September 18, 2013

Natural Foodie: Fermentation expertise bubbling up at Common Ground fair:

By Avery Yale Kamila

Everywhere you go in Maine, someone is brewing beer in the garage, culturing sauerkraut in the cellar or fermenting kombucha in the kitchen. Fermentation is quite literally in the air. So it's no surprise the international guru of this fermentation revival is in Maine this week doing a series of talks and workshops, all leading up to his keynote address at this weekend's Common Ground Country Fair.

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The children’s vegetable parade is one of many food-themed highlights of the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, which takes place this weekend.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila

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Among more than 40 food vendors, the Tic Tac Taco stand offers gluten-free tacos with either vegan or chicken fillings.

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Sandor Ellix Katz, author of "The Art of Fermentation," "Wild Fermentation" and "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved," speaks at 11 a.m. Friday at the annual organic food festival in Unity. His talk is titled "Fermentation and Food Relocalization."

"There is definitely a resurgence in interest in fermentation and an explosion of small fermentation entrepreneurs," Katz said recently by phone before leaving for Denmark, where he spoke at the annual MAD Symposium, a forum for farmers and chefs. "But I like to put that in the context that people have always loved fermented foods."

Think chocolate, wine and cheese and you see what he means.

In addition to encouraging people to ferment foods at home, Katz, who lives in Tennessee, will talk about the current embracing of local foods.

"The very idea of a revival of local food self-sufficiency depends on the actions of a lot of small actors," said Katz. "In our country we've had a decades-long experiment with the centralization of food production. But in the last few decades people are beginning to see the downside to that system."

In response to the problems spawned by industrial food, many people are taking action, Katz said.

"It's people starting gardens, starting small farms, patronizing farmers markets, turning the products of ag into the delicious things people love to eat," Katz said. "All of these things are the ways to rebuild local food systems. Policies can have huge impacts but the actors have to be individual people."

Along with this renewed interest in eating local has come a return to traditional foodways, such as fermentation. Researchers are even beginning to discover what our ancestors knew intuitively: Fermented foods with live cultures are good for our health.

"It's amazing what science is learning right now," Katz said. "We finally have the tools to understand the microbial world in ways we never had before. We're finding that the way these microflora function in our body is huge."

But at the same time, we do our best to wipe out this essential part of our makeup with the water we drink, medicines we take and the soap we use on our hands. He likens our environment of chlorinated water, antibiotic drugs and gimmicky antibacterial soaps to chemical warfare.

"Anyone who is alive and grew up in the United States grew up in what I call the war on bacteria," Katz said.

Yet we can defend ourselves -- and our gut bacteria -- by eating fermented foods. Katz will demonstrate how to make some of them at 2 p.m. on Saturday and host a question-and-answer session Saturday at 4 p.m.

The two other keynote addresses at this year's fair will be delivered by herbalist Deb Soule on Saturday and Organic Valley CEO George Siemon on Sunday. Both take place at 11 a.m. In addition to these headliners, the 37th annual Common Ground Country Fair features more than 700 talks, workshops, demonstrations and performances by a diverse range of experts.

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Sandor Katz


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