The Art of Fermentation

by Sandor Ellix Katz

If 6 months ago you told me, "Marshall fermentation will change your life" I'd take a jaw defying crunch of a raw carrot and shake my head. But the pandemic caused a huge shift in my relationship with food consumption. For many folks, the most significant change was the inability to dine out. For me, it was the shift of popping in the grocery store every day or two to trying to stretch a single trip for over a week. The lifestyle of nightly grocery visits all started in my years in Somerville, always within a few blocks of The Temple of Market Basket. There's something so satisfying to wander the aisles of a grocery store, grabbing a few weird ingredients and looking at all the pretty packages and produce.

But with the pandemic and my stretched out food stores I, and most of the world it seems, turned to sourdough, kombucha and other bubbly craft as a form of entertainment. Or perhaps in the hope that the yeasties would provide the in-person kinship our virtual hangouts lacked.

The book doesn't have recipes - it focuses on principles. It meanders through topics like vegetables (kraut, kimchi, pickles, beans) to misos to alcoholic beverages (mead, wine, beer, sake). There's so much that I can't figure out how to string it together in a sentence! He also covers all of the basics about equipment, the scientific benefits, the non-food applications of fermentation, how to start a commercial fermentation operation, molds and tempeh... the list continues. But the best part about Sandor's book isn't the depth and breadth approach to fermentation. It's the relationship he has with food, and the cultural lens through which he views fermentation. Sandor names "fermentation as a coevolutionary force," and his writing weaves in a cultural revivalist manifesto about minimizing waste, respecting the land and the food and reverence and respect towards cultures not your own.

Our growing awareness as individuals creating change in our own lives, and communities can (and must) build into galvanizing social movements. While reviving local food systems, we can also address inequitable access to resources by becoming part of existing movements for food justice and food sovereignty. While making use of indigenous wisdom in our cultural revival efforts, we can also acknowledge and act in solidarity with indigenous peoples struggling for survival. While trying to limit our own carbon footprints and environmental impact, we can also join social movements demanding the same of corporations and government policies. Personal actions can be powerful, but nothing like the force of collective action.

I started the book looking for a few hot tips on how to fill my hours at home. I finished a radicalized fermentation and cultural revivalist.

Compiled 2024-04-21