Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Whole" Smoke and Mirrors

I follow a blog called Fooducate.  Today there is a post on the lack of "wholeness" in Whole Foods pastry offerings.  I'd like to draw attention to a few problems with this line of reasoning.

First of all, Whole Foods may have started out with a humble and worthy mission.  However, it is now a major corporation with $10 billion in annual sales, $350 million in profit, and a $16 billion market capitalization, with 304 locations.  The fact that they don't hand make all of their baked goods in store, from scratch, with only pure ingredients that any home baker could access should not surprise anyone, no less someone who has supposedly worked in the industry for 15 years.

Secondly, since when is it a crime to use white flour in baked goods?  Go ahead and use unrefined whole wheat flour in cookies next time you make them.  Let me know how it turns out for you.  Wholeness should refer to the fact that it has been made from whole ingredients without a bunch of crap added to it.  That is, in the example given, snickerdoodle cookies, if you get past all the "legal" ways the ingredients are reported, it really breaks down to this:
-baking powder
-sea salt
-pure vanilla
I don't know about you, but that's about how I'd make snickerdoodles.  The only ingredient that doesn't make sense is palm oil.  Why wouldn't they just use canola oil?

And if you look at the other examples given, they really aren't that bad.  Next time you are in a non-Whole Foods grocery store, grab a pastry item from the bakery area and read out the ingredients.  That will show you what non-whole really means.

The bigger issue here is not that this consultant is focusing on a very narrow problem, which really isn't a problem, if you ask me, but that even these products should be considered a substitute for what are really whole foods.  I guarantee you if you walk through a Whole Foods market you can still find a bunch of processed crap that you could find in any other grocery store.  It will just have fancier names to make you forget about what you are really doing: substituting convenience for healthy, homemade cooking.

Again, I will go back to the example of bread as I have so often before.  Since learning to love the practice of bread baking at home (and no, I don't have a bread machine, and no, it doesn't take me exorbitant amounts of time, and yes, I do work full-time and have 3 children at home to care for on my days off), I can count on one hand the number of times we have bought store bread in the last 2 years.  Now, let's take the authors line of reasoning and apply it to bread.

If I go to my local grocery store I can buy Dempster's Ancient Grains Bread.  And hooray, the first listed ingredients are whole grain whole wheat flour, whole grain flax, whole grain millet, whole grain spelt flakes, whole grain kamut flakes, whole grain barley flakes, whole grain poppy seeds, whole grain amaranth, and whole grain quinoa.  Good start.  Then rye flakes, sugar, yeast, wheat gluten, vinegar.  Ok.  I can get all those.  Raisin syrup.  Hmmm.  Not sure where I'd find that.  Salt, vegetable oil.  Oh, I recognize those.  Monoglycerides, acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, calcium carbonte.  Baking aisle maybe?  Chemistry laboratory nearby?

What about the bagels she lambastes because the vendor doesn't list the "type" of flour besides calling it "high-gluten flour".  Here is the ingredient list for Dempster's Cinnamon Raisin Bagels.  They do list the "type" of flour.  Good for them.  Enriched wheat flour, water, raisins, sugar/ glucose-fructose, cinnamon flakes (sugar, hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, cinnamon, soybean lecithin), cornmeal, salt, yeast*, wheat gluten, cinnamon, malted barley flour, calcium propionate, monoglycerides, vegetable oil (soybean or canola), sorbic acid. May contain potassium sorbate.  Fail.  

As far as I'm concerned, the "whole" offerings at Whole Foods look preferable to me over those at a "traditional" grocery store.  However, even if all the examples given contained whole wheat, whole grain flour, they would still not be a substitute for the homemade version.  

It is a sign of our nutrition-obsessed industrial food culture in North America that we are dwelling on such an issue.  What we should be discussing is why we need a multi-billion dollar corporation to make our breads, pizzas, and pastries for us in the first place.  All the whole grain flour in the world can't replace what we've lost in culinary knowledge in our culture.  When did a grocery store become a place where you buy meals instead of ingredients to make meals?

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