John Nist, James Brown and the Bastardization of Humanity’s Most Beloved Staple.

Bread is one of the most powerful foods on the planet.    Each region of the world has taken this simple staple and has adapted it to reflect local taste, ingredients and artisan influence. There is spiritual meaning in this staple.  Roman Catholics equate bread to the body of Jesus Christ.  In the old testament, manna rained from the heavens during times of desert travel. Bread is the focal point of famous works of art throughout many centuries.  In 1498, Leonardo Di Vinci finished the last supper which depicted the sharing of bread among Jesus and his apostles.  Picasso’s “The Blind Man’s Meal” was a haunting painting featuring a small loaf of bread is characteristic of his blue period. One of the most famous pictures of the 20th century was “Grace” by American Eric Enstrom which simply shows a man saying grace in front of a loaf of bread.

The Blind Man's Meal by Pablo Picasso-1903
The Blind Man’s Meal by Pablo Picasso-1903
Grace by Eric Enstrom 1918
“Grace” by Eric Enstrom 1918

I think bread is the fashion of the food world. I grew up in a post-hippy financially constrained family. My clothes were like my bread….most times I ate Cecutti’s white bread while wearing leisure pants.  I was content.  It was a simple time. Grocery aisles weren’t lined with designer bread..choices were limited primarily to brown or white.Weekends were more exciting, which included a ride to Golden Grain bakery in Sudbury after church followed by a rush home so butter could be slathered on the loaf of Dark Rye while it was still warm.

One of my most vivid memories of high school was when my grade 13 teacher recited a poem called  Revolution: The Vicious Circle by John Nist. He quietly sat and started muttering the word bread, repeating it over an over, raising his voice each time.  By the fifth bread he was screaming like a lunatic and suddenly recited the word dead with the speed of a machine gun. After a brief pause he repeated the bread mantra again with the same deliberate crescendo, ending with a BREAD! that even woke up the dude in the back who slept through 80% of every class he ever sat in.

                                    bread!

                                 b r e a d !

                              B  r  e  a  d  !

                            B   r   e   a   d   !

                         B     R    E    A     D   !

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

                                   bread!

                                 b r e a d !

                              B  r  e  a  d  !

                            B   r   e   a   d   !

                         B     R    E    A     D   !

I can’t deny that bread, like anything else, is based on  a supply and demand model. In our current age of entitlement and need for individualization, it’s not surprising that such a wide variety exists.  Choices now range in the dozens but the irony is the vast majority of these are controlled by two companies; George Weston Limited Weston and Canada Bread (who is utlimately owned by Maple Leaf foods). Otherwise, the smaller bakeries are being swallowed up by others.  Take for example, Guenther and Son, a Texas company  who has recently acquired three Canadian bakeries including one which supplies baked goods to McDonald’s in Eastern Canada and the US Midwest.

Canada’s flawed food guide preaches that we as consumers should eat an abundant amount of baked goods but recommends whole grains to provide the necessary fibre and nutrients necessary for optimal health.  Dempster’s for example (yep…owned by Canada Bread) among others have pounced on this by producing the Healthy Way line which includes the  Double My Fibre!, Say No To Fat and Sugar! and Boost my Protein! (just a note..exclamation marks must mean it’s good).  This whole line is nothing but a feel good means of fooling people into believing that they can rely on a quick and packaged means of providing the necessary nutrients necessary for optimal health.  Each designer bread promises exactly what you need.  They are surprisingly similar however.  For example, Say no to Fat and Sugar! comes with the tagline “helps maintain a healthy body weight” although it has the same caloric content as Double my Fibre!.  Boost my Protein! offers the same amount of protein as Double my Fibre! It’s smoke and mirrors..nothing more than disguising a similar product with an ingenious marketing program. Take the following clip for example.

First of all, James Brown must be rolling in his grave. Clearly, the rock ‘n roll icon is being copied  as a second rate entertainer you would hire for a birthday party.  Second, it’s unclear as to what anything in this entire scene has to do with bread other than the one or two second break the guy takes to gnaw into a sandwich in between his slick dance moves. And who the hell is Jason?

Speaking of James Brown, perhaps his death may have been avoided if Dempster’s Healthy Way with ProCardio recipe bread was available.  Nothing speaks cardiovascular health like this ingredient list:

Water, whole grain whole wheat flour including the germ, oat bran, wheat gluten, sugar/glucose-fructose, inulin (chicory root), yeast*, oat fibre, sugar beet fibre, plums, vegetable oil (canola or soybean), vinegar, salt, acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, sorbic acid, trisodium citrate 2-hydrate, potassium chloride, magnesium carbonate, natural flavour. *order may change. May contain sesame seeds, soybean and sulphites. [L804].

Other than a slightly lower amount of  sodium (110 mg vs 150-200 per slice) and a good whack of fibre , I see little to justify the bold claim made on their website: “The only bread uniquely designed for those looking to maintain healthy cholesterol  and blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of heart disease”. I’m unaware of any data showing the positive effects of acetylated tartaric acid of mono and diglycerides on cardiovascular health. Some will attempt to link inulin to improvements in metabolic parameters but little data exists.  In fact, any benefit from inulin seems to come from ultra-high doses and usually comes at the expense of diarrhea, bloating and other GI upset.

You are What you Eat.

As mentioned, bread is a staple in the diets of many. It is rooted in symbolism and has meaning  beyond simple sustenance. Therefore, it makes sense to suggest that the type of bread one prefers says a lot about themselves as a person.  Take the following for example.

Home Baker

Owns at least one apron with something like “World’s Greatest Baker” or “Better than Eggspected” written on it. Announces days in advance that they will make bread with the eggspectation that everybody will be in a fasting state come the day. In turn, they consume half the homemade loaf and justifying it by citing the caloric expenditure needed to kneed bread for seven minutes. Prone to criticize any bread that isn’t theirs, especially their rival down the road who uses, gasp!, a bread maker instead of good old-fashioned elbow grease.

White Bread

Afraid to take chances and probably still lives at home.  Likely rejects health professionals and their misguided calls for healthier eating.  Extremely stubborn..showers with soap instead of body wash, drives with a stick shift and probably likes bologna.

Whole Wheat

Tend to think this is the only diet change necessary to sustain optimal help.  Enjoys one upping white bread eaters by ordering brown toast with their greasy breakfast followed by the comment “You eventually get used to it”. Parks as close to front door of restaurant as possible.

Ancient Grains

Always had a secret desire to live off the land but didn’t develop the skills to do so. Owns a Tilly hat. Also wanted to be on the archery team in high school.   Likely watches Survivor, Siberia and Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls. Secretly tapes shows on OLN and about Mayan history.

Naan

If Caucasian, attributes consuming naan bread to a spiritual awakening resulting in the opening of the third eye chakra which further demonstrates their spiritual superiority over their friends and family. Shakes head at those who block their chakras by eating the European stuff.

Roti

Just like the Naan eater but one ups them by claiming a yeast intolerance in addition to the need for chakra cleansing.

Injera

Actively seeks and embraces new food trends to justify donning plastic rimmed glasses and vats of hair gel. Biggest enemy is the naan eater who is outdated by following a food trend that is so 2011. Uses wikipedia frequently to remind themselves why they eat injera and to learn at least one other kind of Ethiopian food.  Opts for sandals over shoes.

Also appealing to running room enthusiasts who attribute their  improved endurance to the consumption of the same carbohydrate as Ethiopian marathon runners.  Specifically, they cite the super grain teff not realizing that ironically most injera in Canada is made with wheat, barley and rye, a stark contrast to their belief that wheat belly is the leading cause of sluggishness in North America (also see gluten free).

Bagels

Thinks that nutritional pundits who equate one bagel with four slices of bread are leaders of a government conspiracy.  Rolls eyes at those who fail to match flavoured bagels with the appropriate cream cheese. Swears the best bagels are either in Montreal or New York even though they’ve never been to either city.

Vegetable Bread

Subscribe to Today’s Parent magazine and pat themselves on the back for fooling their children and/or spouse into eating healthy.  May not eat this bread themselves since they like real vegetables but have empathy for those who don’t. Like crows, attracted to shiny things like orange bread and scantily clad yoga enthusiasts in television commercials.

Healthy Way- Double my Fibre!

Sees a good day as one that includes at least one bowel movement.  Have convinced themselves that  orange flavoured Metamucil tastes good.  Hobbies include watching the Price is Right, reading Prevention magazine and rushing to the grocery store when toilet paper goes on sale.

Healthy Way- Boost my Protein!

Believes that no amount of protein a day is enough and likely washes it down with a whey shake.  May lather with 2 tbsp of mayonnaise because they read somewhere that like protein, liberal consumption of fat at meals makes you feel full….and it’s healthy fat! Could possibly be seen wearing a bandana or a  muscle shirt depicting some animal dressed as a human pumping heavy amounts of iron.

Healthy Way with ProCardio Recipe

Reluctant to take medications since they think all health professionals (except Dr. Oz) are in the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies and swear they can reduce their risk of heart disease by eating bread, listening to Cat Stevens and walking their dog Muffy.  They smell like garlic, drink 14 cups of green tea a day and take melatonin so they can sleep at night.

Thin Slice

Also buy 100 calorie portion controlled chips, chocolate bars and soft drinks.  Reads the less than 600 calorie menu at restaurant but opts for the burger promising to return to lean cuisines tomorrow. Watches “The Biggest Loser” while eating frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and thinks Jillian Michaels is an inhabitant of the planet “Awesome”.

Thick Slice/Texas toast

Laughs at any joke or statement containing the words “it’s not the length, it’s the width that matters” or “Everything is bigger in Texas”.  Thinks breakfasts with two eggs and Hondas are for sissies. Likely has a tattoo paying homage to either  their country or mother.  Drives a domestic car or pickup with a bumper sticker which says “If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them”, ” Still have a job? Keep buying Foreign” or “If you can read this, you’re too f@#*ing close”.  Either that or they really like french toast.

Stays Fresh Bread

Takes 3 weeks to eat a loaf of bread.  Otherwise, likely has built an underground shelter with the belief  that Armageddon is imminent and that the only survivors will be themselves, cockroaches and their loaf of Dempster’s Stay Fresh white bread. Not concerned with the fact this bread has less nutritional value than a bag of sugar.

Gluten Free

Insists that gluten free bread is delicious even though it isn’t. Uses lines like “Man, I think the sorghum to millet ratio in this bread is fabulous..well worth the $14.50” and then insist they don’t even miss the real thing.  Repeats the same behavior with brownies, cake, wraps, muffins, cupcakes, bagels, tarts, squares, pasta, cereal and pancake mix. Those around them smile and nod and binge on anything with gluten at their first opportunity, complete with some sort of lactose and/or caffeine containing beverage.

My Take

The once sacred art of making bread has been replaced with the mass production of designer brands with more substance on the package than in the loaf itself. Gone are the days where a table would share a loaf equally among all.  If Di Vinci painted the last supper today I wonder if there would be an array of bread to satisfy each palate.  Maybe before betraying Jesus, Judas Iscariot would prefer Texas toast while Bartholemew would opt for gluten free.  In the end, through devious marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements and misleading product claims, consumers are left confused when they stroll down the bakery aisle at the local grocery store. This spiritual staple, like other foods, has been bastardized by corporate juggernauts who disguise the bottom line as a commitment to improving the health of consumers everywhere.

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