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Mainely Tipping Points 33: GO WILD!

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Mainely Tipping Points 33



Sandor Ellix Katz’s WILD FERMENTATION: THE FLAVOR, NUTRITION, AND CRAFT OF LIVE-CULTURE FOODS arrived last week.  I found myself dropping all other activities and reading it straight through. 

By noon the next day I had a ball of cloth-wrapped cheese hanging from a kitchen knob, dripping away the last of its whey. 

In two days’ time I had a quart mason jar filled with fermenting kale leaves, or Gundru, a Tibetan ferment.  (You can’t imagine how many kale leaves it takes to fill a quart jar once you’ve wilted them in the sun and pounded them so that they release their juices—the leaves of about eight kale plants.)  And now I’m eyeing the crocks over my stove, bought for decorative purposes mostly, and wondering what from the fall harvest I can ferment next. 

Katz, who is a charming writer, would say “lots of things.”  And, indeed, Katz discusses how to ferment vegetables, fruits, beans, dairy, grains and breads, beverages, wines, beers, and vinegars.  “Fermentation,” writes Katz, gives us many of our most basic staples, such as bread and cheese, and our most pleasurable treats, including chocolate, coffee, wine, and beer” (2).

Microscopic bacteria and fungi, or microflora, are, writes Katz, agents of transformation; they feast upon decaying matter and shift dynamic life forces from one creation to the next (2).  That’s why “fermented foods and drinks are quite literally alive with flavor and nutrition.  Their flavors tend to be strong and pronounced,” like “stinky aged cheeses, tangy sauerkraut, rich earthy miso [made traditionally, which can take several years], smooth sublime wines.  Human have always appreciated the distinctive flavors resulting from the transformative power of microscopic bacteria and fungi” (5).     

But, why should we home cooks ferment anything?  First, fermented foods we make for ourselves are guaranteed to be very rich in enzymes. 

You might recall me writing in earlier Tipping Points essays about Edward Howell’s theory on enzymes.  Howell, who died in 2000 at the age of 102, spent his life studying the role of enzymes in health and disease.  He posited that if one does not eat enzyme-rich foods, the body has both to use existing stored enzymes and to work harder to digest foods, all of which takes a toll.  Ron Schmid, in THE UNTOLD STORY OF MILK, notes Howell’s assessment that humans have lower levels of starch-digesting enzymes in their blood than other creatures and higher levels in their urine, which means their resident enzymes are being used up faster.  And, as Schmid notes, based on various studies, it’s clear that diets deficient in enzymes result in shortened life spans (101-105).  Certainly this assessment is a piece of the growing body of information pointing toward the health problems associated with starchy carbohydrate-heavy diets. 

Second, fermentation removes toxins from foods.  All grains, nuts, seeds, and tubers contain inhibitors (phytic acids) which block human absorption of nutrients.  These inhibitors are inactivated by traditional food preparation methods that involve soaking in acids, like whey or lemon juice, which begins a fermentation process, or by sprouting (101-105).  Few, if any, commercial foods have been properly prepared so as to inactivate nutrient inhibitors while, at the same time, preserving nutrients.  Thus, unless you are properly preparing these foods, your body isn’t getting all of the nutrients in these foods and is, to add insult to injury, struggling to digest them. 

Fermentation can remove toxins as powerful as cyanide from cassava, an enormous tuber used in tropical regions of the Americas and, now, in Africa and Asia.  Other toxins fermentation can eliminate or reduce include nitrites, prussic acid, oxalic acid, nitrosamines, and glucosides (7). 

Third, fermentation preserves food because it produces “alcohol, lactic acid, and acetic acid, all `bio-preservatives’ that retain nutrients and prevent spoilage.”  Hence, highly perishable foods, like vegetables, fruits, milk, fish, and meat, can be stored after harvest for consumption in leaner seasons.  Or, as Captain James Cook discovered during his eighteenth century explorations, preserved fermented sauerkraut prevented scurvy during long ocean voyages (5).      

“Microscopic bacteria and fungi,” writes Katz, “…are in every breath we take and every bite we eat.”  These microflora are “in a symbiotic relationship” with humans.  They “digest food into nutrients our bodies can absorb, protect us from potentially dangerous organisms, and teach our immune systems how to function” (2).  Most importantly, writes Katz, “we need to promote diversity among microbial cultures” in our bodies because “biodiversity is increasingly recognized as critical to the survival of larger-scale ecosystems” (11).        

Not all fermented foods are alive when you eat them.  Bread, for instance, must be cooked.  But, the most nutritious fermented foods, such as yogurt, are consumed alive (7).  Or, such as sauerkraut, which I make by the half-gallon and keep in our refrigerator as a ready “asset” to compliment a meal.  I used red cabbage for my current batch, and it is the loveliest deep ruby color.   

 Live yogurt and sauerkraut couldn’t be easier to make, and I have time-tested recipes for both in the recipe section of this blog.  I have not yet tried Katz’s recipe, but it has some really exciting suggested additions.  Plus, Katz’s sauerkraut lives in a crock in a cool place and does not require refrigeration.   

 Fourth and finally, fermenting is a political act, an act that stands in stark opposition to what Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation, who wrote the introduction to WILD FERMENTATION, describes as “the centralization and industrialization of our food supply.”  Real culture, writes Fallon, “begins at the farm, not in the opera house, and binds a people to a land and its artisans.”  Many commentators, notes Fallon, have said that America lacks culture.  But, “how can we be cultured when we eat only food that has been canned, pasteurized, and embalmed?” (xii).  Food artisans ferment food, and they are increasingly being regulated out of existence by the government in the name of “food safety”—which is nothing more than industry’s power in a so-called “free market” to eliminate all its competitors.    

Katz writes the following:  “Thinking about mass food production makes me sad and angry.  Chemical mono-crop agriculture.  Genetic engineering of the most basic food crops.  Ugly, inhumane factory animal breeding.  Ultra-processed foods full of preservative chemicals, industrial byproducts, and packaging.  Food production is just one realm among many in which ever more concentrated corporate units extract profits from the Earth and the mass of humanity” (163). 

 Katz encourages us to “draw inspiration from the action of bacteria and yeast, and make your life a transformative process.”  Wild fermentation, he writes “is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake in your home, using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present there to produce your own unique fermented foods” (21).  

Take back your power, Katz urges, to “use your fermented goodies to nourish your family and friends and allies.  The life-affirming power of these basic foods contrasts sharply with the lifeless, industrially processed foods that fill supermarket shelves” (166).  Remember that “wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body,” so that you become “one with the natural world” once more (12).       

Don’t wait, like I did, to get a copy of Katz’s WILD FERMENTATION.

GO WILD now!  

Tipping Points 30: The Very Bad Breakfast

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Mainely Tipping Points 30 



Cold cereal with milk and, maybe, some orange juice on the side–we think this breakfast is nourishing, right? 

Well, let’s take a look at the individual ingredients.  Sally Fallon Morell provides such analysis in “Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry,” recently updated and reprinted in Well Being Journal, March/April 2011, 11-19.  The original text, given in a speech, is at www.westonapricefoundation.org.  Both texts cover much more than packaged cereal, milk, and orange juice.   

All ready-to-eat cereal grains are so highly processed that whatever good the whole grains once contained is killed.  Grains are made into a slurry, are put into a machine called an extruder, and are “forced out of a tiny hole at high temperature and pressure, which shapes then into little o’s and flakes, or shreds them or puffs them.”  The shapes are then sprayed with oil and sugar to seal the grains from “the ravages of milk” and to give them crunchiness.  This process destroys the fatty acids, the synthetic vitamins added at the end, and the “crucial nutrient” amino acid lysine. 

This extrusion process “turns the proteins in grains into neurotoxins.”  Biochemist Paul Stitt describes the now-famous, but still unpublished, 1942 rat study which fed four groups of rats differing diets.  The rats fed vitamins, water, and all the puffed wheat they wanted died within two weeks—even before the rats who received no food.  Rats fed plain whole wheat, water, and synthetic vitamins and minerals lived for one year.  Somehow, writes Morell, the extrusion process produces chemical changes in the grains that make them toxic.

In 1960, researchers at the University of Michigan divided rats into three groups.  One group received cornflakes and water, one the cardboard box the cornflakes came in and water, and the control group received rat chow and water.  The rats receiving the cornflakes died before the rats eating the cardboard boxes.  And, before dying, the rats eating cornflakes “developed aberrant behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions.  Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock.  This experiment, designed as a joke and still unpublished, undoubtedly shocked its designers. 

The extrusion process alters the structure of grain proteins, so cereals in health food stores made of whole grains rather than refined grains may be more dangerous because they have a higher protein content.  Once disrupted, it’s likely that these altered protein bodies “can interact with each other and other components of the system, forming new compounds that are completely foreign to the human body.”  As these proteins become toxic, they can “adversely affect the nervous system, as indicated by the cornflake experiment.”   

Additionally, Morell notes that many of these cereals are “at least 50 percent sugar.”  Given that grains are carbohydrates that break down into sugars in the body, there is a double sugar load involved when sweeteners are added.  Further, Lierre Keith, in THE VEGETARIAN MYTH, notes that grains contain powerful opioids that make them addictive for humans (33-34).  No wonder we like them so much!

I wrote three Tipping Points on commercial milk (6, 7, 8), so I apologize for repeating some of that information in order to do Morell’s article justice.  Morell notes that most industrial milk is highly processed and, in my terms, a fake food.  This milk comes largely from cows fed foods cows do not eat, to include waste products from other industries.  These cows produce “huge amounts of watery milk with only half the amount of fat” normal cows should produce.  Milk from all these cows is combined and shipped to factories where it is separated into “fat, protein and various other solids and liquids.”  The ingredients are then reconstituted according to “specific levels set for whole, low-fat and no-fat milks”—levels which allow fat to be skimmed off of even whole milk for other products, like butter, cheese, and ice cream.  Reduced fat milks are boosted with powdered milk concentrate to give them body. 

Powdered milk is made by forcing milk “through a tiny hole at high pressure” and then blowing the particles out into the air.  This process causes “a lot of nitrates to form” and, worse, it oxidizes the cholesterol in the milk.  Oxidized cholesterol is dangerous for humans.  It’s used “in animal research to cause atherosclerosis,” or heart disease.  (Cholesterol in your body is not the same thing as oxidized cholesterol.)

Once reconstituted and homogenized, milk is pasteurized, or, more likely today, ultrapasteurized, which cooks it until it is (supposedly) sterile.  It does not need refrigeration.  It will last for many weeks as it’s thoroughly dead. 

I have followed with much pleasure the progress of Maine’s own organic Moo Milk.  This milk comes from local family farms, is processed in Maine, and is not ultrapasteurized.  Moo Milk takes a healthy direction for both the farmers and for Maine consumers.  Hopefully, in time, Moo Milk will pasture Moo cows except in winter, will not homogenize milk, and will offer a line of raw milk for those who are committed to consuming whole foods.   

Morell shows that commercial orange juice is a toxic soup.  Conventional oranges are “sprayed heavily with pesticides called cholinesterase inhibitors [among which are organophosphates and carbamates], which are very toxic to the nervous system.”  Whole oranges are thrown into huge squeezing vats and enzymes and acids are added that help extract as much of the juice as is possible.  The dried orange peels, still loaded with organophosphates, are fed to cattle, which the work of Mark Purdey shows causes a “degeneration of the brain and nervous system in the cow.”  So, what’s it doing to you?

The juice is then pasteurized, but “researchers have found fungus that is resistant to pressure and heat in processed juices.”  And, they’ve found E. coli strains in the orange juice that was, obviously, “pressure resistant and had survived pasteurization.”  Further, like the extrusion of grains, “the heating process produced intermediate products which, under test conditions, gave rise to mutagenicity [changes genes] and cytotoxicity” [causes cancer]. 

In addition, eating cold cereal with low-fat milk and drinking a side of orange juice is eating exactly the kind of easily digestible sugar-rich carbohydrates that are being identified as causing obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.  And, there is very little fat.  Morell reminds us that the demonization of saturated fats and oils has no scientific basis and is “nothing but industry propaganda.”  With so much sugar and so little fat, one will be hungry shortly. 

If you want to eat a grain for breakfast, “soak grains overnight to get rid of the anti-nutrients that are normally neutralized in the sprouting process.  Soaking will neutralize the tannins, enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid and gently break down complex proteins.”  Soak grains in “warm water and one tablespoon of something acidic, like whey, yoghurt, lemon juice or vinegar.”  In the morning, your grains will cook in just a few minutes.  And, it’s best to eat them with “butter or cream, coconut and chopped nuts like our grandparents did.  The nutrients in the fats are needed in order for you to absorb the nutrients in the grains.  Without the fats—especially the animal fats, which are the only sources of true vitamin A complex and vitamin D3–you cannot absorb the minerals in your food.”

For me, grains and fruit are a rare and much appreciated treat.  For breakfast, I eat from the following:  eggs, often scrambled with leftover green vegetables and cheese; fermented meats like salami or prosciutto; bacon; cheeses; homemade yogurt with nuts, seeds, bits of fresh or dried fruit, and dried coconut; leftover soup; and tea with honey and whole heavy raw cream.  I do not get hungry again until about 2 p.m.