Thursday, 4 October 2012

counter-culture: on demystifying food and resisting capitalist production models


6 months ago, fermentation was a brand new idea to me. i had tried making kimchi once, and though i think, looking back, that my attempt was successful, at the time i was so freaked out by it that when my fermented treat gave me gas (which i now know to be a sign that it was full of good stuff that my body just wasn’t accustomed to yet) i thought i was being poisoned by evil bacteria and i threw it out.
after some reading about nutrition and healing my inner-ecosystem, i was determined to try again. in perfect timing, 2 members of the community food project eat the rich! which i’m involved in were hosting a fermentation workshop. we got together, talked about the basics of lacto-fermentation, and then dug our hands into some cabbage and made it happen. a week later, i had my first home-made sauerkraut and i was hooked.
from then on, every few weeks i would start a new batch of sauerkraut, enjoying the process of getting my hands all salty and massaging the veggies, experimenting with recipes, watching the kraut bubble and change,  regularly googling “can i ferment ____??!” and getting inspired by every new idea. one day, i got home and my roommate said “i wanted to make brownies, but then i didn’t want to eat them all myself, and then i thought ‘MAYBE FIONA CAN FERMENT THEM!’” (er, that was one thing i didn’t try, just by the way)
it was becoming an obsession, or more positively, a passion.
after a few months in which i babbled about fermentation to anyone who would listen and regularly posted fuckbook statuses about the things i was trying, people started asking me if i would make extra for them. i thought about it for a long time, dreamed about having a giant crock and doing large batch, sharing with the world... i was pretty overwhelmed by the idea but excited as well. i sat with it for a long time thinking it was beyond my capacity, until one day i just started. i created a fuckbook group where i would post my most recent brew and asked people to simply comment on my post if they wanted a jar. i have been sold out for 2 months.

it’s easy to think about production and sales as a huge deal, something we need to have large capacity to do. we think about capitalist trading as it normally happens, where the producer is responsible for always making profit, always increasing capacity. fuck that! i want to make healthy food accessible to people, but i also need to do it in a way that works for me. making healthy affordable specialty foods and distributing the small amount of extra that i have is better than being overwhelmed by the idea of meeting demand and not doing anything at all, or, even worse, creating a business in which i work myself into a hate for my passion, and probably compromise quality and care along the way.
i am aware that there is a trend towards small scale specialty hipster food right now, and in some ways i am benefiting from this trend. even a few years back, my obsession would have been looked upon much less kindly than it is now. that said, i want to subvert the trendy new-age capitalism that’s accompanying the new food culture. i am not going to charge high prices just because i can (well... i might hike prices for yuppie events, but only so i can keep charging my community at cost. see you at the culture crawl!), and i do my best to be aware of and transparent about the privilege and class implications of demanding ‘high quality,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘local’ food. i ‘sell’ by sliding scale, am open to trades and i-owe-yous, and am just trying to build enough funds to do things like buy jars, maybe a crock, and... fund my upcoming tattoo, a pint at a time.

2 weeks ago, i led my first fermentation workshop. i felt like a bit of a fraud, being so new to the process and really just getting people together for a conversation and to chop fruit together. our culture really idolizes ‘teachers,’ and i felt like to be one i had to be doing something really complicated. but then, i have no interest in ‘teaching.’ i want to demystify. i want to make things as simple and manageable as they really are. i have no interest in pretending that what i do takes tons of skill and practice and that i am super special for doing it. i’m just passionate about it, and if i can share that, i will. i believe that demystifying skills is key in changing the world (read revolution, anarchy, destruction of capitalism, saving the physical world, etc) - for me, demystifying fermentation took one night in a room with some friends.
so with those lofty goals in mind, i’m going to share the recipe which we made at the workshop. it’s something i adapted from a recipe on someone elses blog, which i have enjoyed myself and had rave reviews from the folks i ‘sell’ to.

a note about lacto-fermentation and sugar: if you avoid sugars because of candida (yeast) issues, fermented fruits should be okay. i know less about other reasons to avoid sugar, but my understanding is that fermentation should negate most of them. why is this? lacto-fermentation happens when the starches and sugars (fructose, glucose, etc) in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid by a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria called lactobacillus. this conversion process alters the nutrient content, pre-digests the food (making nutrients more accessible to your body!), creates enzymes that help you digest, and promotes bacteria that will actually help with issues like candidiasis. it also preserves food, so that a jar of fermented fruit or veggies in your fridge will last months instead of days like raw fresh fruit/veggies. it actually gets healthier (and many say tastier) with time.

Making fermented fruit chutney
for 1 litre jar:
-4 cups chopped fruit, ideally some core fruit like apples or pears and a few other things for colour and flavour (it’s plum season right now!)
-1 cup chopped sweet onion
-1 lemon, juiced
-1 tb grated ginger
-2 tsp kosher* salt (look for any salt without iodine, silicone, sugar... - ingredients should just be salt)

Start by boiling a big pot of water. Once it is boiling, put your big jar and a smaller one that fits inside (for a weight) into the water and let it boil 5-10 minutes. Take out and let cool on a clean surface.
Slice onions thinly, and slice thin wedges of fruit. For softer fruit like plums don’t worry about the size and shape of the pieces. Mix the fruit, salt, lemon juice and ginger. Pack the mixture into your sterilized large jar. The juices should cover the top (press down with your fist) of the solid fruit. Put a smaller jar on top to weight any chunks down (expansion will happen in the next few days, so if you find that the jar is floating and needs more weight, just fill it with water and press down - check it daily and press it down when necessary). Cover with a plastic bag to deter fruit flies, and leave out for 3-6 days (depending how warm the room is and how sour you like it). Taste it, it should be barely sweet if at all, perhaps a bit fizzy feeling, and very delicious. Put a lid on it but don’t seal it airtight as it will continue to expand slightly, and put in the refrigerator. This is better eaten within a few months, so don’t make huge batches and share it with your friends if you have too much!

Basic Fermentation Precautions
1. Sterilize tools as much as possible. Boiliing jars and tools in hot water for a few minutes is a good way to do this. Use glass or stainless steel, ideally. (it can get hot and doesn't off-gas carcinogens)
2. Don't kill your good bacteria! Some things you wouldn't expect will kill your culture (chlorinated water, iodine in salt, bergamot in earl grey tea). Also don't cook it, if beneficial bacteria is what you’re after!
3. If it seems weird, it just might be no good. Use your senses and your brain. Common indicators of problems are: mold, discoloration, funky smells.

Basic Lacto-Fermentation Factors
1. Temperature
2. Time
3. Amount of fermentable material
4. Amount of salt

have fun experimenting!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


what i just ate as a before bed snack:
(tastes way better than it looks! - especially because i dug in before thinking to picture it)
organic butternut squash
coconut oil
baked at 400 for about 40 minutes
oh man so fucking good.

i'm not sure if i've written before about working at the farmer's market. i've probably mentioned it at least.

basically, i volunteer for Klippers Organic Acres, and in exchange i bring home all the delicious produce i can eat. for someone who eats as many vegetables as i do, it's a really sweet deal.
it's one of the ways that i avoid having a 'job,' choosing instead to do work that falls more under the category of mutual aid.
the work that i do with Klippers is enjoyable, supports local agriculture, is volunteer so there's no fucked up employer/employee power dynamic, and directly meets my need (for food) as apposed to indirectly meeting my needs by supplying me with cash that i would exchange for food/housing/whatever, furthering capitalist interaction... alienation... y'know.

here are some pictures from the market a few weeks ago. the sun just coming up over trout lake before the market opened (around 8:30am) and the beautiful organic food. it was rather magical (i get sentimental about being surrounded by nourishing food..)

in other news, i bought 14 pounds of cabbage from a lovely farmer on saturday, and now have 7 jars of basic red cabbage kraut fermenting on my counter.

i am excited to be making a larger batch as i have consistently sold out so far, and my next week's ferments will be dedicated to Sunday Shortstack - where i will be providing a fermented fruit chutney at the october 14th pop-up breakfast. i'm looking into recipes and am getting pretty excited. probably will be apple+plum deliciousness, and i'm looking forward to experimenting with spices... perhaps some fennel? anise?! black pepper??! mmmm.
see you there!

Monday, 1 October 2012


below is a (hopefully readable and understandable) list/description of how i eat.
i created it to share with family, friends, and community who have expressed interest in eating with me.
eating with people is a really complicated thing for me, and i have a lot to say about it, here's the bones.
i haven't shared this specific a list before for fear of burdening and intimidating people, but i am doing so now in the hopes that it will, in fact, make sharing food with me more manageable.
just because i am sharing this does not imply that i expect every meal we eat together to stick to it - though i will only be able to eat that which does.

too many times i have eaten things with an ingredient that does contribute to my digestive problems because i feel both grateful for having been invited for food and guilty for being so challenging to cook for.
i need to stop doing this.

i am trying to take my health more seriously and i need others to do the same, trusting that i am not avoiding foods for no reason, but because it is imperative to my health and functioning.

food builds community. you are my community.

fermented vegetables and non-starch vegetables + sea vegetables
(NO nightshades, avocados, beets, parsnips or mushrooms)
garlic, onions and ginger are all acceptable and well loved.

-can be eaten with:

animal protein:
fish (no shellfish)


starchy foods:
millet (ideally pre-soaked overnight)
quinoa (ideally pre-soaked overnight


protein fats:
milk kefir
plain yogurt
almonds (ideally soaked, small amounts only)
hemp seeds
flax seeds
chia seeds


virgin, unrefined oils:
(can be eaten with anything, but only small amounts with animal protein foods)
coconut (best for cooking)
pumpkin seed
flax seed
evening primrose

other things i definitely do consume:
raw apple cider vinegar (with anything)
herbal tea (no ‘natural flavours’ or citric acid, or fruit tea)
salt n’ pepper
herbs (no nightshade spices like cayenne, paprika, etc)
lemons and limes
xylitol, stevia, and lakanto sweeteners

food combining made simple: veggies can combine with anything, but starch, dairy and animal protein must be eaten hours apart.
meals should be 80% non-starch vegetable, 20% animal protein, starch, or protein fat. lemons and limes can be used with anything as a flavour, even though fruit is typically avoided.

some things that i definitely cannot eat, that people often assume i can:
legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc)
nuts (accept almonds in small doses)
coconut milk
soy sauce (and all things soy)
berries and apples
brown rice
vinegar (other than apple cider vinegar)

a note about organics:
i avoid non-organic foods when possible not because i am high on a moral horse, but because chemicals and antibiotics (in meat) can seriously mess with a system as sensitive as mine. i am aware of the class implications of demanding these high-cost foods and do make exceptions at times in my own purchasing choices as well as when i am being graciously offered food. with meat, i am stricter about organic (when i am purchasing i go as far as wanting to know the farmer or know a lot about the farm, because organic sometimes means very little) because i am concerned about animal welfare and the (il)legitimacy of certifications such as ‘organic’ and ‘free range’. i am also very concerned about the ecological impacts of factory farming and genetic modification. that said, i know that being able to make these choices is a reflection of my privilege and i do not wish to alienate my communities by making unreasonable demands. if you can stick to the above lists which are imperative for my health, i will appreciate you more than i can say. i am not making these choices in an effort to be as frustrating as possible, i am making them so that i can function in my daily life.
i cannot express how alienating it is to be virtually unable to eat with the people that i love. i am always willing to support folks who want to include me in meals by providing ingredients, advice, recipes, and even cooking support if need be (though i can’t say how lovely it is to every so often not have to think about the meal i’m about to eat).

thanks for reading this and eating with me!