Wild Fermentation

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz

I'm starting to get way out there about my food... are you worried for me yet? The more I read, the more I am convinced that basically every culture has healthier food than Americans. The further back in history, the more nutritious the food. For example, if you go back several generations, women canned their own produce from their gardens. Better than supermarket food, right? Well, if you go back even further, before canning was invented, people used a process called "lacto-fermentation" to preserve food.

Lacto-fermentation used good bacteria to kill bad bacteria and in the process it actually adds nutrition to the raw ingredients. Here's an excellent article citing a USDA official who says it's actually safer than eating the raw produce from the fields (found via Food Renegade). My husband is totally repulsed by this method, but it's the same process that gives us yogurt, cheese, wine, beer, chocolate, black tea... you know, the good stuff!

I've made a few things using this method before, but reading this inspired me to start doing it again. Here's what's in my fridge right now:

From left to right, pickles, saurkraut, pickles, ginger carrots, pineapple chutney, and more saurkraut. The pickles ended up kind of yucky, maybe because I used the wrong kind of salt. They taste a little bitter and are carbonated, wierdly enough. As they say around here, that aint right. The saurkraut is a terrific condiment for red meats, although it discolors a bit after opening. The carrots are good with chicken and Asian dishes, and I haven't tried the chutney yet--it's on next week's menu.

I think most people who object to this book fall into two camps: either they are grossed out by the concept of using bacteria to preserve food, or they are offended by the author. Here is some philosophical musing on the two subjects.

I proudly call myself a follower of Jesus ("Christian" has lots of baggage, but I call myself that too). We are called to improve the world, just like Jesus redeemed us and made us a new creation. Eden wasn't a pristine wilderness--it was a cultivated garden. (Actually, part of the Curse was being rejected from Eden and forced to live in the wild, which is the best argument this bookworm has against recreational camping.) In the same vein, heaven is not clouds in the sky, but a dazzling city. God took us out of all of the crap that accompanies our humanity and instead applied the purity of the only perfect human, his own son Jesus. We are supposed to use God's law to transform our lives into what He intended for us in the first place. Ultimately, human being's mission on earth, and my job here right now, is to improve our immediate environment, redeem culture, and eventually transform the world. In practical terms, this means I'm not a raw foodist--I try to improve upon what God has given us, and that includes even small little details like making traditional saurkraut so that a lowly cabbage has extra flavor and nutrients. Theology always has consequences.

Which leads me to the author, who is also living out the practical implications of his worldview. He is gay, and lives in a self-described queer community in rural Tennessee. They live off the power grid and are self-sufficient. That community also wants to remake society, but in a way totally opposed to the Bible. I admire him for living out the implications of his idealogy. Frankly, I'd rather read books by people who are thinking and doing, rather than something like Julie and Julia, where the author just does random stuff to fulfill her angst. (But that's another book review.) I was surprised to read how offended people were on the Amazon reviews. There's nothing in here remotely obscene and gives about the same story you could find in a New York Times article.

I'm mostly using the recipes from Nourishing Traditions, but I like the scope of recipes and the ease of use. The author has a "try it and see" approach which is fun and relaxed. I recommend this book if you're interested in better food and better health.

Good Calories, Bad Calories

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

The more I learn, the more I am convinced that if a scientific idea is popular, it is most likely untrue. Examples?
The four humors determine one's personality.
The sun revolves around the earth.
Leeches can cure a fever.
If a woman floats, she's a witch.
I'm sure you're nodding your head and rolling your eyes about those ancient, ignorant people. But what about our enlightened modern times? You might also believe, for example, that Americans are responsible for global warming. Did that one hit a little closer to home? No? Okay, how about this: maybe you think, like I used to, that saturated fat causes heart disease, eating fat is bad for weight loss, and lots of dietary fiber prevents colon cancer. Nutritionally speaking, this book rocked my socks.

Good Calories, Bad Calories was written by a distinguished science writer, not some dietary crusader. He seems to be writing for others in the scientific community and not the average Joe, so this book is quite technical, and frankly, a little too thorough for my sleep-deprived mommy brain. It's easy to get lost in the myriad of studies, interviews, hearings, and medical journals; I wish I would have taken notes as I read it. It would have helped me better summarize it for you, dear reader, and better argue with my husband about the best route to weight loss. I bogged down in chapter 9, when trying to keep track of the five different lipoproteins carried in triglycerides. I need to finish it later when I don't have a baby and a toddler competing for my attention. (I might watch this 1 1/2 hour webcast sometime when I don't want to read the entire book. What I did read, however, was thoroughly convincing and I'm already trying to eat differently based on what I learned.

He starts off with a brief bio of William Banting, who I had never heard of before. He describes how America, and then the rest of the world, came to believe ideas that are just plain wrong. For instance, did you know that high cholesterol is associated with longer life, especially in women? Indigenous people groups who eat no fiber have the healthiest digestion? And what we think of as common health problems (cavities, cancer, appendicitis, or really, almost every chronic disease) are almost totally absent in native, traditional diets. To make a sweeping generalization, not all calories are the same. Refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, and white rice wreak havoc on our bodies. Here's an excerpt from the Prologue (page xvii):

The reason for this book is straightforward: despite the depth and certainty of our faith that saturated fat is the nutritional bane of our lives and that obesity is caused by overeating and sedentary behavior, there has always been copious evidence to suggest that those assumptions are incorrect, and that evidence is continuing to mount. "There is always an easy solution to every problem," H. L. Menken once said--"neat, plausible, and wrong." It is quite possible, despite all our faith to the contrary, that these concepts are such neat, plausible, and wrong solutions. Moreover, it's also quite possible that the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets we've been told to eat for the past shirty years are not only making us heavier but contributing to other chronic diseases as well.
This book is just as much an indictment of modern science as it is an expose of nutrition. It's amazing to read how researchers and policy-makers became even more committed to certain hypotheses with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To paraphrase that old saying about law, bad science makes bad food.