Bread and the Nation

Bread and the Nation’s Health

By  Sir W. Arbuthnot Lane, Bt., C.B.

            In the years of industrial depression which have inflicted heavy casualties upon the youth of the land, it has become obvious that you cannot hope to rear a race of A1 men of C3 diet. This plain truth has been labored by nutritional scientists since the economic blight began to exact its toll of health and suffering. Yet this truth has been accepted on ly of late and with great reluctance by our legislators. Much harm has already resulted to the welfare of millions of people, and the seeds of future harm have been sown which may adversely affect the national destiny.

Great efforts are being made to instruct and enlighten the population in the elements of sound nutrition. Among many other activities, a campaign for wholemeal bread was set in operation. It met with a considerable amount of opposition, some of which arose from an unexpected source –I mean from certain medical men who had clearly neglected to take the trouble to investigate fully the scientific aspect of the case.

Nevertheless, the fight for better bread made great progress. Large numbers of men and women were converted to an appreciation of the dietetic superiority of wholemeal as opposed to white bread and the demand for wholemeal increased tremendously.

Yet it is a regrettable fact that still among a considerable section of the industrial population white bread is preferred to the wholemeal variety. Perhaps it is inaccurate to call it a preference; it is probably more a question of habit and lack of knowledge, Also, from time to time relatively misleading statements concerning the bread problem have appeared in print.

Doubts have been raised as to the nutritional merits of wholemeal bread, and especially it has been implied that the kind of bread is unimportant so long as people have enough bread. Such a point of view, in my opinion, is highly dangerous in a time of national stress, when we know and officially admit that large numbers of our population are suffering from malnutrition.

No new scientific facts have come to light which in any way modify or contradict the reasoned arguments in favor of wholemeal bread. If anything, all recent dietetic experiment and experience substantiate the claims of the wholemeal advocates. Bread is a staple food of the big majority of the people of this country. We are informed by the Miller’s Association that more bread is being eaten today than at any time during the last ten years. Much propaganda has been directed to encouraging people to eat more bread

-that is, unfortunately more white bread made of a debased white flour.

The bread controversy of ten years ago stimulated a great deal of public interest. “Shall it be white or wholemeal?” was a matter of real importance in those days. People considered the problem of their daily bread with some seriousness. Many developed health consciences for the first time, and began to realize that health in this civilized era is not a passive acquisition, but a state of well-being which must be sought and safeguarded. Controversy, however, on a single topic cannot go on indefinitely, and the bread problem gradually receded from popular interest. The converts held fast, but there remained many to be converted. And so today, with malnutrition stalking in the land, we are endeavoring again to challenge interest on the issue, “Shall it be white or wholemeal?”

In 1927 the New Health Society publicly made a categorical statement to the effect that “when bread and flour form the major part of the dietary, and when, for economic reasons, the variety and amount of other food materials are strictly limited, the deficiencies in white flour and bread will not be compensated for, and a condition of starvation (i.e., failure to secure good nutrition) must ensue.” By this statement, white bread stands condemned as a staple article of food for the millions.

We know that among the unemployed and poorly paid industrial workers, inadequate means prevent their obtaining a sufficient variety of compensating foods. Bread is a relatively cheap article of diet, considering its potential nutritive value. Surely, therefore, we should insist that this bread should be dietetically the best that is available –in other words, that it should be wholemeal, not white.

Can we conceive of any greater folly than to take a wholesome natural product of the earth and refine in into something which is nutritionally impoverished and debased? Yet that is what happens on a vast scale in the production of white flour and white bread.