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Sandor Katz: The Acres U.S.A. Interview

The latest book from fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz — The Art of Fermentation — has been a huge hit with fermentos and foodies alike, which is evidenced by it reaching The New York Times bestseller list for two weeks in a row.

The two interviews on NPR’s “Fresh Air” program have certainly helped fuel interest in Sandor and the new book, which is about the most comprehensive guide to fermentation that you’ll find in print today.

If you’re a subscriber to Acres U.S.A.: The Voice of Eco-Agriculture (and you should be), you’re in for a real treat in their August issue, which will hit mailboxes, and subsequently newsstands, soon.Our friends at Acres U.S.A. are printing one of the most comprehensive, and therefore fascinating, interviews with Sandor since his new book has hit bookstores.

Here’s a snippet from their introduction to the interview:

Sandor Katz is our leading apostle of fermentation, a tireless explainer and promoter of just about anything that involves beneficial molds and bubbling broth, ending in something tangy, tart, sour or sweet. Or more likely, some combination of those. (. . . ) He spoke at the Acres U.S.A. Conference in 2004, and as anyone who was there or anyone who has seen him in another forum can attest, his enthusiasm is infectious.  — Chris Walters

After this introduction, Walter and Katz delve deeply into a variety of topics covered in The Art of Fermentation, from Sumerian beer to the important connection between fermentation and agriculture.

Here’s one exchange:

ACRES U.S.A. One of the terms you use in your book seems especially fertile with meaning — cultural ecology. What does the concept mean to you?

KATZ: Each of those words in themselves has an interesting, multi-layered meaning. There’s a very specific microbiological and fermentation connotation of the word “culture,” where the cultures are the communities of organisms that we introduce into something when we want to guide them toward the specific type of fermentation. You have some mature yogurt, you want to turn your new milk into yogurt, so you culture it with a little bit of the old batch. We call these communities themselves cultures, we call the act of introducing them into what we wish to ferment “culturing,” and we call the products cultured foods. We use the same word, “culture,” to describe this much larger thing which is language, music, science, and belief systems — really the totality of all the things that people seek to pass down from generation to generation. I think that cultured foods are intrinsic to culture, and I think these are more than incidental culinary novelties. They’ve been very important in the evolution of culture in different ways and different places. Now the ecology, when I talk about cultural ecology, I guess I’m mostly talking about in a microbial sense. We could talk about the cultural ecology of our gut, or we could talk about the cultural ecology of our kitchens, the environments in which we might be trying to ferment things, and every environment would be a little bit different. I think that these are really rich, multi-layered words and concepts with lots and lots of distinct meanings embedded within them. Cultural ecology is an important concept — it exists within us, it exists within the foods that we eat, it exists in the environments which we inhabit, and it exists at all these different levels.

It’s truly a phenomenal interview, and Acres U.S.A. is giving Chelsea Green readers a special chance to download a free PDF of the interview in advance of the magazine hitting the newstands – for which we’re greatly appreciative. In turn, we’re asking our readers who aren’t already subscribers to Acres U.S.A. to take a gander at the publication and consider subscribing and supporting another independent publisher that shares a similar mission when it comes to food, agriculture, the environment, and sustainability. You won’t be disappointed.


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