Living Foods for Living People 09/25/2012Posted by ALT in Alternative Lifestyles, Treatments.
Tags: fermentation, IBS, Nourishing Traditions, probiotics, sourdough, Weston Price, Wild Fermentation, yogurt
It amazes me how many different and conflicting belief systems there are about diet – what we should eat, what we shouldn’t, what’s good for your brain, your teeth, your toes. I use the phrase “belief systems” deliberately because most camps can produce dozens of academic publications, statistics, etc. justifying their dietary assertions (or at least showing there’s no “conclusive evidence” that they’re wrong).
A good friend of mine is the offspring of some hardcore Vegans; I myself come from a family firmly entrenched in the Weston Price camp (animal fats being considered essential for good health). Both of our parents have a tendency towards nutritional proselytization. “My parents would think yours suffer lack of energy and low brain function because they’re starved of animal fats,” I said. “Mine think your parents’ arteries are clogged with the disgusting detritus of a heavy meat diet, and that they’ll die early, cholesterol-induced deaths,” he cheerfully replied. We both laughed.
My thought is this: dietary needs differ between people. Even in one person, they can cycle. A lot of times I find this corresponds naturally to the change in season. But it can also be affected by life events, other ongoing healing processes, changes in environment or routine, etc.
Given those variables, however, there are a few nutritional truths that apply to everyone:
- processed foods (that means, anything that has an “ingredients list” on the back!) are not nourishing
- locally produced, small-scale plant or animal foods are far more nourishing than mass-produced plant or animal foods monocultured under industrialized conditions
- live foods are far more nourishing than dead ones
The first two are basically common knowledge at this point. But the last one? Here in America there seems to be a cultural aversion to live foods, which are commonly perceived as dangerous, potentially culprits in food poisoning debacles. This is unfortunate, because without live foods, your gut health suffers, and the link between gut health and mental health (not to mention overall health!) is pretty firmly established at this point.
A live food is any food that has not been irradiated, pasteurized, sterilized, or otherwise treated for the removal of bacteria and enzymes — that includes cooking at very high temps. By this definition, truly fresh foods are all live. An apple from the tree, lettuce from the garden, raw milk from a cow.
But an apple from the grocery store? Not likely. Most produce at the grocery store is irradiated or otherwise sterilized, ostensibly to kill E.coli and salmonella and other such plagues of modern, industrialized food production. But the sterilization of food has another consequence – it decreases our immune system’s ability to function by depriving us of all the enzymes and helpful bacteria contained in live foods, thereby making us more susceptible to not just E. coli and salmonella, but many other bacterial infections as well. Catch-22.
REALLY Live Foods
Beyond live foods are fermented foods, where good bacteria — called probiotics, meaning “for life” — are deliberately cultured and multiplied. These include things like homemade sauerkraut, pickled eggs, yogurt, kefir, kvass, kombucha, relishes, miso, and of course beer and wine (store-bought versions of these items are likely not live, though that varies… check the label. In any case it’s always best to make your own). Probiotics help us digest food better, which means we are better nourished. They are connected to higher immune system functioning, better mental and physical health, better mood, [see here] and they have been part of nearly every long-lived, sustainable culinary tradition studied.
The removal of live and especially fermented foods from our food supply has led to severe, culture-wide dietary problems that manifest themselves in so many different ways. More fundamentally, the conversion of food into mere commodity, instead of nourishing, life-giving BLESSING to be shared by humankind has had a huge impact on the way we relate each other, the earth, and the divine:
The difference between food produced by someone you know and shared through means that respects both producer and consumer, and food grown, processed, and sold by strangers working for faceless corporations, is a difference you can taste. The body responds differently. Food given in fair and respectful exchange by someone you know and trust is more nourishing…
Food should not be primarily a commodity. Food is a gift of God’s Good Earth, for which all religious traditions teach gratitude. To subject it to the economic regime of the lowest bidder is to desecrate the gift and insult the Giver. For most of human history, the sharing of food was a significant social act, cementing ties between friends and kin, showing welcome to strangers. Today it has become an anonymous act of commerce.Other people in other times would no doubt have thought it exceedingly strange, if not downright obscene, for total strangers to grow, process, and even cook nearly all one’s food…
– from Charles Eisenstein’s essay, “Economics of Fermentation”
What you put into your body has a profound effect on what comes out of it – that’s an essential tenet of nearly every religious discipline.
If we’re putting almost exclusively dead things in our bodies, why are we surprised at the outpourings of a deadened mind and spirit that result?
Ferments and Foments
This is why I consider the production and consumption of truly live and fermented foods to be a revolutionary act. I revolt against society’s demand for sterilization and monoculture in the realm of ideas, the realm of the spirit, and in the realm of food! I do not worship death, I worship life. Life is what I put into this earthly vessel, and an enlivened spirit is what comes out!