I was once part of an improvisational comedy troupe (long story) and our motto, quoted at least once a practice, was “Commit, commit, commit.” Improv only works if you throw yourself entirely into what you’ve decided to do in the scene. When we pretended to be a dog or Darth Vader or a sentient puddle, we used every faculty we had in voice, character, and body language to communicate it. It’s painful (and very unfunny) to watch an improv novice, still self-conscious, timidly impersonate Arnold Schwarzenegger (a visual oxymoron if ever there was one), or apologetically pretend to be driving an invisible car.
I feel the same way about whole grains. When I first started cooking, I often did 50/50 mixes of whole wheat with white, or I just bought the white pasta because it was a little bit cheaper, more familiar. I didn’t want to make waves with the people I would be eating with but also wanted to make healthier choices, so I felt caught. Wheat flour felt so different; I was afraid that my baked goods wouldn’t be right, or would have a weird taste, or be too gritty.
But now, anyone who has been following this blog and reading my recipes may have noticed that I am fully a whole grain aficionado/junkie/snob. If it’s a refined, white grain, both Andrew and I say as far from it as we can. Let me tell you why.
Whole food is really important to us. We believe that God did a really good job with his design of plants and animals, and that they work best when they are raised and eaten as close to their natural state as possible. (For example: two second’s worth of research online can draw up some pretty startling statistics about the nutritional superiority of pastured, grass-fed beef when compared to CAFO beef that has been force-fed corn and soy.)
When it comes to grains, we think every element that comes with the grain are necessary for it to be as beneficial as possible. I could fill this entry with quotes from documentaries and articles that explain the dangers of refined grains and the negative effects on the body, and I could cite some research about how the included fiber in whole grains help slow down the absorption of starch-sugar into the bloodstream, for example, but facts and figures are often faceless (say that five times fast), and are easy to glaze over. I will simplify it and just say this: I think there’s a LOT more to the whole than just the separate elements that we’ve been able to identify. A whole grain (or apple, or egg) is more than just a convenient assemblage of fiber, fat, sugar, and vitamins. There’s something to the specific way that it was put together that is essential. When we refine grains, we may be removing necessary things that we don’t even yet understand. I’d rather trust the Father’s design and take it the way He gave it.
So we have found now, after dedicating our diets in this whole way for more than a year, that we feel sick after eating processed grains (anything processed, really). White bread and pasta leaves us reeling and exhausted, wanting to just get home and drink something with ginger or mint until the feeling goes away. (This of course makes me wonder…was I just feeling sick all the time and not aware of it? Maybe. It’s a weird thought.)
We also have a much easier time shopping and avoiding junk. If it’s got whole ingredients, we’ll consider it, but most all store-bought cookies, snacks, and tempting little treats are made with white, refined flour and a laboratory load of unpronouceables to boot. With the whole-grain safeguard in my head, I may feel a moment of longing for the memory of eating those Swiss rolls (I really did love them as a kid), but I know it’s just not an option any more, and, and the longing passes. The few times when I have given in and gotten the garbage food, I’m often incredibly disappointed by the results. My palate has changed, and for the better! (And as an added bonus, because these snacky things are no longer accessible to us, we have drastically reduced the amount of trash we produce. Rather than throwing away the cookie boxes, bread bags, and endless wrappers, we’ve been baking it in home--no packaging to begin with…and now the house smells awesome).
The thing about making this switch is that it is completely underwhelming in its affect. It’s just…normal food to us. We don’t think of our cookies, breads, rice, or waffles as “whole grain.” It’s just food. We even feed this stuff to our friends and family—often not telling them that its whole grain—and we’ve never once gotten a complaint. Sure, it may be different from our childhood memories of some food, but we’ve adapted to the change easily, and are happy to know that for our kids, this will be their childhood normal. So if you’re feeling the conviction to start using only whole grains with your family, but are afraid about the transition, or that you’ll miss the white stuff, here’s someone telling you, more than a year later, that it’s so possible it’s silly. Yes, you will be giving up some familiar foods, but I think it means you could also be giving up predispositions to disease, inflamed digestive systems, and unhealthy lifestyles. (#non-FDA-approvedstatements)
Substituting brown rice for white rice just means it takes a little longer to cook. But whole grains go so far beyond brown rice: take a look at your store’s bulk section and explore sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, spelt, einkorn, buckwheat, whole barley (the pearled stuff is refined) khorasian wheat/kamut, teff, millet, rye, and more. If that seemed like a long string of gibberish, don’t fret: exploring different grains is such a fun, diverse ride, and I guarantee you’ll discover something you like.
And substituting whole-wheat flour for white flour doesn’t have to be traumatic! There are several varieties of whole-wheat flour for you to use. For fancy pastries, for example, try soft, summer whole-wheat. (Winter red wheat tends to be the harder and grittier type that people expect when they think of whole-wheat flour). Or consider oatmeal flour, or even grinding your own flour from whatever whole grains you find! We just buy a 50lb bag of winter red whole wheat from our local bulk store and use it for EVERYTHING. It’s shocking how quickly Andrew and I eat through it. We can’t wait to finally grow our own when we get our land.
(We were even talking the other day about growing our own cotton to make textiles. OH MAN WE ARE GOING TO BE SO WEIRD. Oh well.)
So truly, if you decide to make the choice to go for whole grains, GO FOR IT. COMMIT. I believe it’s worth it. I believe you can do it, and you can rest assured that any recipe you find on this blog will be supporting you with 100% whole-grain snobbery.
(As a side note, I know that the currently trendy Paleo philosophy is against grains as a whole, and that wheat is currently being maligned with the gluten free frenzy... While I agree that refined grains are probably as poisonous to the system as they claim, I strongly disagree that whole grains should be given the same verdict as their bleached and degerminated counterparts. More on that later...)
We are a husband and wife who are trying to live simply. We are learning much as we transition from life in the city to life in the country. Come along with us, and maybe you can also learn a thing or two as well.
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Simple Life Homestead