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Books and Interesting Information: More on Michael Pollan’s COOKED

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Books and Interesting Information:  January 22, 2015

More on Michael Pollan’s COOKED



I think the most exciting part of this book for me was the section on fermentation, called “Earth.”  Fermentation undergirds so much of what we eat.  Here are a few foods that are fermented:  sourdough bread, beer/wine and other bubbly drinks, cheeses, fermented meats (like salami, for instance), all the lacto-fermented foods (like sauerkraut) and on and on.  Sandor Katz has a great list that is much, much longer than I am recalling here.

As an aside, the breakdown of Pollan’s organizational schema here is that sourdough bread falls under the “Air” section, not the “Earth” section, but it’s still a ferment…

The most exciting section of “Earth” for me was when Pollan writes about the excitement scientists who are studying the microbiome of the human body have at their recent discoveries.  Here’s how Pollan puts it:

The scientists working today on “microbial ecology” are as excited as any I’ve ever interviewed, convinced, as one of them put it, that they “stand on the verge of a paradigm shift in our understanding of health as well as our relationship to other species.”  And fermentation–as it unfolds both inside and outside the body–is at the heart of this new understanding (322)

Here’s the shift:

In the decades since Louis Pasteur founded microbiology, medical research has focused mainly on bacteria’s role in causing disease.  The bacteria that reside in and on our bodies were generally regarded as either harmless “commensals”–freeloaders, basically–or pathogens to be defended against.  Scientists tended to study these bugs one at a time, rather than as communities.  This was partly a deeply ingrained habit of reductive science, and partly a function of the available tools (322)

It is still astonishing to me how destructive this artifact of modernity–this focusing on parts rather than wholes–has been.  The hubris involved in acting without fully understanding how the whole functions, how the parts relate to each other as well as to the whole, blows my mind.  How can you know how something works if you can’t even see all its parts?  Pollan continues:

Scientists naturally focused their attention on the bacteria they could see, which meant the handful of individual bugs that could be cultured in a petri dish.  There, they found some good guys and some bad guys.  But the general stance toward the bacteria we had discovered all around us was shaped by metaphors of war, and in that war, antibiotics became the weapons of choice (322-323).

And, I want to add, pesticides, herbicides, and anything that kills what got deemed as an enemy by THE MARKET, which has happily sold us its products for years and years now without any regard to unintended consequences of NOT FULLY UNDERSTANDING THE FUNCTIONING OF THE WHOLE.  (Yes, I’m yelling because the consequences to humans, to our babies, to our earth are…nothing short of dire.)

Pollan continues:

But it turns out that the overwhelming majority of bacteria residing in the gut simply refuse to grow on a petri dish–a phenomenon now known among researchers as “the great plate anomalluy.”  Without realizing it, they were practicing what is sometimes called parking-lot science–named for the human tendency to search for lost keys under the streetlights not because that’s where we lost them but because that is where we can best see.  The petri dish was a streetlight.  But when, in the early 2000s, researchers developed genetic “batch” sequencing techniques allowing them to catalog all the DNA in a sample of soil, say, or seawater or feces, science suddenly acquired a broad and powerful beam of light that could illuminate the entire parking lot.  When it did, we discovered hundreds of new species in the human gukt doing all sorts of unexpected things (323).

We are, it seems, a kind of superorganism.  And our health depends on the health of the microbial species within us.

To their surprise, microbiologists discovered that none of every ten cells in our bodies belong not to us, but to these microbial species (most of them residents of our gut), and that 99 percent of the DNA we’re carrying around belongs to those microbes.  Some scientists, trained in evolutionary biology, began looking at the human individual in a humbling new light:  as a kind of superorganism, a community of several hundred coevolved and interdependent species.  War metaphors no longer made much sense.  So the microbiologists began borrowing new metaphors from the ecologists (323).

The survival of these microbes depends on our health, writes Pollan, “so they do all sorts of things to keep their host–us–alive and well.”  We can no longer think of ourselves as individuals, but as part of a community.  Look at the word microbiome itself:  micro  bio  me.  Kill the microbes, kill yourself.

These guys are really smart, as Pollan notes:

One theory is that, because microbes can evolve so much more rapidly than the “higher animals” they can respond with much greater speed and agility to changes int eh environment–to threats as well as opportunities.  Exquisitely reactive and fungible, bacteria can swap genes and pieces of DNA among themselves, picking t hem up and dropping them almost as if they were tools.  This capability is especially handy when a new toxin or food source appears in the environment.  The microbiota can swiftly find precisely the right gene needed to fight it–or eat it (325-326).

Feed your gut microbiome properly.  Lacto-fermented foods are a good start to restoring gut health.  There are recipes on this blog, and this food is easy to make and delicious.

Written by louisaenright

February 22, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Turkey Tracks:

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Turkey Tracks:  October 14, 2014

“My Salad”


We got a bag of mixed lettuce from our CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farm, Hope’s Edge, last Friday.

Located just west of me, the farm has had some heavy frosts–though our yo-yo weather continues and today is nearly 70!

So, the lettuce was a welcome treat in our weekly share.  This lettuce has…survived.

When one tries to eat within the seasons, lettuce runs out in the fall.  I personally switch to lacto-fermented foods, like sauerkraut, when the lettuce runs out.  I am so not a fan of the lettuce that gets shipped in here from California in plastic boxes.  That lettuce has been gassed and is very old–like about 18 days old.  Whatever zip was in it is long gone.

I’ve been savoring my bag of lettuce–knowing that the cukes, the tomatoes, the celery are all nearing the end of their days.

Here’s another poem from Jeanine Gervais, who seems to be in a creative mood these days.  She’s eating, likely, what’s left in her garden these days.

My Salad

A Zen Buddhist monk book says

to practice


in the moment


“I am washing the dishes

to wash the dishes”

and so I eat my salad

to eat my salad

15 seeds

in tiny halved cherry tomato

raspberry dressing

a pink blanket

covers green leaves

speckled by black pepper polka dots

the white of sliced



in magenta

a still frame


By Jeanine H. Gervais

October 11, 2014

Written by louisaenright

October 14, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Turkey Tracks: Visiting Charleston, SC: Part I

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Turkey Tracks:  June 18, 2014

Visiting Charleston, SC:  Part I


My family lives in Charleston, SC.

I live in Camden, Maine.

We visit back and forth, and I just came home from a family visit.  This visit was divided into three parts.

One goal this trip was to spend some time with Tara Derr Webb of the Farmbar and Deux Puces (two fleas) farm.   See url:  thefarmbar26.com.

Tara, in age, is exactly between my sons, who are 14 months apart.  She picked me up at the airport, and before too long, we were sitting on her dock–free for a moment as Tara’s husband Leighton volunteered to put the goats to bed.



Here’s our view–back to the house:


This kind of marsh grass is vital to the health and well-being of “the low country”–whose marshes and marsh creeks team with life.  The green is this year’s growth; the brown, last year’s.


Part of what Tara and I did was to mount a lacto-fermentation workshop–so we shopped for food most of one day.  A crucial stop was Grow Food Carolina, which is a local wholesale produce distributor that supports farmer’s within a 120-mile radius of Charleston. There we got boxes of beautiful greens.


A group of nine or so women came to the farm for the workshop.  Some were cooks, and some were artisans or entrepreneurs who will mount events at the farm featuring their work over the next year.  All, I hope, will enjoy the food they took home and will pass on what they learned.



In any case, they all seemed to enjoy the event.



Tara has forgotten more about food than I will ever know, so it’s always fun to eat/cook with her.  We made a number of meals, but we also visited a number of Charleston’s local restaurants.  One such was the newly opened Leon’s, which was delightful.





We also had, one day, a great hamburger at Sweetwater Cafe–where we sat outside at picnic tables.  The potato salad was so special.  And Five Loaves was another treat.

It’s a good thing I don’t actually live in Charleston as I would probably be a diabetic in two months time as the sweet tea is so delicious.

Tara has big, big plans for the Farmbar and Deux Puces.  It’s going to be a lot of fun to see how she develops her ideas in the years to come.

Written by louisaenright

June 18, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Turkey Tracks: I’m in Charleston

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anTurkey Tracks:  May 27, 2014


I’m In Charleston


Hello Everyone,


I’m in Charleston–and will be for the next two weeks.

I’m visiting my two sons, who live two blocks from each other on Isle of Palms–which is just north of Charleston harbor.  AND, I’m staring my visit with my old young friend Tara Derr Webb and her husband Leighton Webb of Awendaw, SC.  They are the owners of the Farmbar project (farm to table food and the products of the most amazing farms and fiber makers) and of Deux Peuces Farm (two fleas–they are the two fleas).  Tara falls in age between my two sons, so I’ve known her almost as long as I’ve known them–minus a decade maybe.

Tara and I are working on her farm–there will be a workshop later today to make lacto-fermented foods and to teach others from the Farmbar community to make them.   And we are off in a minute to round up the food for the workshop.  I came prepared with books (Sandor Ellis Katz’s WILD FERMENTATION, for one) and a handout that includes gut health issues and information about The Weston A. Price Foundation.

This morning we shared this page from Thich Nhat Hanh’s HOW TO SIT:


Many of us keep trying to do more and more.  We do things because we want to make money, accomplish something, take care of others, or make our lives and our world better.  Often we do things without thinking, because we are in the habit of doing them, because someone asks us to, or because we think we should.  But if the foundation of our being is not strong enough, then the more we do, the more troubled our society becomes.

Sometimes we do a lot, but we don’t really do anything.  There are many people who work a lot.  There are people who seem to meditate a lot, spending many hours a day doing sitting meditation, chanting, reciting, lighting a lot of incense, but who never transform their anger, frustration, and jealousy.  This is because the quality of our being is the basis of all our actions.  With an attitude of accomplishing, judging, or grasping, all of our actions–even our meditation–will have that quality.  The quality of our presence is the most positive element that we can contribute to the world.

Here’s a not-so-great picture of Tara on her porch this morning–in between chores.  I will take pictures while I am here for later–the ipad isn’t so great for the blog.