Food rant below–have no fear, yarn-filled Maryland Sheep and Wool follow-up to come later today.

If you eat bread, even bread made at home, you’re most likely consuming wheat gluten–the same ingredient causing problems in all the bad pet food (and now chicken feed) a few weeks back. The FDA has little control over what goes into your bread because, not surprisingly, many of the vital ingredients are imported from China. This morning on National Public Radio, there was a story saying that the newly appointed FDA “czar” has basically no power (not unlike most czars in history, US or otherwise), even though he was appointed in response to the pet food crisis.

A story this morning in the Kansas City Star says our wheat gluten was mostly produced domestically until 2000 when import quotas were lifted. Subsequently, most domestic producers went out of business. According to the star, [it is] “estimated that the U.S. consumes about 530 million pounds of wheat gluten annually. Government figures show that about 386 million pounds of that were imported.”

Take Action
What does all this mean? To me, It means I want to know where my food comes from. The best way to do that is to buy your food as close to its source of manufacture as possible. Barring that, caveat emptor, be an informed consumer.

Ask Your Baker
Ask at your bakery where they get their gluten. More pointedly, ask if any of their ingredients are produced in China. If you buy bread at a grocery store, look at the packaging. Visit the web site listed and send them an e-mail. Call customer service numbers. If there aren’t any on the packaging, Google the company, you’ll most likely find something. It takes consumers telling companies they care where their ingredients come from for change to happen.

Let me know when you’ve found out, and I’ll create a web-list of bread companies that use domestic gluten. I may also try and contact the two remaining domestic producers to see if they can provide a client list.

UPDATE: I got a return phone call this morning from the customer service people who support Vermont Bread Company and Rudy’s Organic Bread Company. It was voicemail, so I didn’t get a chance to ask any followups, but they said their gluten comes from Canada.

Talk to your Representatives
Stronger FDA oversight is needed to insure the safety of imported ingredients. This will take new legislation. Call or e-mail to let your representatives know you’re concerned about where your food comes from.

Beyond Food Safety
The importation of ingredients like wheat and soy have effects beyond food safety. Domestic farmers and manufacturers are going out of business. Support your local growers and local bakeries, and small local manufacturers. Visit local farms and farmers’ markets. Get to know your food producers. My friend and fellow knitting blogger, Hannah and her family do a great job finding local sources for almost anything, and she writes periodically about it on her blog. I’m looking forward to reading the new book by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where she chronicles a year of eating food “from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air.”

The Other Kind of Fiber