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There is this fantastic short docu-series on one of the streaming services (‘Cooked’ on Netflix for those interested, the ‘Air’ episode) that discusses the recent rise of people with gluten-intolerance. You can ask yourself if this gluten-intolerance always was present in humankind and only seems more prevalent because of increased media coverage. The documentary goes to explore the notion that people have been eating bread for millennia. A lot of people in the world still have bread as their main item in their diet. You don’t necessarily hear of these people suffering from gluten-intolerance. In a way, it seems to be a so-called ‘western disease’.
One of the key findings of the documentary is that the ‘traditional’ way of making bread relies on sourdough (hence that most non-western breads are forms of sourdough). The principle of a sourdough is that it revolves around a bacteria culture (the starter culture) that is passed on from one batch to another. It is very much a living culture, ensuring that its stays alive is vital. Letting the starter culture die is disastrous. The point of the starter culture is that these good bacteria help break down the tough membranes that are still present in the type of flour that is used.
Sourdough usually takes longer to rise, and the rise will not reach the levels of ‘modern bread’. For some, this is a deal-breaker. Sourdough is usually considered a heavy, rustic bread. Some people might prefer an airy lighter texture. The point made in the documentary is that ‘modern bread’ might have been made too hastily (also part of the process to get the airiness in the texture) and not enough time has been given to the bacteria to break down the membranes of the grain that has been used. These membranes, upon consumption, will enter the body where the stomach will have a tough time breaking it down. It will lead to increased acid release, subsequent gas release, and general discomfort in the stomach. Very much the symptoms people with gluten-intolerance suffer from.
That documentary has been quite an eye-opener (also in the series: the effect of fire on food, how we pickle food, and the power of fermentation) in showing the flipside of ‘modern’ techniques on the preparation and making of the food we eat. We all know someone who has a spouse or children or themselves who are suffering from a form of food allergy. And it’s not always a severe reaction that is noticeable (such as a peanut allergy), but sometimes it’s the less visible effects or things that can be hidden. In the case of gluten, it could be feeling bloated, it could be eating particular fruit and getting a rash, or lower energy levels. If you suspect that you or someone close to you is affected by a food allergy, it would be advisable to look into tests for food sensitivity.
Food for most people is a source of joy, but we should not forget that the abundance and variety of food items available to us are a bit unnatural. It’s wise to consider there is always a flipside to having too much-processed foods in our diets. Sometimes slower and closer to nature is better.