The Common Good

Give Us This Day Our Daily (100% Natural) Bread: Shame on Whole Foods & Aunt Millie's

I just discovered I've been duped.

This is painful, because I like to think I know how to read labels. I also like to trust products named Aunt Millie and stores named Whole Foods.

Alas, I forgot one of my basic shopping principles: Never trust food that calls itself "natural."

In label language, natural means nothing at all. Companies who use the term in their marketing are usually trying to hide something. I should have looked more carefully at Aunt Minnie's Hearth Fiber for Life 12 Whole Grains bread.

Here, I'll show you the inset up close. I read it as "100% natural whole grain," never stopping to wonder why the marketers bothered to point out that whole grains are natural (isn't that obvious?). But no. This bread is not 100% whole grain. It is 100% natural, whatever that means, and it contains whole grains. Twelve of them, in fact. But its third listed ingredient, after water and whole grain wheat flour, is unbleached wheat flour.

Translation: white flour.

Now I have nothing against eating white flour now and then. I make a mean challah whose flour component is 100% white. But I do dislike (hate, abominate) labels that bend over backward to make me think I'm buying 100% whole grain bread when in reality I'm not.

I call that "lying."

And I don't like being told that "Aunt Millie's Hearth breads ... contain no color additive, artificial substances, or synthetic compounds, only pure and fresh ingredients, just like those found in your kitchen cupboard." I don't know ... does your kitchen cupboard contain resistant corn starch, resistant dextrin, sodium gluconate, potassium chloride, guar gum, wheat starch, calcium sulfate, ferrous sulfate, thiamine hydrochloride, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and ascorbic acid?

Mine neither.

So from now on when I buy sandwich bread, I'm going to get it at Trader Joe's. Their multigrain bread is, in fact, 100% whole grain. It has only two bizarre ingredients: natural mold inhibitor (cultured whey and wheat starch or flour) and natural dough conditioner (wheat flour, enzymes). There's that word "natural" again, but at least it's in the small type.

Interestingly, a slice (43g) of Trader Joe's bread has half the sugars of a slice (53g) of Aunt Millie's. It also has 30mg less sodium, 5mg more potassium, and 1g more protein. Aunt Millie's has more iron, because she adds ferrous sulfate (and other vitamins) to the mix. Strip out the truly natural food value, add the equivalent of vitamin pills, and call your product natural: it's the American way.

Gotta give the madmen at Aunt Millie's credit, though. Rarely can one find so much schmalz per square inch as on their website. "At Aunt Millie's," they croon, "we bake more than bread - we bake memories."

Good Lord, deliver us.

LaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust and at The Neff Review.

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