contact diffusion: why whole grains matter

3 July 2015

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

—Buckminster Fuller—

Whole grains—regionally grown, stored, stone-milled, and finished—are imperative to our health. To our literal health; our children; our ecosystem; our economy; our education; our businesses; our wetlands and water table; our jobs; and the integrity of our future. Complex carbohydrates (whole grains) provide humankind’s most important foodstuff. (Civilization was civilized by regional whole grains in Mesopotamia; it is no coincidence, nor irony, that gluten is society’s cohesion. The health of whole grain diversity reflects our own well-being). Whole-grains contain high quality protein, minerals, omega 3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fat, dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fat, vitamin E and C, zinc, phosphorous, folic acid, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, and potassium, among other incredibly important nutrients.

Whole grains are the building block of the dietary/nutritional and financial economy of their region. Like carbon, whole grains are the bedrock of life: every living being has access and ability to fix carbon, but not every human being has access to whole grains. For these reasons, Bellegarde is continuing the work of re-establishing a regional grain economy. (The French immediately established a regional grain economy when “colonizing” Greater Louisiana. Illinois Country (Haute-Louisiane), encompasses present-day Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. This fertile land, sparsely populated by Europeans, was an Eden for grain (corn, wheat) production. Grain grown, milled, and then barged down the Mississippi to New Orleans set the infrastructure precedent still in place today. Nearly sixty billion pounds of grain, two thirds of America’s domestic crop for export, still travels that muddy highway). Bellegarde is investing in a very large, American-made stone mill which will arrive this Summer; its size will drastically increase our milling quantity and quality. Whereas we currently only mill enough flour for our bakery, we will soon be able to provide flour for area restaurants, bakeries, and the public. Most importantly, we are working to build an understanding between Policy and People; we want our neighbors to know the importance of and the relationship between health/access to fresh food and politics: the democratization of fresh, whole-grain bread—financially and physically—is the core principle at Bellegarde. Everyday we strive to educate consumers about the benefits of whole-grains. But, as bakers, the only viable argument we have is taste: stone-milled, whole grain bread tastes incredible. Thankfully no language can argue with flavor.

Bellegarde recognizes the following guiding values on whole-grains:

  1. Health: Stone-milled whole grains provide essential nutrients and vitamins to the human body (see above). Commercially grown and milled flours, processed into French Bread, pasta, white rice, cookies (i.e. pure starch) are culpable for Louisiana’s staggering rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  1. Ecosystem: Irrigated grain bred for flavor and performance—not yields, nor animal feed—is best for our land. New Orleans is the spleen of America; culturally, we posses the best elements from the River. But, Louisiana receives all the toxic runoff of America; like a barium test, corporate poison slinks through the capillaries (Illinois River) and veins (Arkansas and Ohio Rivers) and arteries (Missouri River) of our Mississippi. Dredging for oil has ruined our wetlands and dredging for high yields has ruined our soils. Regional, organic grain systems require less toxic inputs and produce better results for everybody: the farmer, the miller, the banker, the baker, and the folks downstream.
  1. Artisans: A regional grain economy will encourage the re-establishment of craftsmanship in the disciplines of milling, baking, retailing, and their attendant professions. Clean, fresh whole grains will create numerous institutional, financial, and cultural roles as the relationship to our food is re-structured and re-surfaced—lost trades, disciplines, vocations, and traditions will enjoy a Renaissance. Permaculture and stewardship will be invigorated as empiricism and empowerment are brought back to life because of organic/traditional farming methods. We seek to put the culture back in agriculture.
  1. Energy, security: We eat oil as often as we eat food. Regional grain will sustain a transfer from fossil foods to real calories. Without artificial price supports (federal ‘farm’ subsidies), the real cost of food will shift the demand away from ethanol. Producers always receive premium prices for their products when it is bought in direct markets. This will stabilize the stomach of the artificial commodities market: (remember the rising cost of bread when wheat made a run on the market in 2008? Despite record harvests, the financial markets artificially inflated the price of grain due to speculation, cornering, and other nebulous massages-points. I eat bread, not five-year bond notes).
  1. Supply/demand: Food consumption in New Orleans rests on lopsided shoulders, and its giving Atlas scoliosis. Catering only to demand isolates and stifles supply. (You can see that reflected in the dearth of famous products with “local” flavor and cultural terroir. Tabasco makes sauce with peppers from Central America; Cajun Boudin is made with pork from Canada; restaurant grits are made with corn from Iowa; Louisiana cane sugar is bleached and packaged in Yonkers; gumbo is served with Arkansas or Texas rice; Chinese Crawfish are in too many freezers). Regional, organic grain will cement a relationship between producers and consumers because it draws the knots closer to the laces. It will shift the paradigm from tenuous, distant origins to a traceable and transparent source. By compressing the physical and emotional distance in which our food is grown, a relationship that fosters the fibers between suppliers and demanders will engender a healthier environment for all.
  1. Integrity and Ingredients=Flavor: Fresh food, made with fresh ingredients, tastes better. Grains selected for their flavor and nutrition, as well as their milling and baking qualities, provide the precedent for such considerations.