100-Mile Diet: Bread!

[Previous 100-mile adventure posts are here, here, and here] For would-be 100-mile-dieters with a life, sandwiches are de rigeur. But sandwiches are made of bread, and most people don't bake their own loaves. So -- How does one locate 100-mile-friendly bread?

After reading Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon's romantic story about finding a local, under-the-radar, passionate wheat farmer on Vancouver Island, I was determined to do the same. Then I read a bunch of farm bill related stuff -- which made it clear that California was growing a lot of wheat that its residents weren't eating -- and I started getting a bit depressed.

This is what I've found out: While California's a state that produces a good amount of wheat, finding bread made with Cali-grown wheat is no easy task. Why? Most Californian wheat appears to be designated for cattle. This wheat is not going to be yummy for bread-eating humans.This is why even bakeries with a strong eco-conscience import their bread from other states. For example, Vital Vittles in Berkeley, a bakery that creates organic, handmade bread from California honey and whole grain flour ground in-house, still gets its wheat from Texas. Binh Tran, who's been working at Vital Vittles for 10 years, says the bakery has been getting hard red winter wheat from Texas for close to 30 years. It's "the best wheat," Binh says: very consistent high-quality, and very reliable.

Joseph Tuck, CEO of Alvarado Street Bakery, a worker-cooperative just north of San Francisco, agrees. "There's nothing we''d love more than to buy all our wheat from an organic farm in California," Joseph says. "It's a win-win in terms of everything. But unfortunately, that doesn't exist, especially at our level of how much wheat we need."

Alvarado Street Bakery's wheat comes from Colorado, Utah, Montana and some other states producing higher-quality wheat. "For us to make the bread we do, we need a certain type of wheat," Joseph says. And that kind of wheat often requires a "hard, cold kind of ground with a layer of snow on it for it to really grow well." Joseph still thinks we CAN grow high-quality wheat in California -- but as of now, no one's doing it.

"Certainly, I would suggest that everyone buy locally what they can," Joseph says. But you probably won't be able to eat bread at all if you stick to an extremely strict 100-mile diet. Even if you made your own bread, the organic flour you buy will come from the same places that consciencious California bakeries get their flour.

So what's a green, non-baking sandwich-maker to do? Check out your local bakeries and their commitment to organic ingredients. If you have the option to do so, go with a bakery that offers mostly organic goodies, as opposed to a bakery that offers just 1 or 2 token organic breads.

And if you still have options at this point, then, well, you can support your own fave cause -- anything from picking the bakery closest to you (for me, that's Oliver's Artisan Breads or SunFlour Bakery), to picking a co-op bakery (Alvarado), to patronizing a mom-n-pop shop (Vital Vittles).

My recommendation: Don't try too hard to evaluate between the choices beyond the relatively local, mostly organic point. Spending hours researching whether a co-op bakery that's 50 miles away might be better than a more corporate bakery that's 5 miles away is not going to be worth your time. Just buy as green a loaf as you can, put some local peanut butter and jelly on it, and eat your lunch already. For more of Siel's adventures, check out greenLAgirl.com!

Tags: Agriculture | California | Local Food | Los Angeles | San Francisco

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