Station: it’s not the wheat, it’s the processing
Bruce Stewart isn’t exactly on a mission, but he does want to clear up a bit of the sticky confusion regarding gluten.
The 42-year-old married dad of two daughters — Monica, 4, and two-year-old Fiona — owns Cowichan Bay’s True Grain Bread with his wife, Leslie. He believes there is too much propaganda about gluten.
“I love gluten; it’s one of the most wonderful substances going — it’s amazing to me how misinformed people are about gluten and what it is,” he said.
In the 1950s, the incidences of celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine caused by a reaction to wheat proteins — was less than one in 100, said Stewart.
“In 2014, the incidences of celiac disease is less than one per cent — it hasn’t changed.”
In our modern world, many people with digestive, or gut, or fatigue issues believe they might be allergic to gluten.
“In most cases, they’re not allergic to gluten, and that’s a big part of what our customer base is because people can eat our breads,” Stewart said.
“Once people understand what we do from the field to the finished product, they can say ‘Now I understand why I can eat a loaf of True Grain bread and not get gut rot.”
True Grain uses ancient grains, such as emmer, which was the first cereal grain cultivated by humans.
Stewart said — and has put on brochures — that many people who suffer non-celiac sensitivity find they can easily digest emmer because of its simple and natural gluten structure.
“Even people who are really, really, really gluten-sensitive,” he said.
Stewart, a product of Midland, Ont., was involved in various aspects of the food business in Ontario and, later, in Calgary, when he had a hankering for a change.
“One day I was lamenting to my wife that I wanted to be self-employed — it was one of my goals and she said: ‘Well, do it or stop talking about it.’”
After looking at businesses for sale from around the country, the Stewarts bought True Grain from Jonathan Knight, who started the bakery in an old fish packing plant in 2004.
It was a great fit right from the get-go, said Bruce.
“I love B.C., it’s where I’m meant to be.”
Stewart hit the ground running and was quickly involved with his new community.
He was a champion of the slow food movement and was vital in helping Cowichan Bay earn the Cittaslow designation in 2009. Cittaslow is a movement started in Italy to improve quality of life in towns by slowing the overall pace. Cowichan Bay was the first town in North America to be certified.
With more and more information available about what we’re putting in our bodies, Stewart said he believes he knows what consumers want.
“People want to be more connected with their food and where it comes from and I agree,” he said.
“We provide a real solution for people, in terms of their diet.”
True Grain does that, says, Stewart, by going back to the basics.
“We use only the finest certified organic grains and ingredients wherever possible and we freshly mill the organic grains onsite in our stone grain mill,” he said.
“We seek heritage varieties of grain such as red fife wheat — which have not been hybridized over time — we favour natural leavening and slow fermentations to unlock the grains’ true flavours.”
Simplifying the bread-making process means True Grain bread doesn’t have the shelf life of store bought, but that’s OK, says Stewart.
“Just because you can make a loaf of bread that stays soft for five weeks, doesn’t mean you ever should,” he said, noting True Grain donates to local food banks anything that doesn’t sell the day it’s baked.
In addition to creating jobs at his bakeries — there’s a second True Grain in Summerland, B.C. — the Stewarts are almost single-handedly renewing a once-lost industry on the island.
In the 1950s, Vancouver Island was a net exporter of grain.
Cheap oil and the resulting reduced transport costs for the industrialized food complex are viewed by many as the villains that contributed to the demise of local grain agriculture.
But in 2008, when the Stewarts purchased True Grain, oil prices went through the roof.
“I thought, ‘Great, now I have to raise prices because the price of flour doubled,’” recalled Stewart.
That’s when he got the idea to try to revitalize local grain farming.
“When I came to True Grain, we were experimenting with one farmer (in Metchosin) who was interested in growing grain,” he said.
Now, four Vancouver Island farmers are growing for True Grain; another five farmers in B.C. are also growing for the Cow Bay bakery.
In the milling room where True Grain stones grinds its grains, there’s a sign hanging on the wall with words from Robert Browning: If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.
“If we’re doing our job right — and I believe we are,” said Stewart, “when people taste and experience what we do for the first time, they’re seeing the moon and tasting the stars in the heavens.”