This is my brain. This is my brain on grains. :-} I have been reading so many words I can’t pronounce these past few months and wishing I had kept little index cards like a college student as I try to unravel the story of grains. It’s tough to wrap my brain around!
It’s soaking grains week, so even though I don’t feel like I’m to the bottom of this issue by any means, I’m going to start sharing what I’ve unearthed thus far.
Today’s post will focus on the historical and biblical aspects of grains, and Thursday I’ll dig into the scientific literature. Please remember that I’m just a mom with an English/Education degree. I don’t do this for a living! I feel strongly that bloggers and authors shouldn’t be disseminating shoddy, outdated science or passing off personal opinion as fact. I was shocked to discover the controversy on soaking grains after I swallowed the Nourishing Traditions take on it hook, line and sinker a year ago.
Remember that I’m still tentatively soaking my grains, in part because of the anecdotal evidence that something is impacting digestion in what feels like a positive way.
What does “Traditional Foods” Mean?
First, let’s remember that the nomenclature isn’t exactly supported by Webster’s, but that food writers and cookbook authors are creating the language as they go. That being said, in general “traditional foods” usually means whole foods and methods of preparation from native cultures, usually more like thousands of years ago rather than last century.
Asking our grandparents what they ate is a fascinating endeavor and a good step. We can learn a lot and find many traditional foods techniques there, but just because Grandma didn’t do it, doesn’t mean it’s not traditional. Also keep in mind that most grandmas only represent one ethnic culture, and we’re looking at a body of research spanning countries and continents whenever possible.
“Real Food” is often used more broadly, to encompass plants that are grown in the dirt, animals that eat plants grown in the dirt, and keeping our foods in whole form and as close to nature as possible. There are many similarities between “real food” and “traditional food” and the terms are often used interchangeably.
God and Grains
- God told Adam he would toil and work the earth to survive. (Gen 3:17)
- Joseph saved the nations by storing grain to prepare for the famine. (Gen 41)
- The Israelites in slavery were commanded to rid the house of leaven and eat unleaved bread for the feat of the Passover, a tradition Jews also continue to this day. (Ex 12)
- The prophet Elijah lived for a year on bread in the home of a widow. (1 Kings 17)
- Christ said, “I am the Bread of Life.” (Jn 6)
- After the Resurrection, Christ’s followers recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. (Lk 24:30) He had bread on the fire in Jn 21:9 when He greeted His best friends, the apostles.
Amy @ Homestead Revival reminded me that God didn’t say to Adam, “Go hunt for your food.” The first animal was killed in the Garden of Eden as a result of man’s sin (to make clothing for Adam and Eve in their shame, Gen 3:21). That was also the point of agriculture, biblically, when Adam’s punishment for the Fall included, “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat.” He had to toil in the fields over the cursed ground, just as Eve now had pain in childbirth. Both man and woman have to labor to bear fruit. Neither is the original intent of our Creator, but consequences of our disobedience.
The first animal was given to man as food when the covenant was reestablished after Noah disembarked from the ark. God was starting over with His stiff-necked, sinful people, and in the new creation after the flood, yet another consequence of humanity’s sin included the death of more creatures: “Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants.” (Gen 9:3)
The Scriptures are full of references to grains, many, many more than I have noted here. Clearly being solely meat eaters was not in the original perfect plan (but neither was tilling the soil.) Grains have staked their place as a traditional food and meant for our consumption. The question remains: How to prepare them? On this, the Bible doesn’t exactly read like a recipe book. Here are some others’ viewpoints on the subject:
1. In The Maker’s Diet, the author claims that ancient ways of harvesting grain allowed the grains to germinate or sprout in the field. Sue Becker has a flawless and to the point rebuttal in her Phytic Acid: Friend or Foe? which is really a must-read. The bottom line? You can’t store damp or germinating seeds. They’ll rot. UPDATE: Kimi of The Nourishing Gourmet makes a good point in the comments. You can in fact store germinated grains, as long as they’re dehydrated first. I just don’t see that in the quote Sue Becker is challenging. Does anyone have The Maker’s Diet to see if drying or dehydrating is mentioned in the description of the “ancient” practice? What I’m interested in here is valid proof that soaking grains is traditional, and I agree with Becker that this particular quote doesn’t prove it. That’s not to say it’s not an ancient practice, just that allowing grains to germinate in the field without drying them out wouldn’t work.
2. Sue Becker also explores the historical references to soaking grains and finds none. She found some fascinating information on the health benefits and potential storage/purposes for sprouting grains that I’ll share with you in a few weeks. She closes her very thorough article with this compelling point:
Throughout the Bible, bread is considered a symbol of healing or the presence of God. Jesus compared Himself to bread because bread, made from freshly milled whole grains is life giving and life sustaining. As the days become more and more evil, Jesus will be attacked in any and every way. If the life giving bread to which Jesus compares Himself, can be brought into question, then the very name of Jesus and His saving power can be more easily discredited as well.
3. Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS also published a very thorough exploration of the Bible’s references to grains in a 7-minute audio file (some is in text form) called Grain Use in History. (If you’re ready to learn some traditional foods techniques, be sure to check out her new eCourse, which will teach you step-by-step how to increase your family’s basic nutrition. Click here to register!)
4. Sue Gregg points out that the Old Testament Hebrews ate bread with natural leaven most of the time – what we call sourdough bread – but that for Passover, unleavened bread was the rule. Connecting Scripture with science, she points out that the chelating effects of phytates – that the same property that causes minerals to be bound up and unavailable to our bodies also removes toxins and heavy metals – may have served as a spring cleaning of sorts, “a natural time for fasting, a practice that encourages detoxification.” Once a year is just about right for something like that.
Note: Sourdough bread, although not all the flour is soaked overnight in the “sponge” that Sue Gregg talks about, is still a very recognized technique for making grains more digestible. The long rising time ends up slightly fermenting even the flour that is added in the morning.
Use Grains as the Author Intended Them
You’ll hear from a scientist in the next Food for Thought who claims that whole grains are an expensive source of fiber, and nothing more. He would choose white bread. I have a hard time buying that this is what God intended. With every other food, notably eggs and dairy, I often claim that what God created whole, we humans shouldn’t be taking apart. I can only believe that the same holds true for grains. Whole grains may need a little help to be super nutritious, but there’s got to be a way for them to nourish us. God wouldn’t sabotage us like that.
I have emails out to three food science researchers at universities. I’m hoping I’ll hear back by Wednesday night! My notes from conversations with Sally Fallon and a grains PhD researcher from Australia take up eleven pages, and I have Amanda Rose’s Phytate White Paper to help me sift through some food science literature. (Thank you, Amanda!)
I am also picking through a scholarly research article called “Phytate in foods and significance for humans: Food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis.” Aren’t you glad it’s me and not you? Maybe I should just research grains as my sacrifice for Lent. !! I’m just hoping I can distill that down into a reasonable sound byte for you by Thursday. Polish off your thinking caps, boys and girls; you’re going to need them!
Speaking of sacrifice, Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. Check out Mama Says for a Meatless Meals carnival to link up your recipes and get some good ideas.
Sacrifice hurts. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Christ. Where did He go? To die…kind of like this wheat.
“In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” (Jn 12:24)
If you’re blogging anything about Lent, please consider sharing with others and linking up here.
Get caught up with a handy list of all the soaking grains information.