Musings from an optimistic pessimist realist with Idealistic Fantasies intended to honor logic, sanity, truth, spirit, competence, and uncommon sense.
Truth Against the World
Monday, December 13, 2010
The Alchemy of Fermentation
I'm just about finished reading a book called Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. The book has tied up some loose ends for me that I would like to share. For the last five years or so I have been very interested in food. This interest has been more of an intellectual interest than a gastronomical one. I knew on some level that the path a food item takes from earth to plate was all wrong. I think the first book that opened my eyes on the subject of food was Fast Food Nation and that was quickly followed by books such as Harvest for Hope, The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, which then lead to my interest in gardening which then lead to a handful of other books addressing the subject of our broken food system such as Gardening When it Counts, and The Self Sufficient Gardenerand most recently Wild Fermentation.
The thing that all of these books have in common is food. In our society food is largely taken for granted. The point to food is for it to be as quick, cheap, and easy as possible. At least for the consumer of that food. The truth is that on average we use 10 calories of fossil fuel energy for every one calorie of food energy. Not a very efficient system. You wouldn't give somebody a dollar as a loan and then only ask for 10 cents back would you? You wouldn't pump ten gallons of gasoline into your car only to siphon out 9 gallons to throw away. Yet that is what our food "culture" does.
I read somewhere that our food contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% less nutrition than it did in the 1930's, which was right about the time farming was transitioning from family farms to manufactured machine farms. The reason for this lack of nutrition is simply a side effect of the industrial farming business treating soil as nothing more than a medium to hold corn erect while they dump billions of tons of petro chemicals and synthetic fertilizers (created from natural gas) on top. I could go on but the purpose of this blog is not to talk about industrial farming so much as it is to talk about our food culture or lack thereof as it were.
Fermentation has been largely responsible for man kinds success as a species and was the refrigeration before electricity existed. It's theorized that the first meeting of fermentation with mankind was around 250,000 years ago. The story goes that a cave man ran across a hollow in a tree that was filled with rain water and honey...Mead. There are cave drawings of man getting honey out of a bee hive. To us a drink of wine is a nice thing to have, but can you imagine the relief it would have provided man living in the wild dog eat dog world of the paleolithic era? It's also thought that man settled into agrarianism for the promise of beer. The Mesopotamian's brewed beer 5000 years ago. It seems that as long as man has been domesticated he has fermented alcohol of some type or another. This is just a theory but it makes perfect sense to me. What better motivation for man than the promise of a relaxing alcoholic beverage after a hard day of doing the work of survival. Many things that we take for granted require fermentation. Cheese, yogurt, keifer, alcohol, coffee, some teas, chocolate, bread, and all manner of pickles (at least historically) all require fermentation.
The healthful benefits of fermentation are largely lost in our society. Fermentation is the product of millions of different microorganisms mostly in the yeast family. Yeast is everywhere in the natural world. If you take flour and mix it with water and let it sit, stirring it occasionally, it will begin to bubble with fermentation. This is the action of the yeast eating the sugars in the wheat and turning them into alcohol and carbon dioxide and it is also what is known as a "starter" for bread or natural leavening. A whole plethora of cancer fighting agents as well as other healthful benefits have been identified in different types of ferments. The bottom line is that there are no dangers to fermented foods and beverages. There are only healthful and gastronomical benefits associated with fermented foods in reality. There it is again.
So how have we gotten to a place where we are afraid to eat a fermented pickle? How many of you would not have a problem with milking a cow and then letting the milk essentially rot for months before enjoying the pleasures of cheese? The idea of food that is "rotten" is entirely socially defined. For instance, the Eskimo bury fish in the ground and let it rot for months until it's the consistency of cheese before they eat it and that is considered a delicacy. In America we would consider that putrid and nasty and would never consider eating it and they feel the same about cheese. Could you imagine life without cheese?
Everything now has to be sterilized, pasteurized, irradiated and wrapped in plastic. Why is that? It has to be that way because our food system does not honor nutrition and sustenance. It honors efficiency and profit. Then the government gets involved and because one day laborer didn't wash his hands after taking a crap all spinach must now be irradiated and while were at it lets just irradiate and pasteurize everything else so we don't have to worry about people getting sick. Why don't we all just cut to the chase and start demanding that the grocery store shelves are stocked only with various forms of petroleum wrapped in petroleum to facilitate our removal from the planet. We can all just starve to death on a diet of our beloved irradiated petroleum. Let's just build a giant X-ray machine the size of a football stadium and all eat high fructose petroleum sugar while being irradiated. We can wash it down with synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. By the way we are going to do this in the name of safety and health in case you were wondering.
We have been programmed by our broken system to believe that the only good cheese is the kind that has been irradiated, pasteurized, wrapped in plastic and stuck in the refrigerated section of the megalobox grocery store. We have been programmed to believe that poison is the antidote to cancer...both literally and figuratively. We get cancer because our food is poisoned with HFCS and no longer alive and then we treat it with radiation and poison. What a coincidence. If I didn't know any better I would say that the Illuminati is trying to control population by poisoning us all.
The concept of "Culture" was originally associated with food. We culture cheese. Culture is what makes different areas of the globe truly unique from one another. A cheese made in my kitchen is going to be a product of the local microorganisms in my kitchen and it will be uniquely local. It won't taste the same as the cheese made in your kitchen. Culture is entirely driven by food. Every ethnic group has their own food traditions reflecting their own local uniqueness. Food habits that are born from their place in space and time. Food brings culture together in celebration. We sit together eating, socializing and connecting. What do we crave more than to feel understood and connected with by our fellow peers? The processes that bring food to the table have always been what defines a culture. What has been grown and how? What has been hunted and how? How has it all been prepared? How is it eaten? This is culture, and we don't have it any longer. We have an electronic culture that isn't even real.
Our food culture now is devoid of any meaning. We don't have time to eat any more because we have to get back to pointless distractions that only add up to more death and destruction. We don't have time to grow, harvest, hunt, gather, and prepare a culture any longer. We have to hurry up and cram corn down our gullets so that we can get back to our desk in service of a computer screen in service of making some fat cat with a silver spoon stuffed up his ass lots of money. We don't even have time to chew because it will interfere with our quality smart phone time. We only have time to microwave already dead food that provides nothing but petroleum calories. We don't need nutrition and culture any more because we have HFCS and Zoloft to make us happy.
Fermenting food in your kitchen gives you time to slow down and appreciate nutritious localness. Fermenting food that you have grown ties you to your place of existence...your abode. It is a chance to exist where you are and not in some far away electronic abstraction. It's a way to invite the microorganisms that surround you into your being. You invite them in and transform them into your flesh. It is a chance to experience real food that is exploding with complex flavors, aliveness and health. Growing and fermenting your food is the antithesis of the industrial food system. If you can't grow your own food you can still transform it into something local even if it did come from thousands of miles away. Let the microscopic life force transform your dead and irradiated food into something alive via alchemical magic. You become the wizard of the microscopic.
This will require you to break some societal chains. That's alright. Don't be afraid of some culture. It will enrich your life. I have just gotten started on this journey back to sanity. I have fermented a few batches of cider over the last couple of years. I have also made pickles from cucumbers grown in my garden. Unfortunately I had not yet learned about fermenting foods. Now that I have been made aware my kitchen is going to be transformed into a bubbling crock of local goodness. I'm going to make cheese, bread, pickles, and drink the way man has always done it. My life will be enriched with slow, local, nutritious, sustainable quality. That sounds like sanity to me. Resist the chemical lobotomy required by society and trust what has cultivated and sustained us as a cultured species. There is time to slow down and thrive. We don't have to sell our lives to the man for fast food shit, pharmaceuticals, and electronic gizmos. Now.......I'm going into my kitchen to further my transformation. I'm going to find out what the yeast in my place in time taste like. I'm going to harvest and cultivate the microorganisms that surround me so that I can invite them to rebuild my flesh with true life energy. Now....I'm going to mix some flower and water and find out what has been coexisting with me all along....I suggest that you consider doing the same. Or you can just return to your mandatory lobotomy and continue blindly marching on into your synthetic petroleum chemical waste land.