One of our Gotham Grazer classes focuses on connecting the students to the food that they eat - through cooking! While learning about the industrial food system, the students took a step back in time, and made their own flour from wheat grains. Store-bought flour is usually produced in large-scale facilities, but our students got up close and personal with the process, and cranked a hand mill to grind up their grains. They used the flour to cook their own pancakes, and added in a delicious, no-sugar-added, strawberry compote.
Before making the flour, the students brushed up on their wheat anatomy. Each grain of wheat consists of three parts: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. White flour only contains the endosperm, whereas whole-wheat flour uses all three parts of the grain. As shown in the diagram, the bran and germ contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients; this is why whole-wheat bread is considered more healthy than white bread.
What role does wheat play in the industrial food system?
Wheat has been a staple crop since it was originally domesticated about 10,000 years ago. Domesticated wheat is different from wild wheat, mainly because the seeds are larger, wider, and easier for humans to harvest on a timed schedule. Wheat, along with corn and soy, are subsidized by the U.S. government, giving farmers an incentive to grow these crops in abundance. That is why we often see these crops being used in animal feed or as fillers in processed foods. As industrial agriculture developed after World War II, monoculture (or farming only one specific crop on a large area of land) became the norm in order to maximize profits. This type of farming is the opposite of what the organic movement aims to accomplish; it does not have a range of biodiversity, and it makes the use of pesticides inevitable.
So, the next time that you make pancakes, consider what type of flour you are buying. Is it organic? Perhaps you even milled it yourself!