Sunday, December 19, 2010

You're A Good Man, Sandor Katz

I first heard about Sandor Katz when The Sun published this interview with him this past May. I was instantly fascinated by his ideas and his story. When I saw that he was profiled by one of my favorite food writers, Burkhard Bilger, in another one of my favorite publications, The New Yorker, this past November, I was thrilled.

Katz is a self-declared "fermentation fetishist." He studies and writes about how food can be preserved, enriched, and transformed via fermenting. Not only is fermenting environmentally sustainable as the process does not require fuel, electricity, or refrigeration, fermented foods are damn good for us--they are full of good bacteria, so much of which we regularly wash away with our glut of anti-bacterial products.

Before moving to rural Tennessee, Katz was a political, community, and gay rights activist in his native Manhattan. He didn't renounce that work so much as he moved on from it, finding his current work and lifestyle more meaningful. What I like so much about Katz, as opposed to locavore extremists, is that he's not ideological or prey to pseudo-science; rather, he's educated, knowledgeable, reasonable, practical, and scientific in his approach. 

Katz is H.I.V. positive and tried for years to medicate himself with fermented and herbal remedies. Once he became severely ill, he acknowledged that to stay alive he needed to take anti-retroviral and protease-inhibitor drugs. This and some of his other capitulations, such as to humane meat, have earned him the scorn of some of his followers, to which he has responded with Jesus-like understanding. He believes, rightly so, that his diet has been a great part of his healing, but as he says to Bilger, "that doesn't mean that kombucha will cure your diabetes. It doesn't mean that sauerkraut cured my AIDS." Exactly. While I would assume that recognizes the value of consuming raw milk, he also recognizes that it must be done right, especially given how our current food system operates. Suddenly ending pasteurization would be he says, "the biggest disaster in the world. There would be a lot of dead children around."

I highly recommend reading the pieces in The Sun and The New Yorker in their entirety (and I highly recommend subscribing to both of these fine publications if you don't already). Katz has also written two books on the subject, Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. Given his moderate success at pickling radishes, I am lobbying my husband to read them and become our household's Fermenter in Chief. What do you say, babe?

(photo by flickr user Shannon Henry)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Year Later: My State of Food Mind

It was about a year and half ago that I wrote this rather critical post in response to Michael Pollan's piece in The New York Times Magazine trashing the Food Network. (In fact, it's been a little over a year since I've posted to this blog. Is anyone still out there?) I really do value Pollan's work. In fact, if there were a Pulitzer Prize for food writing, he should win it. This clever piece by author Rowan Jacobsen really sums up how I feel about Pollan, though--he's right, but, man, is he patronizing.

I had defended healthy diet proponent and food television personality Jamie Oliver in that post, and I'll continue to consult his recipes, but for reasons that are different from Pollan's, I have become disillusioned with him. After reading this long but worthwhile piece in AlterNet, I realized how sensationalist, damaging, and misleading Oliver's show on ABC was, and how complicated our school lunch system is.

If you don't have the time or stomach for one of Pollan's books or for an episode of "Food Revolution," this piece by Nicolette Hahn Niman gives similar advice and is relatively non-preachy. She lives in California, however, and a lot of what she suggests doing is harder to replicate in other places, but she does cheer on even small steps toward changes in food consumption patterns. I look at the items on her list as long-term goals and not necessarily as ones my family and I can match entirely right now.

Speaking of California, it's also been almost a year and a half since we moved back to Central Virginia from Oakland. I thought it would be impossible to match the year-round, local, sustainably grown, diverse produce we got from our fabulous Eatwell Farm CSA, but the alternatives in Ashland are none too shabby. My husband harvested a modest amount of herbs and greens from some planters this past summer and some friends with gardens shared some of their bounty. The Ashland Farmer's Market takes place on Saturday mornings from May through October, but also includes special Thanksgiving and holiday markets as well as renegade markets, often every first and third Saturdays, during the off season. Route 1 (just north of its intersection with Route 54 ) hosts a couple of produce stands which carry local produce. My favorite option is Local Roots Food Co-op. I joined initially because I was having such a hard time making it to the farmer's market. It started out small with limited options, but I figured I would invest anyhow in the hopes that my support would help it grow. Well, it's definitely grown and I am absolutely thrilled with the selection and quality. Also, how can you beat shopping on-line and locally?

Finally, in this fascinating interview in The Sun, "Farmed Out: On the Need to Reinvent Agriculture," Wes Jackson proves to be even more radical, and humble, than Michael Pollan. You can't access the whole interview unless you're a subscriber, but, hey, it's a great magazine.