Counter-Culture: Transformation Through Fermentation

I have been trying to write this post for weeks, which is why I saved it for my last post. There is so, so much to be said about fermentation- the history of it, the benefits and risks, the extremely varied creations and recipes, and the list goes on and on- how could I pack all that in to a short blog post? I can’t! But that’s ok, because some lovely people have researched and experimented and put all of their findings into some of the best books I have ever laid my hands on. Please find them listed in the resources at the bottom of this post.

What I can tell you is that fermentation gives us wonderfully yeasty breads, cheeses, yogurt, tofu, meats, and a wide variety of wine and beer. It can make foods more digestible, allow better access to nutrients and, as in the case of taro, can even neutralize toxicity. But there was a time (before microscopes existed) when people believed that the mold appearing on their meat, bread or fruit was a product of “spontaneous generation,” unexpected spoilage caused by mischievous gods, magic or demons.

In 1858, German scientist Rudolf Virchow luanched a great controversy by arguing that 1. Every cell comes from a preexisting cell and 2. There is no spontaneous generation of cells. In response, the Paris Academy of Sciences offered a prize to anyone who could prove or disprove spontaneous generation. Two short years later, French scientist Louis Pasteur disproved “spontaneous generation” by sealing boiled (and thereby sterilized) water in a swan-necked flask, discovering the liquid inside remained sterile indefinitely, as long as it was kept sealed off from microorganisms from the air. Solid proof that the catalysts for fermentation don’t just spontaneously appear out of the ether. Through these studies, pasteurization was born. Heating foods to a certain temperature kills off any bacteria that may cause harm, true, but any beneficial bacteria is destroyed in the process too. Overly pasteurized food is consumable, but is it good for us? Or does it allow for a huge flaw in our food system? For example: as long as we can pasteurize all the dangerous bacteria away, what does it matter that our dairy cattle are fed inappropriate food that leads to infected digestive tracts and pus in their milk (which is now seriously lacking in the good bacteria now, too)?

It is important to know that not all microbes are beneficial- some make food unhealthy or unappetizing (although what is“delicious” vs “unappetizing” is highly subjective) – but when you provide the microbes you want with the right environment they flourish, and you reap the benefits. Educate yourself by finding a knowledgeable mentor, crack open a book, or head to a workshop (like the unbelievable workshops I’m attending this summer; one here at GCC and one in Tennessee (again, check out the links below)!

In my kitchen right now, in various stages of ferment, I have bright pink sauerkraut (made with purple cabbage!), ginger beer, ginger-rhubarb shrub (a fizzy colonial-era fruit juice concoction), Lemon Balm T’ej (an Ethiopian style honey wine), easter egg radishes, kimchi and an enzyme cleaner made from citrus peels. I will soon have strawberry wine, a folk- recipe root-beer, sumac and citrus sodas, pickled veggies and who knows what else. With the right resources and an open mind, you can do the same. It’s easier to jump in to the (relatively) unknown with a friend, though, so gather up some willing companions, grab one of the books listed below, and get to it! By creating nutritious, flavorful food in your own kitchen, you are freeing yourself from the capitalist food system we are all a part of, even if only a little bit. And by sharing this knowledge with anyone who will listen, you are transforming your kitchen in to a petri dish where you and your neighbors act as the catalysts that begin a revolution, and transform your world along with your food.

If you’re ready to start a Counter- Culture movement, check out these resources:“Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” By Sandor Katz – For the beginner or experienced.
“Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation” By Stephen Harrod Buhner
“The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World” By Sandor Katz – Less how-to and more history and troubleshooting
www.wildfermentation.com – Website of Author and Fermentation Expert Sandor Ellix Katz
www.thefarm.org – The Eco-Village in Tennessee where I’ll be taking a Permaculture and Fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz and Albert Bates
http://www.gcc.mass.edu/farmandfoodsystems/classes/ – Preservation and Fermentation right here at GCC!
www.greenriverambrosia.com – Mead and Kombucha from Greenfield!
www.realpickles.com – fermented veggies from Greenfield!

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