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)

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