Associated Articles 1
God of Small Things
An interview with underground foodie hero Sandor Katz
By Tom Philpott
17 May 2007
Like a well-made batch of kefir, the ancient cultured milk drink, Sandor Katz has an effervescent quality. Spend time with him or read his classic Wild Fermentation, and you'll see your food in a new light. Bread, cheese, cured meats, chocolate, beer, wine, vinegar -- all are products of fermentation, he points out: "Virtually all of the compelling, strong flavors that people are passionate about -- they might passionately hate them, or they might passionately love them -- it's fermentation that creates those flavors."
Fermentation is the process of preserving food and transforming its flavor by subjecting it to beneficial bacteria, or microflora. For Katz, fermentation is an essential culinary technique, a health regimen, and a political act. "We humans are in a symbiotic relationship with single-cell organisms," he writes in Wild Fermentation. "Microflora ... digest food into nutrients our bodies can absorb, protect us from potentially dangerous organisms, and teach our immune systems to function." In a country almost clinically obsessed with sterilization -- with waging war on the trillions of dread germs that permeate air, land, water, and our bodies -- Katz reminds us of the forgotten benefits of living in harmony with our microbial relatives.
He also urges us to challenge our roles as unquestioning consumers of the food industry's dubious wares. His message: with everyday ingredients, you, too, can be a producer, not just a consumer -- of some of the most vibrantly flavorful, health-giving foods you've ever had. His critique of the food industry, and celebration of the myriad alternatives bubbling forth to challenge it all over the country, can be found in his new book The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements.
Katz himself is a walking advertisement for the health benefits of foods that are alive with organisms. Since the 1980s, he has lived with HIV. Yet he bristles with energy, touring the nation to deliver fermentation workshops when he's not herding the goats at Short Mountain Sanctuary, the "queer intentional community deep in the wooded hills of Tennessee" where he lives.
Recently, over sips of delicate, profoundly alive-tasting kefir made from raw milk from those goats, we talked about fermentation, food politics, and how the two relate.
To read the article please visit www.grist.org.