World Grain's editor in chief Morton Sosland
Morton Sosland, World Grain's editor-in-chief.

If ever a food product and the industry that makes it were slandered, a recent weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper with the largest U.S. circulation, stands out for its misleading treatment of the wheat milling industry and its main product, wheat flour. Hardly anything worse has been said or alleged about a food product than this description of a “lily-white commodity flour, an ingredient short on flavor and nutrition.” The article, leading the “Off Duty” section of the newspaper’s May 21-22 issue, makes horrible accusations regarding the quality of modern-day wheat, flour and bread. The article’s title, “A Call to Carbs,” is more a call to arms for grain-based foods.

For all those working to produce foods that are eaten avidly around the world, the writer, Elizabeth G. Dunn, has blasphemed their work and the products for which the industry of grain-based foods has long had great pride. While nothing she writes, as devastating as it may seem, even slightly diminishes reasons for that pride, the industry needs to counter-attack to lessen the impact of her frightful accusations.

Understanding that a newspaper needs articles that offer something new to draw readers and advertisers prompts the belief that this piece won Page 1 because of its focused attack on white flour made in modern mills. This is different from typical criticism of baking companies. It is one of the first articles encountered in the current period of unrelenting criticism of nearly every aspect of the food supply to criticize wheat varieties as well as the way wheat is “ground.” By blaming farmers who have expanded the wheat supply by seeking varieties resistant to Nature’s attacks, the article centers on a different enemy.

These awful allegations are not just “new” for the current period but exceed the bite of many long ago times. An industry problem for many centuries, these assaults accelerated in the 19th and at the start of the 20th century following transformation from stone grinding to steel roller mills. This revolution allowed output to keep pace with growth of population, modern baking and food retailing. Damning white flour as “a modern invention,” Dunn quotes a supposed expert saying that the total of nutrients removed in milling “tracks pretty well with the nutrients that are deficient in the U.S. population.”

The unstated charge here is that modern flour deprives people of nutrients. No list is provided and no mention is made of enrichment with vitamins and folic acid often hailed as one of the most positive steps ever taken in food making. Looking through Dunn’s prism is to find no credit for steps that have contributed positively to the health of diets in many nations. Her negatives about flour are totally opposite of what qualified nutrition authorities have stated for years.

The “saving grace” of this article is its emphasis on restaurants and retail bakeries that have evolved fairly recently in areas of the United States that offer food centered on the wants of high income populations. Here are the California and Northeast regions that have high-class specialty bakers and retailers seeking to cultivate people for whom spending on food is much less a problem than their own shifting eccentricities about what they want to eat. Here are bakers starting to grind specially grown wheat kernels to produce loaves of bread costing many multiples of sliced enriched white bread, whole grain bread and specialty loaves made with regular flour for sale in supermarkets and retail food stores.

Grain-based foods has no argument with specialty businesses wanting to make their own flour as well as to bake different loaves with numerous ingredients as long as they do not press their wrongheaded views of the way most flour is milled and most bread is baked. The latter is a nutritious, good eating bargain. Its makers recoil from reading about highly expensive food eccentricities marketed by untruthful attacks.