Monday, January 31, 2011

What exactly is in your store-bought bread?

Readers beware: your bread purchases are about to change forever - for the better! Don't worry - I have also included lots of options of how to make or buy REAL bread.

First, things that are in my bread; flour (usually both white and wheat, this time rye), salt, sugar, water, yeast, sometimes a fat.

The things in store-bought bread: 

This a table taken almost entirely from Andrew Whitley's book Bread Matters, pgs. 8-13. Any of my additions are added in italics. 

What does it do?
What’s the problem?
Main ingredient: source of carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and other micronutrients.
Many nutrients are depleted in refined (white) flours.
Added to refined flour: Nicain, reduced iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Calcium Sulfate
Restores lost vitamins and minerals to refined flour.
Synthetically derived; why not just use what nature provided before it was refined?
Necessary to make flour into dough.

Adds flavor; strengthens the gluten network in the dough; aids in keeping the quality of the bread (as a water attractant and a partial mold inhibitor.)
Under pressure from food agencies, the bread industry is gradually reducing levels of salt in bread.
Aerates bread, makes it light in texture, and may contribute to flavor.
Excessive use may lead to digestive problems. (Jenn’s note: ever wondered where gluten intolerances came from?)
Hard fats improve load volume, crumb softness, and keeping quality. Hydrogenated fats have been commonly used, thought plant bakers are phasing them out.
Not essential in traditional breadmaking, though often used. Hard to do without some fat in industrial bread. (Jenn's note: the fat in the label above is from canola and/or soy, which are generally derived from GM crops unless certified Organic.) 
HFCS is an artificial sweetener derived from corn that has undergone an enzymatic process to convert glucose into fructose. Bakery items use HFCS 42 – meaning 42% fructose and 58% glucose.
All HFCS is derived from genetically modified (GM) corn. It is labeled “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, yet has health and environmental concerns and some HFCS contains mercury, a neurotoxin. 
Non-fat dry milk
Is used to decrease staling rate, and improve crust color and softness.
Not essential in breakmaking, yet adds additional nutrition and calcium.
Flour Treatment Agent
L-ascorbic acid (E300). Can be added to flour by the miller or at the baking stage. Acts as an oxidant, which helps retain gas in the dough, making the loaf rise more.
No nutritional benefits to the consumer (because degraded by the heat of baking.) Increased loaf volume may give the false impression of value.
Chlorine dioxide gas to make flour white, used by millers for decades until banned in the UK in 1999. In other countries, eg the US, flour may still be bleached.
No nutritional benefits to the consumer. Chlorine is a potent biocide and greenhouse gas.
Reducing Agent
L-cysteine hydrochloride (E920). Cysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid. Use in backing to create more stretchy dough, especially hamburger buns and baguettes. 
No intended nutritional benefit, though also sold as a supplement. May be derived from animal hair and feathers. So vegans and vegetarians – watch out!
Soy Flour
Widely use in bread as “improvers.” Has a bleaching effect on flour, assists “machinability” of dough and volume and softness of bread. Enables more water to be added to the dough mix.
Increasingly likely to be derived from genetically modified soybeans. Over 90% of the acres of soybeans planted in the US are GM.
Widely used in bread “improvers” to control the size of gas bubbles, to enable to dough to hold more gas, and there grow bigger, to make the crumb softer, and to reduce the rate of staling. They include:
E471: Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids
E472e: Mono- and diacetyltartaric acid of esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids
E481: Sodium strearoyl-2-lactylate (SSL)
E422: Glycerol mono-stearate (GMS)
E322” Lecithins – naturally occurring, mainly derived from soy
No nutritional benefit to consumer.
Soy lecithin may be derived from GM soy.
Increased loaf volumes gives misleading impression of value and post-baking softness may be confused with “freshness.”
Calcium propionate (E282) is widely used. Vinegar (E260 acetic acid) is also used, though less effective. Preservatives are only necessary for prolonged shelf life. Home freezing is a chemical-free alternative.
No nutritional benefit to consumer. Calcium propionate can cause “off” flavors if over-used and may be a carcinogen.
Came to the rescue of industrial breadmakers when additives like azodicarbonamide and potassium bromate were banned. Bread enzymes fall into various categories and have varied functions in breadmaking;
Maltogenic amylase

Note: In general, these are use to increase elasticity, delay staling, increase loaf volume, give better crust color, and keep bread soft.

Interesting to note: the bread label I took a picture of does include the word "enzymes" as an ingredient. 
No nutritional benefit to consumer.
No requirements to be included on ingredient declarations, because they are currently treated as “processing aids.” Even if the EU law in amended, the single word “enzymes” will be all that is require on label, leaving consumers in the dark about the origin the particular enzymes used.
Often produced by genetic engineering, though this is unlikely to be stated on consumer product labels.
Use of phospholipase derived from pig pancreas would be unacceptable to vegetarians and some religious groups, but there is no requirement to declare enzymes, let alone their source.
Some enzymes are potential allergens, notably Alpha-amylase. Bakery workers can become sensitized to enzymes from bread improvers.
Amylase can retain some of its potency as an allergen in the crust of loaves after baking.
Transglutaminase may act upon gliadin proteins in the dough to generate the epitope associated with celiac disease. 

*Another thing to look out for is caramel coloring, which may give bread the appearance of wheat but will not have the benefits of whole grains. 

So, what to do? 

1. It may be time to start making your own bread! Check out the "Bread Recipes" page to get started, or find yourself a good cookbook! (Hayley and I had a blast making bread together!

2. Read the labels of your bread - and then only purchase bread if you are satisfied with the ingredients. 

3. Buy Organic bread - the Organic certification guarantees that there will be no GM ingredients, artificial chemicals or processing aids. Try Dave's Killer Bread

4. Find a local bakery and talk to the bakers, ask about how they make their bread and request an ingredient list. A great place to start around Bellingham - Avenue Bread! 

5. Enjoy your bread - enjoy the taste, the texture, and feel GOOD about the ingredients! 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

S&S Homestead Farm

Last Friday my Agroecology class ventured out to Lopez Island to visit a Biodynamic farm - S&S Homestead, run by Henning and Elizabeth Sehmsdorf.

Henning was absolutely rivoting to listen to. His 74+ years (not that you can tell!) are filled with not only a Ph.D., but a wealth of experience and wisdom.

A biodynamic (BD) farm is considered one living unit, an organism in and of itself, and all parts are dependent upon one another. That being said, a BD farm must have both plants and animals. The plants provide sustenance for the animals, and the animals provide fertility for the plants, and both support the farmers who supports them in return. In addition, BD farming is based on a spiritual science, or anthroposophy. Once again working the land is connected to spirit and faith, which struck this morning while singing the hymn Lord of All Hopefullness with the verse:

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,

Whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe,

Be there at our labors, and give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord, at the noon of the day.

The secret to success of a BD (or any farm for that matter) is in the soil. That was out first topic of discussion - Henning showed us a chunk of soil he pulled out of a field in the Skagit Valley.

You can see a tiny little plant trying to make it - yet there is something not quite right with this soil. Soil typically is about 25% water, 25% air, 35% minerals, 3% organic matter or humus and some other stuff. This didn't seem to have any water or air in it at all - nor organic matter.

In contrast, here is Henning's soil, with 13% organic mater.

See the worms? ORGANIC MATTER in action!

Things that affect soil fertility:
1. Planting the same crop time and time again, depleting the soil of nutrients.
2. Erosion which wipes away topsoil.
3. Compaction from heavy equipment such as tractors.
4. Chemicals and nutrient imbalances.
5. Tilling - which breaks up the fungal structure (which can extend quite a distance!)

So, in lieu of tilling and tractors, Henning uses this to aerate the soils:

Since it is January, perhaps the least beautiful time of the year, there wasn't too much going on in the vegetable  garden, but there were brussel sprouts!

Henning talked about the farm also as a place of beauty and aesthetic pleasure, and proclaimed that if you didn't think his hay loft was beautiful then you didn't have eyes. So I climbed up into the hay loft, and it didn't matter what it looked like, it was so pleasant and fragrant; reminded me of family reunions in Minnesota when I was young.

The buildings were truly beautiful - made from natural wood and not messy and full of rusting old tractors that had broken down (since he only has one small tractor!)

Then we moved on to meet Abby, their one dairy cow. She gets a comfy bed for the nights, after all, she is expecting, and open pasture during the day. On a BD farm there is no Artificial Insemination - so a combination of cows, heifers, steers and bulls live together. Henning has 11 total cattle.

Abby produces about 2 gallons of milk a day - plenty for their family to have milk and cheese. She will produce milk for about 16 years - which is astonishing, considering Eldridge hopes to get 6-8 years, and a typically conventional dairy hopes for 2-3. I thought the organic dairy did a fine job of managing, but after seeing a BD, the interconnectedness and beautiful simplicity, it makes you rethink it all.

Abby was so gentle, she saw us walking into her pasture and immediately came over and nuzzled right up to us. I was not ever concerned about being hurt or trampled. These two cows are also expecting down below. Notice that they do not have their horns removed, which BD farmers believe this takes a certain life force away from the cows. Also, when you have so few cows that are so well taken care of, why should you be concerned about them trampling you? Also, not a single animal had any tags pierced through their ears. They were as natural as can be.

Henning also has developed quite the composting system. When he was telling us about his composting practices, he did not once refer to manure as a waste-management problem. He called it a gift. He places the gift along with straw underneath a tarp during the winter, and he had us place our hands on it - and you could feel the heat the bacteria were producing!

The farm also has sheep, chickens, and sometimes pigs as well.

Henning's family eats entirely from what his farm produces - the only things they purchase are coffee and tea. And what a treat - Henning made soup for us!

Beans and barley in a beef broth.

 There is so much more I could talk about - for instance, the soup took 5 days to make. Talk about Slow Food! The broth was make from a beef bone, the beans were fermented in whey, and then cooked slowly at a low temperature to maintain the nutritional content. It was delicious.

It really made me think about why I eat mostly vegetarian - and that is because I don't support industrial meats. If I were to become a BD farmer, I would have no qualms about eating meat again. And Ross is excited about that prospect too... =) The meat, the subsentence, the nutrition, would be a blessing and a gift. 

There is so much more I could share, but I don't want to overwhelm you, so check out biodynamic preps, the Demeter certification (the BD version of certified organic), and the history and founder, Rudolf Steiner

And just because it was funny: on our ferry ride back we got into a tight spot. I drove the rented 12-passenger van, and as we went onto the ferry the spot I was supposed to get into was TIGHT! A truck was in the lane next to us, but was so far over that we had to pull in yet couldn't get out of any of the doors. So most people climbed out the back doors, while Megan and I went out the passenger side window. 

Even funnier: the truck's passenger door was broken! So the owners had to wait for us to drive away before the could get in. Ah life is comical. 

Classmates on the ferry!

Had you ever heard of Biodynamic farming before?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beer Bread

Looking for simple, hearty, perfect companion for soup? Look no further!

Beer bread is simple because it requires only 4 ingredients, no kneading and no yeast. I got this recipe from my dear friend Sarah Halstead - which she recited to me from heart! That's how simple it is!

All you need is: 

3 cups flour (I used half wheat and half white) 
3 Tbs sugar
3 tsp baking powder 
1 12oz beer  

So, measure it all out: 

Add the beer: 

Mix well:

Be sure to grease the loaf pan with butter - it will give it great flavor - but not too much or it will make your bread soggy.

                                                               Bake for 45 minutes at 375 F.

And you have a loaf of beer bread!

What I think is the most fun about beer bread is choosing the beer. Typically, the darker the beer the more flavor, which is why I went with the Oatmeal Stout from Trader Joe's. Oh yeah, and it's cheap and I like the chocolate-coffee flavor. (Yes, you can drink beer while making this bread.)

I would recommend avoiding light beers, and I would never recommend any domestic lagers (for drinking or bread). Stronger beers like an amber, a red or an IPA are fun to experiment with.

This bread is somewhat crumbly and therefore doesn't work well for sandwiches, but it prefect for soup! And what better way to spend the next couple rainy days? (Well, in you're in the PNW anyway.)


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Alm Hill Gardens

The second stop on our field trip was to Alm Hill Gardens, part of Growing Washington.

This was a very different stop compared to Eldridge Dairy Farm because there were no animals! Alm Hill Gardens grows vegetables - and basically, if you can grow it in this climate, they try.

It was getting dark at this time - so the pictures aren't so great, but we walked around the "home garden" (there are a few other plots of land that aren't directly connected to the one we stopped by) and saw the greenhouses and fields. This time of year the only thing growing outside were leeks! Leeks are a hardy winter vegetable that can withstand wet, cold weather and even frost.

We got to go into one of the greenhouses - and what a nice time that was! We were outside shivering from the cold, and once inside a greenhouse I could have sworn I was back in Costa Rica. You can really control the temperature and humidity of a greenhouse, they are mini-climates. 

You can see how my camera lens fogged up inside the greenhouse!

The green house we ventured into was for tulips, which are sold mostly at Pike Place Market in Seattle. These are all the tulips that were picked and ready to go to market tomorrow. (Tulips are my favorite flower, if you were curious, since they traditionally bloom right around my birthday.)

Alm Hill Gardens had some trouble with their crops this past year because of herbicide-tainted manure that was spread on their fields. You can read the story in detail here, but if you recall from my last post, dairy farmers have to take care of a lot of waste, and one way to do so is to give it to organic farms who use it to increase the fertility of their soil. However, USDA organic standards do not require the manure to come from organic dairies, and there, chemicals may be used. 

That's where it got ugly - the cows consumed grass that was treated with aminopyralid - a broadleaf herbicide. What happened was that the herbicide did not break down as it traveled through the digestive systems of the cows, and was applied in full force to the fields of organic farms, which, therefore, kills many plans such as tomatoes and peppers. Those vegetables, along with raspberries, are the big money makers for the farm as well. 

Fortunately, because Alm Hill Gardens is part of a larger cooperative - Growing Washington - their offerings for the CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, could be varied and supplemented by other farmers in the area so that shareholders would still receive a variety of fresh and local fruits and vegetables. However, it has definitely made them rethink whose manure they accept, and questions to ask. Alm Hill Gardens actually relinquished their organic certification, though they haven't changed their farming practices, and this is why:

“This decision of protest is made with high hopes that both the manufacturers of potent, persistent, widely disseminated herbicides and the agencies tasked with regulating and permitting their use can work together to protect the welfare of the general public and also the welfare of farmers who are experiencing incredible losses that WSDA- [Washington State Department of Agriculture] administered soil and tissue tests trace back to these persistent herbicides.”

Once again - there is so much to think about with organic farming, and as a farmer you must really be meticulous and really stand up for yourself, because clearly the regulating agencies aren't doing enough. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I went on a field trip!

Yes, I got to go on a field trip. No, I wasn't chaperoning children - it was for ME!

I am currently taking an Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture course at Western Washington University. We are learning about organic and bio-dynamic farming methods, as well as thinking about farm resilience. You can learn about about the project by clicking on the link, but resilience in the farming sense is essentially a farm's ability to bounce back from natural (or other types) of disasters or economic stresses.

So - to the field trip - we first went to Eldridge Farm, a small family dairy farm in Nooksack, WA. Eldridge Farm is a part of the Organic Valley Coop.

So, this is Matt Eldridge:

We asked Matt why he decided to go organic - and he said that he truly wanted to know what he was eating, and that it became even more important when he and his wife had children. He posed the question as to whether or not you can really trust the government's decisions about what may or may not be safe to eat, or to apply to crops, or to give to animals. How many stories are there about people getting sick from contaminated foods? Too many. I whole heartedly agree with him. And - well, Matt is a businessman - and you do get quite the premium for organic milk.

So, he built the dairy from the ground up, and now, these are his pride and joy:

Eldridge Farm has 145 spoiled rotten jersey cows (in a healthy, happy cow way). They are staying in a free-stall barn (which means they can walk all around within the barn) for the winter since much of the pasture available to them is currently flooded.

They do love all the fresh air! I have read about large dairy/feedlot operations and heard horror stories about cows living in 2 feet of their own manure... but their barn is cleaned out twice a day. More on manure management soon...

Notice what they are eating - it is a mixture of alfalfa, local hay, corn silage, grains and vitamins/minerals. At first I was upset - cows aren't supposed to eat corn - but it only accounts for a small percentage of their feed mix, and does offer valuable protein. Matt equated it to a weight lifter drinking a protein shake, and as long as it is in moderation the cows stay very healthy and do put on a little extra weight. Plus, the corn comes from Matt's neighbor across the road. The hay comes from Whatcom County and the alfalfa from eastern Washington. I guess the cows have read Michael Pollan as well and are opting for local foods. ;-)

This is where their feed is stored in the winter. It is essentially an enormous can - the cement walls bound it on both side and there is a tarp on top to prevent it from getting wet and molding.

This is the "maternity ward." I was fascinated to learn that all the cows are artificially inseminated - prior to owning his own dairy Matt worked as a breeder. He says that these cows have some of the best genes in the world, you can tell he is proud.

And this is where the young heifers live:

The cows are milked twice daily, once at 4am and once at 4pm.

Another very interesting aspect of the farm operating was manure management. As I mentioned, the barn is cleaned out twice a day, but where does the manure go?

In here:

The pit is completely sealed so as to not contaminate ground water, and when it reaches a certain level the pump turns on and take the watery manure into the digester. 

It can be dumped into a vehicle to transport to other farms who use the manure as a valuable source of fertility for organic farms.

Matt has to comply with many USDA Organic standards and well as standards from the Organic Valley Coop, and both inspect him at least twice a year. He says the biggest challenge is the "Big O" Organic, or industrial organic. Matt goes above some of the organic standards, whereas some 2,500 head dairy operations can market their milk with the organic label yet are missing many of the values of the organic movement, such as sustainable practices and supporting the small, family farmer.

Aurora Organic (when I Google-searched the first thing that came up in the suggested searches was "lawsuit") has only two locations - one in Colorado with 4,200 cows and one in Texas with 2,800 cows, and they account for 80% of the organic milk market and sell their products throughout the US. They are a "market killer," because they flood the market with the desirable product - organic milk - at a commodity price.

Additionally, part of their website touts their commitment to "organic stewardship" and "sustainability." While they present it well, I have a hard time believing such a large operation whose main buyers are Cost-co, Wal-Mart and Safeway truly align with sustainable agriculture and truly organic ideals.

Really - this makes it even tougher for consumers! We may think we are doing a great thing for our bodies and for the planet by buying organic, but this makes one wonder. Clearly, it is not only important to support organic, but to also know exactly where your organic product is coming from.

And, well, there was nothing questionable about what I saw from these happy dairy cows.

Coming tomorrow, our second stop: Alm Hill Gardens.