Dear Mother Earth News, Try Harder Next Time

Below is a response I’ve sent to Mother Earth News. It really is my favorite thing to read these days, but after last issue’s love letter to homemade bread and now a poorly-written article called “Wonderful Wheat” that tried to take a hard line against the anti-gluten movement, I had to speak up.


HandwritingDear Mother Earth News,

I love Mother Earth News. I buy all the special editions and it’s my favorite magazine to read as I begin dreaming about how me and my family are going to live on our newly acquired 20 acres. Thank you for such great info!

However, I’ve noticed a big push for bread and wheat products lately both in your pages and on your social media presences. The article “Wonderful Wheat” in Feb/Mar 2014’s issue really caught my eye with its aggressive tone.

I understand completely how important wheat seems to many people. It was at one time to me too. But just as we can love someone who is abusive, sometimes we don’t understand the connection between what we eat and how we feel. I never would have imagined that wheat would be part of the numerous health problems I faced my whole life, while others appeared in my early 30s: acne, anxiety, weight gain, joint pain.

I am part of a community that combines scientific inquiry and what we know from human history in an effort to better understand our modern lives and the challenges we face. And while we may not understand exactly why wheat is problematic for so many, the fact is that thousands, if not millions, are finding relief from symptoms as varied as diabetes, obesity, arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, and more by eliminating wheat and focusing on a real foods-based diet that honors our physiology. Wheat appears to be a culprit due to intestinal permeability, which triggers our immune system to attack the gluten proteins found in wheat and other food products. Once this process has started, there is no relief to be had except in the omission of wheat from the diet. How it manifests in people differs from person to person, which is partly why it’s been so hard to figure out what’s going on—one person’s rheumatoid arthritis is another’s migraine headaches.

WheatFieldIn addition, I’m a writer and journalist. I was extremely disappointed to see “sources” such as the Journal of Cereal Science and the American Association of Cereal Chemists International cited as evidence for a counter-point. There is no such thing as unbiased information coming from these sources, and my journalistic ethics would forbid me from using them in any article about cereal grains. I hope Mother Earth News can encourage their writers to be more vigorous in their research next time. I recommend a stroll through all the new research on gluten on PubMed.

There are many economic forces that would like to convince us that gluten intolerance isn’t legitimate. With an audience of maverick homesteaders and people who appreciate real food that comes from the earth, I would hope that Mother Earth News would be sensitive to that. While wheat flour was a staple of homesteads in recent history, humans have lived just fine without it. There is no need at all for grains in the diet. To grow, properly prepare (traditionally done by soaking to mitigate digestive issues), and mill our own is labor intensive and unnecessary. Monocrops such as grains are also environmentally damaging. So it seems to me that there are many reasons other than health to reconsider a stance in support of wheat.

I will continue to read my beloved Mother Earth News. But can we please devote some pages and attention to foods I can grow with my own hands that nourish me, my family, and my community?

Thank you!

Karen Phelps


6 Responses to “Dear Mother Earth News, Try Harder Next Time”

  1. I have every issue of MEN up until 2009. I was increasingly unhappy with the editorial slant and decided to pull my support when John Shuttleworth died. (even though he had not run the magazine for 30 years. It was symbolic.)

    • I’ve heard this from longtime fans of MEN. I’m a newbie, so I’m unaware of it. I have a friend who said he has all the original issues from the beginning and I was trying to figure out how to get that box on the plane with me! I’ve been considering buying all the back archives.

  2. Hey Karen
    Nice response – particularly as you haven’t gone back at them with a hysterical “But wheat is death” cry.

    There really does seem to be a backlash to the anti-wheat movement. I note Marion Nestle has added her voice to this backlash but sadly she also cites the Journal of Cereal Science as evidence that wheat is good. She also mentions her own personal love of bread – something I note local supporters of wheat consumption do here in New Zealand. Nestle was bold enough to start her “I have evidence that bread is good” piece with “As a bread-lover…”.

    The reality is that the research archives are actually very rich with direct evidence showing that many of the elements within wheat are problematic. Thus far, the only evidence I have seen to say we should be enjoying wheat with impunity has been epidemiological evidence. The Journal of Cereal Science can review what they like, but the gold-standard review – a Cochrane Systematic Review – is largely dismissive of whole grains having any beneficial impact on CVD.

    The most convincing evidence I have seen regarding wheat consumption has come from the pharmaceutical companies. There are papers from such companies looking at the gut permeability-increasing effects of wheat germ agglutinin. WGA’s ability to disrupt the gut barrier and allow large compounds through seems the perfect vehicle for delivering large drug compounds via the gut. According to this research, there is enough WGA in a cooked bowl of pasta to cause such disruption.

    Then there is the research (again – from the pharmaceutical industry) showing that wheat contains digestive enzyme inhibitors, targeted largely at our starch and protein enzymes. It doesn’t take a PhD in physiology to understand the implications of our digestive system being rendered ineffectual by such anti-enzymatic action (and why wheat is capable of this).

    The pharmaceutical/nutriceutical industry is interested in this as a way to allow us to have our cake and eat it too. That is, you can eat, taste, and have your bright lit up by cakes and biscuits, but if your carbohydrate-busting enzymes are blocked, you won’t absorb quite as many calories. And as we know it is all about calories, everybody wins.

    The fly in the ointment thus far for this research is that they haven’t found a way to block the anti-protein inhibitors, which, by their own admission, are rather problematic to our health as they seem to have specific detrimental effects on pancreatic health. No point in eating “low cal cake” if it results in you getting diabetes. Oh, wait…

    Did you get a response from them?


    • Thanks Jamie! I had forgotten about the pharmaceutical link to all this. Fascinating, isn’t it?

      Cheryl Long, MEN Editor-in-chief, replied this morning thanking me for my “thoughtful feedback.” I knew it was too long to be publishable (there’s a certain formula for that), but I wanted to cover the bases.

  3. This is so well done – Thank you!!


  1. Dear Mother Earth News, Try Harder Next Time | Paleo Digest - 01/26/2014

    […] Paleo Periodical / Posted on: January 01, 1970The Paleo Periodical – Below is a response I’ve sent to Mother Earth News. It really is my favorite thing to […]

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