The concepts of thrifty farming are becoming increasingly urgent and will require greater attention in future.
The Campaign for Real Bread (CAMREB) illustrates these factors and imperatives. It covers the cereals generally, and unfermented products, such as porridge and soya in the UK, sourdough bread and ciabatta in Europe and oriental foods such as rice.
Several factors affect the farmer, including:
• the right choice of seeds for soil and subsidies
• susceptibility to pests and disease
• the comparative benefits of growing for food or feed
The consumer now has a lot of choice. During the war, white bread was replaced by brown (wheatmeal) bread to avoid nutrient deficiencies but following the war, mass-produced white bread became available.
The importance of dietary fibre, removed during milling was recognised and there was concern over other nutrients lost in the milling of white flour, such as iron, B vitamins and micronutrients. White bread was fortified to replace some of these nutrients and in general, white flours sold in the UK are still fortified with calcium (usually as calcium carbonate or chalk), iron, thiamine and niacin. However, the regulations requiring fortification allow exception for wholemeal flours and bread so these are generally unfortified.
One utility of producing white bread was that the rejected parts of the grain, including bran, could be fed to animals. However, several grains, including oats and rye are more acceptable in a less-refined state. Whole crops fed to animals could be better employed as food for direct human consumption.
The consumer should read the labels and demand more information. Artisan and instore breads may be labelled with no ingredient or nutritional information. Instore bread is often sold in open sleeved wrappers and may have been handled, increasing the desirability of packaged bread. Current concerns include the levels of sodium in bread (mainly from added salt). Salt levels can be particularly high in instore and artisanal bread.
Wrapped breads have many words to describe the product, but a number of important points are still missed. Nutrition data may be calculated from data available for the raw ingredients or determined by analysis of the finished product. Values given may therefore be unreliable and should be regarded with suspicion.
Nuts can provide vegetarian ‘dairy products’, such as nut butters – these have been available in various forms from before the Second World War. Cobnuts are still grown in Kent, but like cereals, they are susceptible to the vagaries of weather and disease. Most of the hazelnuts used for muesli are imported from Turkey.
We are looking to further extensions of the concept of thrifty diets, including Lent-inspired eating plans.