as a group waged war on food, relentlessly working to drain the joy out of it. They have almost succeeded. And if they do, this world will be an even more sorry smorgasbord of woes.”

To readers of Fortune, Mr. Bing presents this call: “It’s time to fight back before these adversaries of pleasure drag us all back to the Middle Ages.” He goes on to give his description of the sorts of attackers that need putting down. He does not cite the enemies that grain-based foods faces currently, especially those that this page many years ago started calling “breadrappers.” If anything, this rapper-like assault has gained fire power to the point its focus on gluten content, G.M.O.’s and label complexity merges to target grain-based foods.

Awareness of what must be at stake in failing to fight and conquer these “enemies” became apparent in a recent report by Mintel, a company committed to using marketing research to guide consumer goods companies. Here’s what Mintel says lies ahead in pointing to a prospect that should terrify grain-based foods: “One of the latest nutrition fads has evolved out of the popular gluten-free diet — experimenting with grain-free foods.” It adds, “Grain-free benefits from a perception of health, viewed as a less processed diet and fits with consumers’ gradual shift away from processed foods.”

In declaring that “grain-free is starting to emerge as the next generation of gluten-free,” Mintel cites an increase in baked foods offerings made with non-grain flours. It says that criticism of western diets causes some or most of the stigma attached to grains. And it is wheat that takes the “heat” as the grain that supplies a fifth of global calories.

“Grain-free” coconut flour is among the products that have gained favor with bakers trying to make non-grain foods. Mintel says coconut flour is high in fiber and is a good source of protein. Highly absorbent, coconut flour requires less use, and its sweetness is also positive. All of this praise for coconut flour prompts a high degree of skepticism in contemplating groves of coconut trees replacing the wheat fields of the Great Plains. Doubt must also be expressed about basic baked foods being made with a range of other special flours designed to allow the baking of products without gluten. Potatoes, rice and bananas are among the products that can be converted into flour for baking, says Mintel. Laughter-inducing for anyone with knowledge about the qualities of wheat flour in baking bread or other products is to see banana flour called a substitute for wheat flour and gaining by having to use a quarter less of
banana flour.

Taking on this madness that is hitting so close to home, perhaps more targeted than ever before in the history of food quackery, raises the question of how to attack not whether. The industry may not sit and be assaulted in this damaging manner without a response that will quickly and efficiently lay to rest these Enemies of Food. No, these are Enemies of Bread. It is they who have fired the shots prompting this call for quick and powerful counter-attack.

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