The New Yorker Magazine
By Burkhardt Bilger
November 22, 2010
I Like my Food Live and Kickin
Queen of One's Blog
November 16, 2010
A few years ago I was having huge “gut issues” as my mother would say. Couldn’t eat, felt ill all the time. Took a year, docs treating symptoms not the cause and an elimination diet to figure out me and gluten had to break up. Gasp…I know…During the first year of acclimation both for myself emotionally and my colon I started playing around with live food. By live food I mean live culture foods. Like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso etc… I made a lot of sauerkraut and wished I was blogging then cuz those would have been some wicked pics and recipes. During my research and hunting out other fermented yummies I discovered Sandor Katz and his wild fermentation site and book.
It was with his earnest and light-hearted style of writing that I stopped being afraid of playing with live cultures in my kitchen. Granted this year I moved to a place half the size so haven’t been making any yummies and my gut is starting to reflect the loss to its health. A friend of mine recently made his first batch of sauerkraut and its so yummy. I just eat it right from the jar. The current issues with kumbucha has also encouraged me that its time to try my hand at my own kombucha culture…that will be a fun journey to share.
Read the original review on Queen of One.
Metro Farming Escapades
August 17, 2010
Sandor Ellix Katz—Wild Fermentation
I recently picked up the book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz. Wow! This book is inspiring and challenging in all the right ways!
It all starts off with the Foreword by Sally Fallon. In it she writes, "Sandor Katz has labored mightily to deliver this magnum opus to a population hungry for a reconnection to real food and the process of life itself. For fermented foods are not only satisfying to eat, they are also immensely satisfying to prepare. FRom the first successful batch of kombucha to that thrilling taste of homemade sauerkraut, the practice of fermentation is one of partnership with microscopic life. This partnership leads to a reverence for all the processes that contribute to the well being of the human race, from the production of enzymes by invisible bacteria to the gift of milk and meat from the sacred cow."
Imagine, Americans waking up to the reality that they are living in a world of industrialized, generic, chemical, food and wanting to know what food is really supposed to taste like, how its made, and where they fit into the process!
Read the whole article here.
Risk, Bacteria, and the Tragedy of Food-Safety Reform
Grist.org - November 23, 2010
By Tom Philpott
The Senate will likely vote on its food safety bill, S. 510, next week. Now that consumer groups and sustainable-ag advocates have settled their fight over the treatment of small-scale producers, the legislation looks set to pass -- unless it falls victim to the absurd machinations of GOP politics.
After all the back-and-forth in our recent -- and, if I may say, extremely informative -- Food Fight debate on the bill, I hold to the same opinion I expressed at first: that S. 510 represents a small step in the right direction, so long as it doesn't crush the alternative food systems that are emerging to challenge Big Food. A very small step in the right direction, I should emphasize.
Like so many debates in U.S. politics, the one currently raging around food safety strikes me as essentially tragic. It is impossible, it seems, to come up with a policy that zeroes in on the real systematic risk of the food system: the exponential expansion of hazard that comes from concentrating huge amounts of production in relatively small spaces.
Clearly, highly profitable industries like Big Food wield tremendous power in our political system. Just as no health-care reform could pass that didn't respect the privileges of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, just as no climate policy could even be attempted without including massive giveaways to the very industries that cause climate change (see Ryan Lizza's tragicomic post-mortem in The New Yorker), food safety reform is evidently hostage to Big Food.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a potent trade group whose members range from Monsanto and Cargill to Kraft and McDonald's, supports S. 510. That alone tells me that the bill at best promotes marginal, techno-based solutions to the food-safety problem, ones that don't challenge the interests, or practices, of the food giants. As Food and Water Watch's Elanor Starmer recently pointed out on Grist, the bill's new inspection powers for the FDA are so weak that they would not even have prevented the notorious salmonella-tainted peanut butter scandal of 2009. And yet -- as David Gumpert argued forcefully in our forum -- those same powers may well prove too strong for the small-scale, vulnerable operations that are busily building up alternatives to Big Food.
So while I see the case for S. 510 -- it may marginally protect consumers from the risk of getting violently ill from eating -- I have profound uneasiness about it. I found expression for my unease in Burkhard Bilger's recent sparkling New Yorker profile of home-fermentation wizard Sandor Katz (an acquaintance of mine whom I admire greatly) and the "underground food movement" Katz has helped foment.
Bilger teases out some of what is at stake in the food-safety wars. He shows that scientists are only just starting to value the importance of the microbial world for human life. "What we see as animals are partly just integrated sets of bacteria," one biologist tells Bilger. Bilger continues:
Nearly all in the DNA in our bodies belongs to microorganisms: they outnumber our own cells nine to one. They process the nutrients in our guts, produce the chemicals that trigger sleep, ferment the sweat on our skin and the glucose in our muscles. ... They work with the immune system to mediate chemical reactions and drive out thr most common infections. Even our own cells are kept alive by mitochondria -- the tiny microbial engines in their cytoplasm. Bacteria are us.
After rounding up some cutting-edge recent science on bacteria, Bilger concludes, "Given how little we know about our inner ecology, carpet-bombing it might not always be the best idea." He quotes the above-mentioned biologist: "When you advocate your soaps that say they kill all harmful bacteria, you are committing suicide."
In a sense, I fear, our food-safety regime is lurching along the path that sees bacteria itself as a problem to be wiped out, rather than focusing on specific practices that create niches for bacteria that are known to be harmful. To see what I mean, take a hard look at the U.S. egg industry, which has pretty much exposed itself as a pathogen-concentrating disaster this year. For the latest gory details, see this Humane Society exposé about Cal-Maine, putatively the nation's largest egg operation. In the end, S. 510 might force huge egg operations to sterilize their eggs before they reach the shelf or vaccinate their hens against salmonella -- a problematic response, in my view -- but it won't force them to stop cramming hens tightly together in cages.
But to tease out my point, let's consider the role of the federal government in regulating two kinds of dairy farms: industrial-scale ones in Wisconsin, and a small artisanal operation in Washington State.
In a fantastic investigative piece last year, The New York Times' Charles Duhigg looked at a spate of illnesses in a dairy-intensive Wisconsin county. He wrote:
There are 41,000 dairy cows in Brown County, which includes Morrison, and they produce more than 260 million gallons of manure each year, much of which is spread on nearby grain fields. Other farmers receive fees to cover their land with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage.
After an early thaw last year, some of those quarter-billion gallons of cow shit found their way into people's drinking water. Reports Duhigg:
In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.
So here we have a case of vast concentration of production, and a situation wherein known microbial pathogens (including E. coli and fecal coliform) are destined to foul people's water and make them ill. This is systematic, predictable risk. The federal government's response?
[R]unoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources. The Clean Water Act of 1972 largely regulates only chemicals or contaminants that move through pipes or ditches, which means it does not typically apply to waste that is sprayed on a field and seeps into groundwater.
Now let's look at case No. 2: Estrella Family Creamery in Washington state, where Kelli Estrella and her family tend 36 cows and 40 goats and turn their milk into highly regarded unpasteurized cheeses. New York Times food-business reporter William Neuman reports that -- unlike those Wisconsin dairies -- the Estrella operation has made no one sick. Yet FDA inspectors have found listeria in some of her cheeses -- and moved to shut down her operation after she refused to submit to a "voluntary" recall. And they've banned Estrella from selling both her hard and soft cheeses, even though only her soft cheese tested positive for listeria.
Now, I don't want to make light of the threat of listeria, a truly nasty bacteria. But let's look as the risks here. Unlike the case of the Wisconsin dairies, the risks are incidental, not systematic. People made cheese for millenia before the advent of pasteurization in the 19th century -- and in much of Europe, nearly all cheese is still made with raw milk. Small children and pregnant mothers aren't regularly falling over from cheese-eating in France. Listeria can infect raw milk cheese, but by no means does it always infect raw milk cheese.
Moreover, listeria from Estrella Creamery cheese threatens only those people who knowingly buy the product, while runoff from Wisconsin's industrial-scale dairies infects everyone who lives nearby. And the threats from Estrella remain theoretical; unlike in that dairy-intensive Wisconsin county, no one has reported falling ill from eating Estrella cheese.
And yet federal officials take an our-hands-are-tied approach to the menace of tainted water in Wisconsin, and bring down an iron fist on the small dairy in Washington. It's hard not to conclude that the disparate responses stem from the fact that industrial-scale dairy farmers -- and the very few large processors that purchase their milk -- have bought influence in Washington, while artisanal cheese producers haven't. This is food safety as protection racket.
For Big Food, the answer to these microbial dilemmas might well end up being: sterilize it all. Most cheese consumed in the United States is made from pasteurized milk; make them pasteurize all of it. And if runoff from fields sprayed with waste from massive dairies is fouling drinking water, then make those big dairies "treat" the waste with antimicrobials before spreading it.
But Bilger's profile of Sandor Katz suggests a different approach. The real systematic risks in our food system don't come from bacteria itself; indeed, bacteria is fundamental to life. The problem comes from concentration of bacteria to the point where sicknesses become inevitable. So de-concentrate the food system, don't sterilize it.
And as for cases like Estrella Creamery, the push should be to identify the source of the listeria and address it, not to shut the dairy down.
Of course, in our political system, creating a food-safety regime that targets the real systematic risk in food production seems impossible. So, while we take small steps forward like S. 510, let's not lose sight of the need to rein in the giant corporations that generate most of the risk, and nurture the small producers who are doing the necessary work of de-concentrating our pathogen-concentrating food system.
Read the original article on Grist.org.
The Jew and the Carrot blog
(Jewish Daily Foreward)
“The Passionate Pickler”
By Aaron Kagan
Traditional Ashkenazi cuisine without fermented foods would be unrecognizable, not to mention less tangy. Latkes would be served without sour cream, and with no corned beef or sauerkraut, a deli sandwich at Katz’s would be nothing more than two vacant pieces of rye toast, unaccompanied by a sour pickle no less. Passover seders would have no wine, and without yeast, we’d be stuck with the bread of affliction all 353 to 385 days a (Jewish) year.
Thank goodness, then, for Sandor Katz, aka “Sandorkraut.” Katz is a food activist and fermentation revivalist who specializes in pickled foods from around the world. “[There are] Korean style pickles and Indian style pickles and Lebanese style pickles. People in most parts of the world have some sort of pickles that actually are important parts of their cuisine,” he says. His book, the 2003 Wild Fermentation, a DIY fermented foods bible, includes recipes for everything from kimchi made with fruit to Gv-No-He-Nv, a sour corn drink from the Cherokee tradition.
Read the rest, including two recipes on The Jew & the Carrot.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul)
Advice from the master
Sandor Katz, author of “Wild Fermentation,” the preeminent book for making your own live-culture foods — everything from kraut to miso to wine — reminds his readers of the simplicity of the process: just salt, vegetables and time. “Fermenting sauerkraut, or anything, is an intrinsically safe process,” he said. “There are no recorded cases of food poisoning.”
Too much poking around in the kraut may introduce bacteria that will produce an unsightly cap of mold on the top layer of the sauerkraut — but it’s perfectly harmless. Just scrape it off and use the kraut below. Once it has fermented, its pH, or level of acidity, will be around 2.6, or well in the safe zone.
I’m still left with the question: How do you know when it’s done fermenting? Is there some sort of general human consensus on what makes sauerkraut, essentially a controlled souring, taste desirable? I like to believe that our taste buds naturally seek deliciousness. Sandor agreed. “Most people can perceive the natural balance.”
But to fermentation authorities, it’s good at any stage of the game. In fact, Sandor found out during his book tour that he could harvest, and enjoy, week-old sauerkraut when he found himself running out of mature kraut. “I like it a lot when it’s six weeks old, but I found that many people prefer a milder flavor.”
His fail-safe approach still doesn’t explain my stinky batch from long ago. By now I’ve guessed that I was too inattentive: Too much time in the barrel (10 weeks) coupled with an unfortunate perch next to a raging wood stove (90 degrees or more) equals two disastrous conditions I will avoid in the future.
Amy Thielen is a chef and writer who lives in Two Inlets, Minn.
Read the full article here.
Fermentation: A wild way to make food come to life
By Kristen Hinman
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 10:14 AM
Friendly bacteria might not be an easy notion to wrap your brain around in the context of food these days.
Monica Corrado says bring ‘em on. And she’s not the only one.
Pack raw food into a jar, then seal it to keep out air, says the Takoma Park teacher of lactofermentation. Leave at room temperature and let feisty, naturally occurring microbes go to town for several days or even weeks. Open. Taste. Feast.
To see Corrado lick her lips after lapping up some of her “live” homemade ketchup, to watch her eyes dance as she opens a jar of her bubbling salsa and, yes, to taste her hissing peach chutney, redolent with crushed red pepper, is to concede that she might be on to something.
Part science, part art, lactofermentation is an ancient method of food preservation using live bacterial cultures. Anathema though it may seem to a generation of antibacterial hand-gel obsessives, the technique is increasingly being embraced by DIY aficionados and whole-food advocates who like the idea of low-tech preservation and also believe that unpasteurized foods aid digestion and boost immunity.
As Corrado puts it, “We’re live people. We’re not meant to eat only dead food!”
“I would say 99.999 percent of people in the United States eat fermented foods every single day,” says Sandor Ellix Katz, author of “Wild Fermentation” (Chelsea Green, 2003). “Bread, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, coffee, tea, chocolate, salami: Many everyday foods are produced by microorganisms and fermentation. Even though it mostly takes place behind factory doors, where nobody has to think about the fact that it’s the cultivation of bacteria that are enabling these foods to grace our table, there they are, everywhere.”
Read the whole article here...