Why Fermentation Is the Key to Local Foods and Good Health
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The day I first made dilly beans, everything changed. And all because of Sandor Katz.
Sandor Katz is a self-taught fermentation experimentalist. To him (and his devoted following--ahem, which includes me and half the people in the room I'm sitting in), live fermented foods are a critically important staple to sustainable human health...not to mention delicious. Ever had sauerkraut? Pickles? Yogurt? Sourdough? Sounds familiar, doesn't it. Well, what about Ethiopian honey wine? Root kimchi? Elderberry wine? Persimmon cider mead? Ginger champagne? Kombucha? If you're dribbling at the mouth, or even a little but intrigued, prepare to enter the world of Sandorkraut.
Sandor Katz's "fermentation fervor" grew out of his overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening. (He's also an herbalist, activist, writer, builder, craftsperson and bicyclist.) He's written two books: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements. A native of New York City, a graduate of Brown University and--as he calls it--"a retired policy wonk", Sandor Katz moved from New York and now lives at Short Mountain Sanctuary, an intentional community in Tennessee. I talked to Sandor about fermentation fetishism, underground food movements, and the benefits of fermented foods.
And so....at long last...behold the grandeur of a fermentation revivalist, and get your crocks ready!
Makenna Goodman: Can you explain what you mean when you call yourself a "fermentation fetishist"?
Sandor Katz: I am very devoted to fermentation, fermented foods, and the organisms of fermentation. I think that as a group ferments are the most delicious of foods and are nutritionally powerful. My dictionary defines a fetish as an object "supposed to possess magical powers" or "any object of special devotion." This definitely describes my relationship to the process and the products of fermentation.
MG: Your book, Wild Fermentation:The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, is a staple on the shelves of nearly every single homesteader, farmer, cook, nutritionist, thinker, and healer I know. What is it about fermented foods, in your opinion, that warrants it a food movement in and of itself?
SK: Fermentation is not exactly a food movement in and of itself. If you are a locavore and thinking about strategies for feeding yourself with local foods in the winter, you have to include fermentation. If you are part of a nutritional movement (any of them, really) and thinking about nourishing your body, you have to include fermentation. If you are a food recycler, mining dumpsters and rescuing discarded foods, fermentation is a great way to preserve a sudden abundance of random vegetables. If you are a farmer looking for strategies to add value to the vegetables you grow, fermentation is your best bet. Fermentation is an import realm of food transformation that is undergoing a revival not as a singular movement, but rather as an area of intersection among a number of quite varied food movements.
MG: How did you come to love fermentation?
SK: I've always been drawn to the flavors of fermentation and throughout my childhood I sought out sour fermented foods. I didn't learn how to make sauerkraut until I was in my thirties. My motivation to learn was purely practical, having a garden for the first time and facing the fact that all the cabbages are ready at the same time. After that I started exploring many different ferments. I taught my first kraut-making workshop in 1999 and learned that there is a widespread cultural fear of aging food outside of refrigeration. That began my mission of demystifying fermentation and empowering people with simple tools to reclaim this important process.