The bread of life was the subject in the gospel reading, the sermon and, of course, the communion.
"There's bread, and then there's bread," the reverend said at the start of his sermon. He grew up eating Wonder white bread, he said, and then told us how he progressed to home-baked whole wheat.
As a chow hound and bread lover, I was quickly drawn into his sermon, in which he baited me with childhood reminisces, hooked me with recollections of bread, and then switched to the bottom line: "There's the bread that fills your belly, and then there's the bread of heaven that fills your soul."
I'm not going to get into religion here, and I don't care if you're Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or whatever. I am, however, going to get into bread. I love bread, and I need bread.
Like the preacher, I grew up on Wonder bread. It was white, soft, void of texture, and rather tasteless. It hasn't changed much, if at all, in all these many years since. I have to go back to Wonder bread on certain occasions – for egg-salad sandwiches and for old-fashioned, kid-again, Wonder grilled cheese.
I did not abandon white bread when I left home and joined the U.S. Marine Corps at age 19. The Corps saw fit to serve us bread products made with bleached white flour, and I paid no attention. Bread was bread. White bread was fine. I ate what the cooks served.
Then the Corps introduced me to combat rations – the field chow in the little, olive-drab, tin cans. Even bread came in a little tin can. It was about the size and shape of a breakfast biscuit. The taste and texture were not especially good. But the thing was edible if you held it over the flame of a burning dab of C4 plastic explosive, scorching it a little. And if you combined that toasted bread with some c-ration meat – the ham slices worked well – and some c-ration cheese, you had yourself a decent meal. It tasted even better with some Louisiana hot sauce stolen from the chow hall back in the rear.
I finally experienced really good bread, when the Marine Corps assigned me to embassy duty. My first embassy was in Saigon – now known as Ho Chi Minh City – and I discovered the Vietnamese banh mi. That's a sandwich that starts with a delicious little loaf of baked dough. Picture submarine roll meets mini baguette. Then it's filled with good meat and veggies and condiments.
After a year in Saigon, I was transferred to the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Yes, I mean that Paris, the one with the best bread in the world. Heavenly bread. Not the "bread of heaven" the reverend was talking about, but I thought I was in heaven when I ate Parisian bread. A baguette a day kept the doldrums away.
Now I eat mostly whole wheat, whole grain. I eat the stuff, because supposedly it's not good for me to eat white bread, white rice and white pasta. People can be trimmer and healthier, we're told, by switching from white to brown. So, we should eat whole wheat bread, making sure it's 100 percent whole wheat; brown rice, which we're supposed to think tastes nice and nutty; and whole wheat pasta, some of which resembles cardboard in taste and texture, despite being shaped like noodles or other pasta shapes.
I think the French eat a lot of white bread, but I don't recall seeing a lot of overweight Parisians. I lived several years in Japan, where white rice is a staple, but the only large people I saw were sumo wrestlers. And how about the touted benefits of an Italian-Mediterranean diet? Don't Italians eat a lot of pasta?
Frankly, I think we can eat some of our favorite white stuff, if we also consume plenty of healthful fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, lean meats. And how about smaller portions? Or how about cutting out a lot of those potato chips, fudge brownies, chocolate chip cookies, pepperoni pizzas and – say it ain't so – moose tracks ice cream.
I'm going to continue to enjoy the occasional white baguette, white croissant, and that wonderful egg salad on Wonder white bread. I'll also eat my vegetables, like my mom told me, and I'll try to eat smarter overall. My belly and my soul will be well fed.
I plan to visit Japan again and eat white rice. I want to get back to Paris and visit a bread shop every day I'm there. Heaven, however, can wait. I'm in no hurry.