Between 1906 and the start of World War II there were over 3,000,000 diagnosed cases of Pellagra in the USA, resulting in over 100,000 deaths. Scientists were baffled, until one finally figured out it was a result of malnutrition. Sufferers were not getting enough niacin and tryptophan, a result of switching to white bread.
That’s where I left you last week. But some of you astute observers and thinkers might be wondering: if pellagra was caused by Americans consuming white bread instead of whole wheat bread, and I’ve been eating white bread my whole life, why don’t I have pellagra? The grocery store shelves are filled with white bread, so why isn’t this still an epidemic? What happened?
World War II happened. Scientists figured out the root cause of pellagra in the late 1920’s and promoted a diet rich in niacin and tryptophan, but as is always the case there were plenty of folks who wouldn’t listen to their doctors, and even more who just couldn’t afford it.
But, when the US entered World War II, the War Department took a particular interest in healthier foods for two reasons: 1) they needed to provide soldiers with food that would travel well and keep them healthy and 2) the civilian population- especially the rural south- needed to be healthy enough to be drafted into the Army.
The solution was enriched flour. You’ve seen enriched flour before. You probably have some in your home right now. But what is it? What is it enriched with?
Enriched flour is white flour that has had iron and vitamins, including niacin and tryptophan, put back in. Whole wheat flour spoils, so it was no good to send to the front lines. White flour has shelf life, but it lacks those elements vital to our health. The solution was to make white flour, thus stripping it of all its healthy nutrients, then add those nutrients back in in a different form and voila, enriched flour. Good from the battle front to the home front.
One company in particular jumped on this plan. Continental Baking decided to not only use enriched flour, but to take it a step further and fortify their flour, adding nutrients that are not found in wheat, such as calcium.
After World War II ended, Continental Baking continued marketing their fortified flour bread as health food. In the 1950’s they sponsored a little show called Howdy Doody, and every week kids and their parents would be told by Buffalo Bob Smith, “Wonder Bread builds strong bodies 8 different ways.”
A lot of bread manufacturers followed suit, and there are tons of enriched and fortified breads out there today.
Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven… I am the bread of life… whoever eats me will live because of me… eat my flesh, drink my blood…” Because of the difficulty of this teaching, many of Jesus’ followers left. It was too hard to swallow. So Jesus turned to his disciples and asked, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Peter immediately answered, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus is the bread of life, the bread that gives life… to whom else can we go? Yet we do go to others, don’t we? Even with the bread of life before us, it is far simpler and easier to grab some Wonder Bread to go.
But the thing is, even with its enrichment and fortification, Wonder Bread is still not nearly as good for you as natural, whole wheat bread.
When Wonder Bread first came out, it was hated. People said it was like eating a marshmallow sponge. The only reason it sold as it did was because it was marketed as health food, but it wasn’t all that healthy! And now we have become so accustomed to gloopy, fluffy, sweet Wonder Bread that we often prefer it over a real loaf of bread. We would rather have Wonder Bread than a bread that we can sink our teeth into.
Jesus is the bread of life, the bread that gives life… to whom else can we go? Yet we do go to others. Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ way of living, is hard. It’s dense. It’s difficult to swallow and, frankly, we don’t have time for that. I know, because I have the same problem.
Part of my job as pastor is to consume Jesus regularly. I have to spend time with him, I have to be fed and nourished with the bread of life if I am going to feed others.
But often I’m in chaos mode. I can’t check anything off my to-do list without three more being added to it. Anybody else feel crushed under your own schedule, run ragged by your own responsibilities? That’s me.
Chaos mode. When you are living in chaos mode, you don’t have time for anything. You do whatever has to be done as quickly as you can and then move on. This includes eating. You grab that sandwich to go, that meal in the car. You throw together some turkey and cheese between Wonder Bread and you wolf it down on your way to the next thing.
The same is true of our bread of life consumption. A little bit of Jesus here and there while on the way to the next thing, and we’ll be okay. We’ll just enrich our schedule with the basic spiritual nutrients, the bare minimum of things we need to keep ourselves spiritually alive. A little Christian music on the radio. A cross necklace. A quick prayer when we think about it. Pop into church for an hour every few weeks. Chaos mode. Wonder Bread mode.
Over time, when we have been living in chaos mode for so long that it feels normal, we begin preferring that spiritual Wonder Bread to the bread of Heaven, the bread of life.
Folks, we can’t live like this. Our spiritual Wonder Bread might be enough to keep us alive, but it isn’t giving us the abundant life of Jesus Christ. What’s more, in the beginning God created order out of chaos; why would we choose to live in chaos?
Jesus will not be fast food. He will not speed up for us, so we need to slow down for him. We need to return to the bread of life and really sink our teeth into it. We need to linger at the Lord’s Table, savoring the flavor, the texture, even the very coarseness of the bread of life in our mouths.