By Rob Archangel, 180DegreeHealth.com staff writer
Today at the Real Foods Summit, I listened to Jenny McGruther talk about the practice and benefits of fermentation. This is a topic near and dear to me. Around six years ago, I stopped eating a vegan diet and found the Weston A Price Foundation. Through them, I found a guy named Sandor Katz. Sandor is awesome. He wrote a book called Wild Fermentation, and it inspired me to get into the practice of making things like sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread and kombucha. Maybe it was psychosomatic, but I also found that as I started eating meat, especially fatty meats like sausages, having a like bit of ‘kraut or kimchi helped my belly like me more afterward.
A year or so later, I left the Big Apple, where I’d grown up, and decided I was going to go WWOOFing and learn some farm skills. I left with just a backpack on my shoulders, and a couple three books, and Sandor’s book was one of them. I dug it that much. I went on to try all sorts of other things, including dairy ferments like yogurt and kefir, lots of breads and veggies ferments, condiments, beer (including hopless gruit ales) and homemade sodas. I even hosted fermentation meet ups and held a few workshops. Fun times.
Jenny’s talk is a good overview of why you might want to get into fermenting. It’s a good, old-school method of food preservation (the only one, in fact, that enhances rather than diminishes nutrient content), it helps make food more digestible, aids in inoculating our guts with beneficial bacteria, and makes delicious food. Though we don’t usually make them at a home-scale, most of the artisanal food we think of as associated with fine cuisine is fermented: wine and cheese, chocolate, breads, cured meats, etc.
Another thing I like that she mentioned is the possible role in asthma, allergies and autoimmune disorders that our war on microbes has had. The hygiene hypothesis says that we have created environments too hermetic when it comes to microbial life, and we don’t give our bodies adequate training to learn appropriate, measured responses to agents in our environment. As a result, our bodies might freak out over pollen or cat hair, or even start attacking our own cells as in autoimmune disorders. Fermented foods, by broadening our exposure to microbes, might have a role in training our immune systems not to over-react to non-threats.
There’s also a talk by some dude named Matt Stone, covering things like the role of real foods in weight regulation, and the hormonal, psychological and neurobiological aspects of obesity and weight management. He seems like a swell enough guy- maybe check him out too.