Monday, October 11, 2010

Our Friends the Plants - Part 2 (Wheat)

In part one I talked about how plants are not little defenseless things that only exist to be eaten. This time around I want to talk about one specific plant, wheat, how it defends itself, and how it that changed the course of mankind's development.

Understanding wheat means understanding how it lives. Annual grasses like wheat are opportunists. You don't see annual grasses growing in intact ecosystems like forests. You wouldn't see it growing on a healthy prairie either. A natural prairie is made up of perennial grasses.

No, wheat waits for an opportunity. When there's an opening, bare soil, wheat is there to take advantage of it. This is why wheat seeds are so large. When there's an opening, the fastest growers are the winners. The wheat plant gets a huge head start with it's large energy storing seed and crowds out the other plants just starting out. These seeds play the waiting game and when they get their chance they grow as fast as possible and create more seeds for the next generation, which waits as well.

All this waiting around requires a hardy seed. If insects, bacteria, or fungus was able to consume these seeds then wheat's strategy would not work. Not surprisingly, the seed is well protected chemically. A major part of this protection is gluten.

Gluten is a potent digestive irritant. It binds to the cell walls in the consuming animals gut making it a potent insecticide. So how did it come to be that man relies on this cereal grain more than any other? In spite of it's toxicity, wheat, man, and agriculture made a perfect match.

Dr Michael Eades has called wheat the original junk food. All those nasty chemicals made it the first "shelf stable" food. It's starchy and addictive. Addictive? Yes. Gluten seems to have a opiate-like effect in the human brain. This is not far fetched. Nicotine is another natural insecticide that people get addicted to. Fact: the original Black Flag insect spray was simply a solution of nicotine. Killed insects dead. And people smoke it. The whole history of drug addiction, up until recently, was people getting high on plant and fungal insecticides.

I didn't believe it at first myself, but then I started advising people to stop eating bread. The answers I would get were shocking. I had one women buy into it at the time, but then told me a week later she just HAD to have some bread. My father would not even entertain the idea of trying to go bread free for just one month. It wasn't something he pondered, even for two seconds. Just an immediate, "No."

Let me paint an alternative history of civilization for you. Wheat, the plant, was living in the margins - eeking out a living during periods of ecological distress. Then it found people. In a happy accident these people got a buzz off consuming it. So they started cultivating it. Because it could be stored, man was able to settle down and develop civilization. Wheat was able to change it's mission in life to something similar to a fruit bearing plant. In exchange for feeding man, wheat was cared for and it's seeds carried to every corner of the earth. Everywhere it went, man tore up the existing ecosystem to provide nice bare ground for it to thrive.

The only problem is that this relation was great for wheat, but not so much for man. The whole of the history of wheat eating is about 20,000 years. A blink of time on the evolutionary scale. There was no time for man to adapt to this new diet. It lacked everything except the raw calories to keep men alive, but nothing to thrive on. In exchange for a reliable food supply man got sick. The first agriculturists were physical wreaks, racked with vitamin deficiencies and disease. This is a matter of the fossil record. We have skeletons of agriculturists and hunter gatherers who lived in the same areas and the same times.

So, did man master wheat or did wheat master man? We take our plows and tear up the existing ecosystem to plant it. The U.S. prairie used to support millions of bison in a completely sustainable fashion. Agriculture has devastated this land. The topsoil, which used to be measured in feet, is mere inches now. Thousands of years of biological reserves were wiped out in about 100 years growing a plant that takes but never returns anything. The only reason it even works now is because of oil. That's where the fertilizer comes from that makes it work. And how long will that last? How long can the wheat junkies keep this up?

You know what's really similar to wheat? Tobacco. I hinted at this earlier with my nicotine references. I've said before that eating wheat is a lot like smoking. People roll their eyes when I say this. Yeah, maybe I'm crazy but just consider it for a second, please. Both are irritants. Smoking irritates the lungs. Gluten irritates the intestines. Both are addictive. The constant irritation screws up your immune system and makes you sick. A screwed up immune system means cancer, allergies, etc. The only real difference is that wheat is a food source and tobacco is not. A large portion of the human race has no choice but to eat it, sadly.

You still want that slice of "healthy" whole wheat bread?


  1. Well done. Keep at it. We needs as many articulate voices as possible.

  2. Thanks Franklin.

    Sometime I wonder if anybody is even reading this stuff. You encouragement keeps me motivated to keep writing.

  3. Okay Matt, reducing all carbs has turned out VERY hard but I am on day 3 of no wheat. Hard but not impossible...yet. I even cleaned out my house so I wouldn't be tempted. I'll let you know!