The Tyranny of Wheat?

Let me just ramble a bit. The latest “diet fad” to hit the media is Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. His most strident claim is that many of our most common ailments and diseases are linked to wheat. In a subsequent book entitled Wheat Belly Total Health he goes so far as to advocate ridding our diet of all gluten-type grains. How is it possible, given world hunger, to eliminate the basic ingredients of nutrition for much of the that starving world? I am not arguing that wheat and other grains do not have some negative qualities, but I wonder how a staple in civilization’s diet for thousands of years has suddenly now become the subject of such vitriol, even being labeled by Davis as evil. How can something which has literally fed billions be now so out of fashion that it comes under this kind of attack?

Davis was featured on a recent episode of CBC’s The Fifth Estate where some of his book’s “scientific” claims were put to the test. Turns out that his main assertions are patently false and based on pseudo-science. But that does not stop thousands of faithful devotees from attending his seminars. The Fifth Estate showed clips of the shining upturned faces of the faithful receiving the words of Davis who delivers them with prophetic frankness along with winsome humour. It reminds me of a guru sitting atop a mountain receiving those sojourners who’ve slogged up the mountainside in search of the truth. There, the pearls of wisdom fall from their leader’s lips and are eagerly gathered up as if they are the very essence of life and meaning. Davis is that messiah sent to deliver us all from the tyranny of wheat! But wait a minute. What implications might we take away from this new gospel he is pedaling? In particular, what conclusions might we draw spiritually from this mission to free us from the evil grasp of wheat?

Well, for starters, some of the most cherished imagery and teaching of the Bible is tarnished by wheat being depicted in this villainous role. Included in that imagery is the psalmist’s poetic vision of valleys filled with grain singing and shouting for joy (apparently maliciously) at the Lord’s good and bountiful provision (Psalm 65:13). Suddenly too, Jesus’ parable about the wheat and tares takes on an ominous tone as we are left to wonder which one – the wheat or the weeds –  represents the sons of the devil who are to be rooted out and burned at the end of the age (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). If Davis has his way, the wheat will be burned up right along with the tares! Or what are we to do with the most iconic rite in the Christian tradition, the rite of Holy Communion? Suddenly cast in the light of Davis’s teaching, the very bread of the Eucharist has become a thing tainted by evil, an entity to be shunned, if not completely eliminated.

I think it’s time to take a deep breath and let more reasonable minds prevail. Notwithstanding Davis’ claims, wheat, for all its shortcomings will remain (and probably should remain) a staple source of nourishment for a large percentage of the world’s population. Wheat is not evil as Davis proclaims. On the contrary, human lifespans have been steadily increasing over the last one hundred years or so – years in which billions of bushels of wheat and other gluten-laced grains have been consumed. Given that statistic alone, the watchword should be “moderation in all things” not “let’s get rid of wheat.”

Leave a Reply