Sunday, April 01, 2018

Providing Good Nutrition on Home Soil - Back to the Future?

The following makes worthwhile reading in an age which demands feeding a growing global population, while meeting the apparent contradictions to this, of planned de-globalisation, and reduced use of fossil resources. Although the text was originally published in the journal, Science Progress, 100 years ago, in reference to feeding the British nation during WWI, it remains highly pertinent in its theme of providing sufficient and good nutrition on home soil:

"On July 4 this [The Bread and Food Reform] League held a Conference in the Queen's Hall on the National Importance of Utilising Whole Cereals in Time of War, with Sir James Crichton Browne, M.D., D.Sc, F.R.S., in the chair. The Secretary, Miss May Yates, opened the meeting by a few able introductory remarks in which she stated that the League has been in existence for thirty-five years and has made progress to the extent of inducing the Blue Coat Schools, amongst other institutions, to adopt the principle of feeding their children on unadulterated bread — considerably to the improvement of their health.

The Chairman then set himself to prove that the white bread so largely consumed in Britain is both deleterious and wasteful. The millers, in abstracting the outer coating of the grain and resorting to bleaching processes, really remove the health-giving properties of the flour, as it is just this outer covering that contains the vitamines, the germ, and what is technically known as " patents." Nothing more is gained by this bleaching than a pleasing appearance, while the loss in nutrition is considerable. But wheat, he said, is not the only cereal that suffers degeneration at the hands of the millers, for barley and rice also share the same fate.

The tropical disease of beri-beri, he stated, had been proved by men of science to be due to the consumption by the natives of polished rice, and had been largely reduced when coolies were induced to nourish themselves on the unpolished variety. The only cereal that had defied the arts of man was oats, as it was found impossible to remove anything from it owing to its hard and gritty nature ; so that he deplored the fact that oatmeal, in his opinion, largely responsible for the hardiness of the Scottish peasant and the quality of the English racehorse, should be so neglected in England as a human food.

He also denied the truth of the popular ideas that oatmeal is heating and fit only for the poor. Now in time of war, when the general need for economy was felt, it was still more incumbent on the country to insist on the best use being made of its foodstuffs.

If the source of life could be drawn from whole wheat meal, whole wheat flour, oatmeal, unpearled barley and unpolished rice, less meat, eggs, milk and other foods would be needed, thereby effecting a true economy. The only reform possible must come from the Government which had this question already under consideration, and he hoped that a law would be passed to standardise flour and other cereals

Although the rich have the option of making up for the loss of vital properties in the flour by the substitution of other foods, the poor, who live largely on the staff of life, are condemned to buy this deleterious product now on the market, and this League is doing a good work in striving to prove to the poor that their ideas of the value of white bread must be abandoned

The three following resolutions were moved and carried at the meeting :

1. It is resolved that the Government be urged to direct attention to the importance of utilising during war time whole cereals, especially whole wheat meal (100 per cent.) (finely ground), whole wheat flour (about 80 per cent.), containing less indigestible woody fibre, oatmeal, unpearled barley, and unpolished rice, as they retain essential nutritive substances removed from ordinary cereal foods.

Their adoption will reduce the consumption of meat as advised by the Board of Trade and help to promote the healthy economical nourishment of the people. The general use of finely-ground wheat meal would be an increase of over 25 per cent, to the bread supply of the nation in addition to providing a more substantial and nutritious food for the people.

2. It is resolved that the Government be asked to take measures to prevent the abstraction, without notification to the public, from whole meal, wheat meal, and household flour of the germ of wheat and of the strong gluten found in flours commercially designated " patents," and also to prevent the sale, without notification to the public, of flour which has been bleached, "improved" or otherwise adulterated.

3. It is resolved that these resolutions be sent to the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the Local Government Board, the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Trade, the Board of Education, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the National War Savings Committee, appealing to them to lead public opinion to recognise the importance of this subject ; and that education authorities all over the country and women's societies be asked to co-operate in this educational campaign and thus help their country in this time of national need.

Dr. S. Rideal, F.I.C., J. P., in moving the third resolution, gave a valuable piece of information when he showed up the fact that our only statute regulating the sale of good bread was formulated as far back as 1836, and that, although this Act stated of what ingredients bread might consist, it made no provision whatever for the punishment of any persons who might use these ingredients in an adulterated form."

Originally published in Science Progress  v11. (1916-1917) p139. In the modern context, the related subjects of The Right to Food and the Planetary Boundaries Framework and The Imperative for Regenerative Agriculture were addressed in a centenary version of the journal, which was produced in order to survey "progress" in a number of areas that were of concern 100 years ago, some of which remain pertinent.

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