“The bread aisle had white bread and brown bread, but you couldn’t tell if the brown bread really had whole grains in it without reading the nutrition label,” said Sara Baer-Sinnot, president of Oldways, the non-profit behind the Whole Grains stamp.
This was 13 years ago, when the conference series first started. “Whole grains and cardboard were often mentioned in the same sentence,” she joked.
Today, whole grains are much more ubiquitous in American food and beverages—more of the populace knows how to cook (and pronounce) quinoa, whole grain salads are appearing in salad bars and prepared food sections of groceries, and schools are mandated to serve some whole grains (though there are efforts to increase the mandated requirement for school lunches).
Farro, teff, bulgur
Experts in the whole grains industry argued that more grains should penetrate American diets even deeper. With an image of nacho chips drizzled in cheese with a side of fries in the background, chef Ann Cooper, an activist for healthier school lunches, called the image “the worst thing whole grains can be” during her presentation titled ‘Lessons from the Lunchroom’—apparently, this is the format of choice many school districts use to meet their whole grains requirement.
During the first day of the conference yesterday, presentations focused on how to market and introduce more whole grains to American diets. Cooper believes it should start early at schools, and her organization helps schools in 50 states to bring healthy and quality lunches to their pupils.
She shared that salad bars in the Boulder school district, where she is based, always have a whole grain salad option, which is quite popular among children.
Author and journalist Maria Speck argued that what she has found effective in promoting whole grains is to downplay the health benefits of whole grains—at least a little bit. She shared how the stereotypical attitude of healthy things having to taste bad can be detrimental.
With recipes published in her book, Speck showed ways of how freekeh, farro, polenta, and black rice can be very versatile, and when prepped properly, can be a convenient, colorful, and flavorful part of a meal. Raised in a German and Greek household, she said “I didn’t eat whole grains to be healthy, I ate it because it was tasty!”