Wheat is Illegal (and other conundrums)

by Elizabeth on March 14, 2012

photo of (presumably legal) wheat, by RaeAllen @ Flickr, via CC.

 I bake my own bread.

Not all of it, mind you.  There are times when I have to make the choice to buy from a bakery, when things are all crazified and I know I’d burn many loaves into charcoal if I tried.  But most of the time, I bake my own.  I know exactly what’s in it, who’s touched it, and, for the most part, what’s not in it.

Which becomes more important after reading the list of strange ingredients on a loaf of Wonder bread.  Have you seen that list?  High fructose corn syrup, diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide, datem, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate.

Know what’s in my bread?  water, salt, yeast, flour.  Period.  Full list of ingredients, right there.  And no -ates or -oxides or -glycerides, much less any high fructose anything.

It may not last for six months in the cupboard, but it also doesn’t taste like cardboard and glue, either.  Call it a trade-off.

By now, y’all know I’m a bit…obsessive sometimes, right?

I get on a kick, and for some reason, my brain won’t let things go.  I have a need to know more about things, to dig into them and find out what makes them all tick.  I drove my parents nuts as a kid, partially for that reason.  (I was a taker-aparter.  Alarm clocks, tape recorders, the mattress’s box-springs…once, even a dead frog.  My poor parents deserve sainthood.)

Anyway, this obsessive need to know more about things led me to looking into commercial flour.  Since that’s the major ingredient in the bread, and I knew precisely bupkiss about how it was made or where it came from (other than just the generic grow wheat – presto! flour!), I got a little nuts in figuring out how it went from that picture up there to a nice, tidy little bag on my store shelves.

Thanks to wheatflourbook.org, my curiosity was satisfied.  The following graphic shows the whole (HUGE) process, start to finish.

All of THAT, just to grind wheatberries into usable flour.  Including putting back IN some nutrients lost during the grinding process, which kind of boggled my mind.  (Though the unique combination of enrichment bits is how they’re able to patent a particular brand of flour, I’m guessing.) Equally as boggling are the guidelines for what’s acceptable for contaminants in commercial flour:  75 insect fragments and one rodent hair for every 50 grams of flour.  I kid you not.

Personally, I’m kind of against the idea of bugs in my bread.

Call me silly.  It was almost enough to make me rethink the whole no-carb thing.

Plus, the sheer amount of fuel that’s needed to make a sack of flour kind of made me give a bit of a pause.  They steamer ship in wheat?  From where?  (Likely, China.)  Run it through a huge process, then truck it back out in disposable packaging and we buy it and truck it back home to make morally-superior bread from scratch.  It kind of took the wind out of my pretentious baker-chick sails.

What if…?

This is where my brain took the windlessness and went a little crazy.  Fair warning.

I thought that maybe I could find a local source for wheatberries and just grind my own.  I mean, that way, I could control the number of insect parts (and, hopefully, rodent hairs…though dog hairs are still a distinct possibility…) that went into my flour, I’d be supporting local agriculture, and cutting down how far my bread had to travel to be bread.  It’d likely be healthier, too, since there’d be no loss of nutrients from the crazy processing.

To my surprise, there are a TON of home machines available for the home miller.  Everything from small, hand-cranked models that make small bits at a time, to huge electrical contraptions that would make enough for a year in a few minutes, to at least one model that you could power by rigging up a bicycle to it.  I settled on a mid-grade electric model with good reviews, after spending way, way too much time looking at them.

What if (redux)…?

I’m kind of lucky, here in the Midwest.  There are tons of farmers, all over the place, who sell wheat in bulk to home millers, within an hour or so.  Everything from soft white wheats to hard red wheats and the whole range inbetween.  (They’re all good for various things — some do better in baking, some are better for flaking, etc.)

But since I was already going kind of crazy, and since I do have garden space this year, I thought maybe I could just grow some wheat.  I mean, it’s a grain crop.  Those are notoriously easy to grow, from what I understand, and if I was going to do this thing, I thought I may as well just do this thing.  I spent hours looking for seeds.  Found a few sources, in fact.  Had some varieties in my shopping cart, when a friend from Facebook alerted me to something fairly shocking:

It is illegal in the USA to grow your own wheat crop, even for your own use.

I’m not kidding.  I wish I was.  (By the way, that link’s a little bit Chicken Little-esque, but the facts are sound on the case.  Growing wheat has been illegal since the 1930′s.)

Turns out that, due to the instable nature of wheat crops, you are simply not allowed to grow your own wheat, since it could destabilize the wheat market if too many people decided to vote with their dollars and not support industrial farming.  I quote:

One of the primary purposes of the Act in question was to increase the market price of wheat and to that end to limit the volume thereof that could affect the market. It can hardly be denied that a factor of such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. This may arise because being in marketable condition such wheat overhangs the market and, if induced by rising prices, tends to flow into the market and check price increases. But if we assume that it is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. 317 U. S., at 128.

There are cases that I found, as late as 1995, where the Supreme Court has upheld the law banning home-grown wheat.  (In fact, that quote is from the 1995 US v. Lopez case, where the guy had to destroy his crop and pay a hefty fine…for wanting to make his own bread.)

There are ways around the law.  You can register your crop (and pay a fee), or raise perennial grasses, or go with something other than wheat (like spelt, for instance).  But to grow it in your garden is to risk federal prosecution.

I’ll be buying my wheatberries locally, thankyouverymuch.

And to think, this all started with wanting bug-free bread.

Like I’ve said this whole week, producing your own food is a revolutionary act, people.  It goes against the whole idea that we need to be disconnected from the process, separated by hundreds of miles, a layer of plastic, and a billion machines..from the very stuff that keeps us alive.  When baking your own bread can be a criminal act of an outlaw…we’ve gotten away from the simplest parts of our own lives.

If this year of Finer Fruits is about disconnecting from the Machine and finding that simplicity again, I’m learning that the Machine is a lot stronger than I thought it was.  It’s not just about realizing something’s broken, but about fixing it, from the ground up, literally.

 

 

 

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie March 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I’m planning a small plot of it. I didn’t know it was illegal (and doesn’t that chap my hide) maybe I’ll go with the kamut after all. We’re also planting a field of corn to feed the chickens (open-pollinated non-gmo, thank you very much) and some sunflowers for seed, quinoa and garbanzo beans. Hummus from scratch ho! I’m planning on the handcranked mill.

Thank you for yesterday’s most informative article. Tho when I got to the part where they’ve bought up home seeds to a part of my soul died and I cried a little. Then I was all oh hell to the no and checked the seeds I had purchased (safe) and planned a bigger garden. Bastards.

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Elizabeth March 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Right there with you, chickadee. After I got done sitting here in shock and horror at what I was reading, I called up the community garden to see if I could get another plot this late in the game (I couldn’t), but now, I’m redoubling my commitment to make a bunch of hypertufa pots for the sunny side of the house to increase production. (Now I need to learn how to dehydrate and can stuff so I can have the goods all year long, too.)

I’m jealous of your from-scratch hummus, btw. YUM. :D

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Kathryn March 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Maybe the way out is to go with the ancient einkorn grain. Dr Davis (http://www.trackyourplaque.com/blog/) says that the wheat currently grown is the problem with most of our medical woes these days. He believes the original, ancient grains like einkorn and emmer don’t have the issues that our current, hybridized wheat causes.

Thanks for the info.

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Elizabeth March 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm

I was JUST reading about einkorn and emmer — _The Urban Farm Handbook_ has a whole section about grains, and the authors are way into them, too. I may have to check those out! :D

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Mrs. Mac March 14, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Very interesting to know. I grind my own organic wheat (from our region .. pacific northwest) and have begun sprouting the wheat berries .. then dehydrating them before grinding. It’s supposed to unlock more nutrients.

Here’s a mini article about the nutritional benefits .. and ‘easy’ to do at home once you start thinking ahead so you have it on hand. I simply soak the wheat in filtered water for a few hours (a 1/2 gallon mason jar filled half way up with wheat .. it expands … do this with several jars to make it worth the effort). Drain well (using a mesh filter and a canning ring) .. cover jars with kitchen towels and keep cool. Rinse several more times and keep covered. After about 24 hours, the wheat has sprouted .. don’t let sprout get over 1/4 inch .. rinse well and dehydrate. My oven has a dehydrate convection setting .. I heat it to 140F and place the wheat on large trays lined with paper towels .. keeping the door oven ajar. It takes about 9-12 hours to completely dry. Grind as usual.

http://www.essentialeating.com/ResourcesSprouted.asp#beauty

Thanks for this informative article.

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Elizabeth March 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Thank you, Mrs. Mac! I’m *totally* going to try this. (And I’m loving your blog, btw. I don’t live that far from where your grandparents were!)

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Laurie March 14, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Okay, I followed the links and did some research on my own. The farmer in question had exceeded his allotment of grain to grow (based on acreage, he was allowed 11 acres, but planted 23). The Act in question limits how much farmers may grow based on acreage, to keep the amounts in check. The quote above from US v. Lopez (which is actually a gun case, wherein the govt was overstepping itself ) is actually them quoting the Wilford case (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/93-1260.ZO.html). I find numerous places where wheat seed is available by the pound for home growing, so I’m thinking it’s not really illegal to grow your own wheat if you’re not a wheat farmer. If you’re a wheat farmer, at least in the 40s, you had allotments. It’s rather like subsidies where the farmers are paid NOT to grow, to keep the market from fluctuating too much if I’m reading it all correctly.

All that said, I’m of the opinion that if some folks in the govt had their way, our whole local/slow food movement would be quashed most heartily. However, for now I don’t think they can. So I’m planting my wheat as soon as I can work the soil (just as soon as it’s not a quagmire of melty snow mud). I’m thinking one nice big swath of soft white wheat and a swath of kamut, just to play. I have organic wheatberries of both, which are just wheat seeds. And I’m going to start saving for my grainmill, so I will be ready when my crop comes in. Then I’m going to have some amazing fresh bread. I’ve read that just milling your own flour as you need it makes some amazing bread unlike the stuff made from pre-milled flour.

Now I have to decide between that hand crank model I so desire, or the one that attaches to my shiny green Kitchen Aid mixer… Evidently cream o’ wheat is just thicker ground wheat, so that would be another expense gone away. :)

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Elizabeth March 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm

You definitely are right — this is nearly century-old legislation, and the allotments are different, but they *do* still exist, and you *do* have to not only stay within those allotments (and tell the government how much you’re growing, on a per-acre basis). According to a couple sources, they’re relying heavily on this same agriculture act to control growing for medicinal marijuana now, too — how they got to *that* from *wheat*, I have no idea. :)

What scares me isn’t so much the allotments (which are, really, kind of dumb in 2012) but the 1995 Lopez case. If you read the whole decision (which is online), the part I quoted in there gives a WHOLE LOT of lattitude to the government to regulate what you grow, especially if a lot of people start doing it. (If they deem personal consumption to be “destabilizing” or interfering with the market by taking your consumption away from the mainstream system — they’ve ruled that you’re in violation. Not cool, and way too vague to be good for home growers. Of food, not medical marijuana. I still don’t get that. LOL!)

In reality, I think there just isn’t a budget for the food police to run around enforcing the Act. (Unless Monsanto starts funding it. ::snort::) Lopez was caught on this charge because of other law infringements — I think it was probably one of those “well, we can’t get Capone on racketeering, so we’ll get him on tax evasion” kinds of deals. Still…scary.

About the mixer! I looked at that one! Be really, really careful — if you don’t have a 500 watt mixer (the newer models), the wheat grinder will burn out your motor, and that would make me cry. (That was my first choice of models, but I’m not risking my mixer. I use it waaaaay too much. :>)

Rock ON about the cream of wheat, too — I love that stuff. :D

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gemmy1 March 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm

My mixer is new as of this Christmas, so I hope it’s compatible.

My cream o’ wheat recipe (I needed new hot cereal when I developed an allergy to oats of all things) which I got from Everyday Food.

Use vanilla soy milk instead of water. When it’s cooked, dollop apple butter and walnuts on top. Or peach jam and almonds. Tangerine jelly is also very yum. Sometimes I can’t decide what flavor so I put a spoon of each. Of course, I made all the jams, jellies and butters. I’m crazy that way.

And yes, I could see them using this as a way to impose their ideas. I could totally see Monsanto running the food police. It just fits in with their worldview.

I’m still planting. :) It’ll be less than 1/4 acre all told, so I think it’ll be safe enough. Plus, I live far enough away from everyone (there is one neighbor within half a mile) that it would be hard for anyone to say anything…they’d have to get in through the trees, fences and killer dogs who believe protecting me is their Duty. Seriously, the big one will growl at my husband, her other master, and put herself between us if he acts like he’s stalking me (which he sometimes does after playing far too much Skyrim). I pity the poor fool who tries anything for real. And then they’d have to recognize it as wheat, which I’m not sure most people can do. Seeing kids on TV (Jamie Oliver’s Revolution) who didn’t know what a tomato was made me sad.

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Stewart March 19, 2012 at 11:34 pm

My guess is no one would be prosecuted in this day and age for growing a few acres of wheat.

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Elizabeth March 19, 2012 at 11:39 pm

I would hope not. However, folks *were* prosecuted, as late as 1995 — and that’s just what I could find.

(Then again, with the budget being what it is – or, rather, isn’t — I’d hope they don’t have many resources to go after home growers.)

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adminnie March 15, 2012 at 3:53 am

VIVE LA REVOLUCION! sorry, my inner frito bandito got away from me. however, i do know fresh ground flour makes AMAZING bread. 25 years ago, my ex MIL was so into it that she bought an electric mill, and would buy multiple grains to grind into flour for bread. s he would even grind dried sweet corn into meal as it made much better cornbread.

i can TOTALLY seeing monsatan turning into the food police. then I WILL REBEL. sorry, don’t tell me what to eat. just pisses me off.

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deborah August 11, 2012 at 5:10 am

Adminnie; do not put it past Monsanto to pay for the food police. they are behind the bill to law about 2 years ago to ban all organic farming/farmers(commercial) but it also includes homeowners. also many cities in America and Canada are banning gardening to many homeowners and they force the homeowners to destroy their gardens just weeks before harvest or pay a fine up to $300/day the garden remains in the ground.
Monsantos goal is to control all the food on the planet and in Utah, they are wanting people to register their gardens under a guise of some sort of goal to see how much food local people produce, be it plant based or animal based. Now that is too much Big Brother interfering with the lives of the little people(us). Even collecting rainwater is becoming illegal across America. Too bad this government cannot regulate big businesses that destroy our environment, water, food and air, but when it comes to the majority of the population, they spare no cost making life harder for the rest of us. I remember when the government wanted to have welfare recipients grow gardens as it would help feed their families, now if we try to do this we never know if we will be arrested for growing a garden like some people have, or have the authorities trash our gardens. And since I think this is totally evil, most of the authorities come just before harvest time to do this. America, where did your freedom go ?

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