Can you fall in love with a book?
Well I’m definitely close when it comes to Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation. Part recipe book (I don’t say cookbook because there’s no cooking), part science lab experiment book, part biography and part activist manifesto, I just love the way this guy writes and love everything about the book. The just go-ahead-and-do-it mentality expressed in its 200 pages and the strong references against cultural homogenisation are some of the most powerful activism I’ve read in a while, and all through food. My kind of book! 🙂
Here’s a couple of the passages of the introduction that I find most interesting, and then there’s the recipes themselves, also full of great anecdotes and information!
One of the most striking insights in the book:
“In 1985 I spent several months travelling […] in Africa. In Cameroon […] we were introduced to a couple of Pygmy people who took us on a trek through the jungle. These Pygmies have carried on a long tradition of subsistence in that jungle. In the course of our hike, we came across several Pygmy settlements engaged in cacao farming. We came to understand that the government was trying to force these people in to cash-crop agriculture. Their migratory lifestyle was being outlawed, phased out because it was of no value to a state in desperate pursuit of tax revenue and foreign exchange to pay off debts to global financial institutions.
When traditional cultures are outlawed, that is the homogenization of culture. It’s an old story, which could be told by any Native American, or by my grandparents, who fled pogroms and saw the Eastern European Yiddishkeit they were born into disperse and disappear in a single generation. By the time I headed home to the land of obscenely stocked supermarket shelves, I had come to the conclusion that no matter what I said or did, my presence in Africa served only to glamorize the capitalist world order, adding to the seductive allure that if you abandon your traditional culture, educate your kids in colonial languages at missionary schools, and grow cacao beans for export, maybe someday you’ll accumulate the kind of excess wealth to travel to the other side of the globe, just for fun and stimulation.”
And another little jewel:
“Mass production and mass marketing demand uniformity. Local identity, culture and taste are subsumed by the ever-diminishing lowest common denominator, as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and other corporate behemoths permeate minds on a global scale to create desire for their products.This is the homogenization of culture, a sad, ugly process by which languages, oral traditions, beliefs , and practices are becoming extinct every year, while ever-greater wealth and power is concentrated in fewer hands. Wild fermentation 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.”
And finally a quote on fermentation, which is really what the book is mostly about ;):
“There is a mystique surrounding fermented foods that many people find intimidating. Since the uniformity of factory fermentation products depends upon thorough chemical sterilization, exacting temperature controls, and controlled cultures, it is widely assumed that fermentation processes require these things. The beer- and wine-making literature tends to reinforce this misconception.
My advice is to reject the cult of expertise. Do not be afraid. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated. Remember that all fermentation processes predate the technology that has made it possible for them to be made more complicated. Fermentation does not require specialised equipment. Not even a thermometer is necessary (though it can help). Fermentation is easy and exiting. Anyone can do it. Microorganisms are flexible and adaptable. Certainly there is considerable nuance to be learned about any of the fermentation processes, and if you stick with them, they will teach you. But the basic processes are simple and straightforward. You can do it yourself.”
So it’s time to get crocking! 🙂