The worst thing since sliced bread

July 01, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

SINCE THERE are only about six of us left in the entire country who still eat bread, I probably shouldn't have been surprised about what happened when my wife and I went to a local restaurant the other night.

After we were seated, our server appeared with a basket of dinner rolls.

"I don't know whether you still eat this stuff," she said, putting the basket on the table.

Then she looked down at it the way you'd look at medical waste.

Apparently, she figured us for two of the millions of diet zombies who have joined the low-carb cult.

Or - even worse - for two who should join the low-carb cult.

This so bummed us out that we told her: Sure, hon, leave the basket.

Then we proceeded to wipe out its contents like we were Michael and Mrs. Moore coming off a two-day fast.

Look, I knew things were bad for the bread industry with this low-carb madness seeping into every segment of our society.

According to a recent survey by the National Bread Leadership Council - yes, there really is such a thing - 40 percent of those questioned said they were eating less bread than a year ago.

But I didn't think things were so bad that restaurant servers were joining the low-carb cult and giving you the evil eye if you reached for the rolls.

Then the next day, I picked up the newspaper and saw that not only were the health nuts going after bread in general, they were really going after white bread.

Specifically, the article said that white bread "is under attack" by nutritionists for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It said the USDA is thinking of recommending that people cut back dramatically on their consumption of fortified grains.

And white bread, according to the story, is the home office for fortified grains.

Well.

Never mind that white bread holds an exalted place in the American diet.

Never mind that generations of Americans have happily scarfed down thousands of slices of white bread since they were toddlers.

No, none of that mattered.

The decree was about to come down: White bread was evil.

OK, all bread was evil.

But white bread was even more evil.

Even as I read this story and envisioned the coming PR rumble between the USDA and the bread industry - they may need to call in Kofi Annan to mediate this baby - I thought back over my own history of white-bread consumption.

As a child, nearly every meal I ate contained white bread.

Wonder bread was my mother's brand of choice. On the TV, they were always screaming the famous Wonder slogan: "Helps build strong bodies 12 ways!"

And my mother believed it.

She believed it with every fiber of her being.

She didn't see it as hype, or the same soulless Madison Avenue propaganda that barked at you about not squeezing the Charmin and urged you to prepare your face daily for the glorious pleasure of a Gillette razor.

No, my mother truly thought you were doing something good for yourself if you began the day with a breakfast of toast made from Wonder bread topped with gobs of butter the size of 50-cent pieces.

An ideal lunch, she felt, was a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich made with Wonder bread.

And was there any dinner, no matter how mundane or exotic, that couldn't be enhanced with a slice or two of Wonder bread and more butter?

Now that the USDA is bad-mouthing white bread, what am I to think of my upbringing?

Am I to look back on all those peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches made lovingly by my mother's hand and think: Why, that monster! She was trying to kill me!?

Of course not.

In fact, to this day I remain a bread guy.

I may not eat as much white bread as I used to - older bread guys tend to favor whole-wheat or rye or even pumpernickel. But no one has convinced me that bread, eaten in moderation, can hurt you.

So don't ask me to give up bread just because there's some new diet craze that'll flame out in a few months, like they all do.

That's what I should have told that server the other night.

You want my dinner rolls, you'll have to pry 'em from my cold, dead fingers.

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