Is bread back on the table now?

A toast to toast! Big Bread wants you to forget about low carb, Whole30 and paleo and say #YesToBread

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published July 1, 2019 4:00PM (EDT)


About a month ago, memoirist and cookbook author Andie Mitchell posted a how-to guide on Instagram for creating a “DIY breakfast toast bar.” The post featured a photograph of five different slices of bread, lightly-browned, meticulously lighted and covered in various toppings: peanut butter and raspberries, a smear of cream cheese and rosy lox, apples and a drizzle of honey. 

“And if you use whole grain bread and wholesome ingredients, it can be healthy, too,” Mitchell wrote. 

For an author whose books have focused on health — including her New York Times’ bestselling memoir “It Was Me All Along,” in which Mitchell detailed her struggles with obesity and weight loss and her subsequent cookbook “Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook” —  Mitchell’s post isn’t particularly out of place in her feed. 

But at the bottom of her caption, she used two hashtags: #YesToBread and #sponsored. 

Search #YesToBread on Instagram and there’s a small stream of food bloggers and kitchen enthusiasts posting photos of fancy toasts and french loaves. #YesToBread is often paired with another hashtag, #EatBreadAgain. Some of these posts are simply a genuine appreciation of pillowy brioche , but many at this point are sponsored by the Grain Foods Foundation. 

The Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) is an industry group with a mission of promoting the goodness of bread and other grains among consumers. It’s backed by leaders in agricultural, baking and food production sectors, and collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

And one of the ways the GFF is trying to get the breadbasket back on American tables is by pushing the idea that it’s actually OK to eat bread again. Obviously the grains sector of the agricultural industry has an interest in more Americans saying yes to bread, but that doesn’t make #EatBreadAgain an entirely unwelcome message. 

For decades, the diet-industrial complex has sold consumers on plans that are predicated on drastic reductions or eliminations of complete food groups — a cycle that is still incredibly strong today. Low or no-carb diets like Atkins and South Beach Diet have transformed into ketogenic diets and the Whole30, which now sprawls out into Whole60s and Whole90s. In 2016, Oprah Winfrey made headlines for touting her own love of bread, a controversial move during a time that saw wheat products on the outs for dieters beyond those with chronic illnesses affected by exposure to gluten.

It’s refreshing to see a push-back against that rhetoric, even at the hands of another industry with money to make. It’s also not surprising, given the scrutiny that the ever-expanding "wellness" industry is currently undergoing. 

In June, novelist Jessica Knoll wrote a viral opinion essay for the New York Times, “Smash the Wellness Industry.” In it, Knoll detailed a cycle in which she found herself trapped, binging and then hopping back on the “clean eating” wagon.

“I called this poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear ‘wellness,’” Knoll wrote. “This was before I could recognize wellness culture for what it was — a dangerous con that seduces smart women with pseudoscientific claims of increasing energy, reducing inflammation, lowering the risk of cancer and healing skin, gut and fertility problems.”

She continued: “But at its core, ‘wellness’ is about weight loss. It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin.” 

Carbs — bread, pasta, rice — are some of those demonized foods, which is evident even in some of the comments on the #EatBreadAgain posts. One Instagram user wrote, “BREAD SUCKS. I lost 65 pounds and reversed the effects of 5 disorders by NOT eating this junk,” while another commenter echoed, “Bread does suck. Want something healthy? Try a vegetable.” 

This isn’t to say that our collective understanding of what’s “healthy” is static; in 2002, Harvard University scientists published a landmark study that questioned the U.S. government's official dietary guidelines, enshrined in the familiar food pyramid. In it, they recommended people eat more healthy fats and fewer carbs than represented in the pyramid — fewer, rather than none. 

In 2011, the pyramid was replaced completely with MyPlate!. The plate is split into four sections; fruits and vegetables take up the largest slot, approximately half the plate, while grain edges out protein in a competition for more space on the other half. 

#EatBreadAgain might be giving the humble loaf a new moment, but we take care not to overcorrect and overstate bread’s importance as a food type. (I think of the eventual offshoot of the Got Milk? campaign that portrayed a glass of milk as some kind of “superdrink.”) But in the face of diets that preach elimination, maybe it will serve as a reminder that a full plate can be healthy, too.

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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