How much or how little is today’s bread from supermarkets like the real loaf of bread from the days of our grandmothers? The director Maggie Beidelman found out that bread has two crusts everywhere, as the Czech saying goes, but what is in between the crusts is something we can’t be too sure of. See what she has to say about her search for the perfect bread.
When you feel unwell, have a headache and a bloated stomach and you feel like you have a hangover after eating bread, you might be gluten intolerant – or what’s worse you might have coeliac disease. These are exactly the symptoms that Maggie Beidelman saw in herself and although she was not diagnosed with the worse of the two conditions, she decided to find out why consumption of bread suddenly makes her feel so uncomfortable. She discovered that buying a really good loaf of bread requires detective-like search and/or a full wallet. What can you do, though, if you can’t afford bread that costs hundreds of Czech crowns?
The Trouble with Bread shows that today’s bread is not only flour, water and yeast or sourdough. You will find out why we only use the least valuable part of grains and why we then have to “enhance” bread with other substances that make us feel bad. But primarily, you will find out how to avoid being tricked by producers who try to use their marketing strategies even on the most essential food in our diet.
Your film describes your slightly vain effort to find “perfect” bread which wouldn’t cause you health problems. Have you succeeded?
Throughout the process of making the film, I tried many different kinds of bread, and I found that I could most tolerate breads that had very long fermentations and used whole-milled flour. But even that tolerance was not perfect, and those breads were expensive and hard to come by, so to this day it is easier for me to just avoid eating bread. The “perfect” bread may very well exist out there, but until we make high quality and long fermented breads more available and more affordable, many of those with non-celiac gluten intolerance may just continue to be “gluten-free.”
“Does modern industrial milling really affect American’s health?”
I do think that modern roller milling practices, though more effective and efficient, rob us of certain nutrients necessary to a healthy diet. Whereas “whole” milling (the old way), mills the entire seed as a whole and retains some if not all of the most nutrient-rich part of the seed called the germ, our modern roller milling breaks apart the seed, mills each element separately, and puts the pieces back together at the end, minus the nutritious germ. We really miss out on a lot of the good stuff. So yes, I think that health organizations, and really the government in general, has the duty to not only let us know how our food is made, but to make labelling clear and understandable for the average consumer. As it is now, you can stamp the label “natural” on a bag of food and it would carry absolutely no meaning. That’s just not fair. Consumers have a right to know exactly what they are eating, and the labelling of foods should not be tricky or misleading. It should be honest, and clear.
In the film we get to see farmers who purposefully grow older wheat varieties and make “premium” bread. Is it only a few individuals who try to provide an alternative to industrial agriculture, or is it a growing business sector reacting to the increased demand for such products?
Actually, the farm where I filmed grew a modern wheat variety, one of the most common, called hard red winter wheat. At the time of the making of this film, it was difficult to find entire farms dedicated to producing older wheat varieties because, as the farmer in the film tells us, those older varieties are unpredictable and more susceptible to disease. I’m not sure if there has been an increase in demand for those older wheat flours since I made the film, but I can’t imagine that large commercial farms would suddenly go back to growing older wheat varieties since they are such an unpredictable — and thus costly — product.
You don’t talk about it in the film but still – have you tried to make your own sourdough bread? Was it good?
Yes, I spent many a frustrating day and hours in the kitchen trying to make my own sourdough bread with my own natural sourdough starter — it’s hard to do! I did successfully make it a few times, and it tasted pretty good, but honestly it’s not something I’d have time to do in my day-to-day life. That being said, there is something viscerally pleasing about kneading dough, and it’s extremely satisfying to eat a warm slice of bread that you’ve made yourself!