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!

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