Friday, October 29, 2010

Wise Traditions 2010 Conference

This year's Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions Conference starts two weeks from today, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

I went to the conference last year in Schaumburg, IL, and it blew me away. Really. It played a very significant role in helping to shape and refine my thoughts about food and health and nutrition.

Check out the list of presentations for this year's conference. Then check out the food menu. I pretty much guarantee that this is the best conference food you will ever find. I can offer a couple of explanations. First of all, a huge amount of the food is donated by sponsors who want to showcase their great natural products. Second of all, traditional food lends itself well to large-scale preparation. Stews, braises, charcuterie, and fermented foods are pretty durable…

If you are coming from far away, it may be a little late to get flights/hotels/etc, although there is a forum on the website for rideshares and roomshares.

You can register for the whole thing, or day-by-day.

-----> To register, click here.  <-----

I'll be there, along with lots of other Real Food Media bloggers. Let me know if you'll be there and would like to meet up and chat over some liverwurst!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Killer Celery (Reason #192 To Eat Real Food)

"4 deaths tied to bacteria at food processing plant" in Texas. What was the food in question? Celery. What was celery doing in a processing plant? Details here.

We've seen the same story before, with eggs, luncheon meats, organic tomatoes, spinach, and so on. It seems like the frequency of these crises is increasing.

Are these foods all inherently risky?

I think that's beside the point.

The problem is that when food is processed on a large scale by people who really don't care, trouble is around the corner. Government oversight is not enough, because (a) the interests of the regulatory agencies are often not aligned with individuals' (in fact, sometimes they are diametrically opposed!); (b) even when their interests are aligned with ours, the agencies are spread too thin to actually do their putative jobs; and (c) they often step in only after the fact, if at all.

Your best defense against getting sick from industrial supply chain food is to avoid it when you can. Rather than buying pre-cut, plastic-wrapped, packaged, processed food from a supermarket, convenience store, or bad restaurant, consider buying whole, unmolested food from a small-scale food producer such as a local farmer. It's not always possible, but it's something to aim for.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fermenting Vegetables

Last weekend, I did a fermentation demo as part of the Urban Homesteaders' League Market Stand at the Union Square farmers' market in Somervile, MA. (Photos.) The Market Stand is a great project that brings together skill-sharing presenters with farmers' market attendees. Among other things, it features a reference library (that UHL mastermind Lisa Gross schleps back and forth to the stand), a swap table (where you can leave things and take them—I left some fermented vegetables!), and a handout containing notes from each of the presenters.

I would encourage anyone who's around Cambridge or Somerville either of the next two weekends to go check it out. And I would encourage folks in other cities to do something similar to the Market Stand! It gets folks thinking about food (and other topics) a little more deeply. They come home from the market not only with a bag of turnips, but with new insights into those turnips.

Below are the notes that I distributed to go with my presentation.


Today, most of the food we consume has been preserved in one way or another. We rely heavily on refrigeration, freezing, and sterilization/canning. These are all modern techniques. Refrigerating and freezing were impractical during harvest season until recently; canning dates back only to the early 1800s.

Vegetable fermenting is an older preserving technique. There is evidence of fermented kimchi, a close relative of sauerkraut, from as long ago as 600-1000 BCE.

Fermentation relies on the action of microbes to change the chemical composition of our food. Lactofermentation of vegetables, in particular, takes place when Lactobacillus and other types of human-friendly bacteria convert naturally-occuring plant sugars into lactic acid. As the acidity rises, the medium become less and less hospitable to other microbes—most notably the human-unfriendly ones.

Fermentation has advantages over other preservation methods.

When you compare it to canning, you find that fermentation creates an ecosystem in a state of stable equilibrium. You don't have to start your fermentation from a completely sterile state; in fact, you can't! Fermentation also preserves, even enhances, enzymes and vitamins that are diminished or destroyed by the heat of canning.

Fermenting vegetables does not require any electricity. It requires only some salt, to give the Lactobacillus a head start over the human-unfriendly bacteria, and an ambient temperature between roughly 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be found by digging down a few feet into the ground, even at the height of summer or in the depths of winter.

Many raw plants contain compounds that our bodies can't process very well. Fermentation helps us here by breaking down these compounds. Fermented cabbage and fermented soybeans are much more digestible than their unfermented counterparts, for instance.

Finally, fermenting vegetables is fun, and provides a great way for you to get back in touch with your food—literally!


Choose freshly-picked vegetables. Prime candidates include cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, and radishes. In my experience, these work excellently (presumably because they tend to host healthy colonies of Lactobacillus). You can ferment just about any other vegetables, too, but I would advise combining them with one of the vegetables I mention above, or with a starter. The easiest starter to use is a portion of fermented vegetables or juice from a previous batch.

I like to combine turnips, beets, and parsnips. Cabbage, onions, and carrots. Or just turnips on their own. Any of these will work.

Wash and/or peel the vegetables. Cut off any parts you're not using.


Weigh the vegetables. For every pound of vegetables, allocate two teaspoons of salt. Alternatively, for every kilogram, use 20 grams of salt. This works out to roughly 2% salt by weight. Use sea salt or Kosher salt that is free of additives.

Slice or shred the vegetables finely, with a knife or a box grater.

Mix the vegetables together with salt. Add herbs and spices as desired. Pack the mixture tightly into Ball jars or other jars with tightly-closing lids, leaving at least an inch of space at the top. Really push down on the mixture until liquid starts to rise over the top. Close the lid. Leave it at cool room temperature. (Root cellar, cool pantry, or bury it!)

Every day or two, open the lid, taste it with a clean fork, push down until liquid rises again, and replace the lid.

When you like the way it tastes, start eating it! The colder you store it, the more slowly it will sour. When it becomes very sour, it can still be used in soups and stews.


Put the vegetables, whole or in pieces, with herbs and spices as desired, into large Ball jars with tightly-closing lids. Using water that is free of chlorine, make a 6% brine by dissolving 60 grams of salt per liter of water, or approximately 4 tablespoons per quart. (The brine should be at room temperature.) Pour the brine into the jars to cover the vegetables, leaving a little space at the top. Close the lid tightly.

Wait a week, or much longer, before opening the lid.

Eat the vegetables!

(For variation 2 in particular, apparatus can be helpful, to keep the vegetables under the liquid and to keep the "bad" microbes at bay. I've had excellent experiences with Pickl-It, for instance.) [UPDATE: see here for some more thoughts about airlock contraptions.]


Alex Lewin is a fermenter, health coach, software engineer, real food activist, and urban biker. He authors a blog called "Feed Me Like You Mean It". He thinks that Ball jars are the ultimate glassware. His heroes include Sandor Katz, Vandana Shiva, Anthony Bourdain, and Kurt Vonnegut.


Real Food Fermentation, by Alex Lewin
Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mechanically-Separated Chicken (Is Not Intrinsically Horrifying)

I feel compelled to comment on the "Mechanically-Separated Chicken" (aka "Chicken Nuggets") story that has been making the rounds (Google search here) (weird and/or cool videos here, here, here). It turns out that the situation was a bit sensationalized. Someone did some fact-checking, rather than simply citing other blogs (ahem), and posted their findings here.

Having said that, I would like to share my own thoughts about the "Chicken Nuggets" story.

The parts of the story that disturbed me were the murky provenance of the chicken bits, the scale on which they are processed and fed to na├»ve Americans and others, and the "soaked in ammonia" claim. In my mind, commodity ground meats are the ultimate Meat Of Unknown Origin. Not only do you not know where they're from—you have no idea what they are.

The idea of eating entire animals, including bones, is not horrifying to me per se. If you have ever eaten sardines out of a can, you have eaten bones. Eating broken-down bones, not surprisingly, is an excellent way to get minerals. Much of the virtue of stocks and broths, including old favorites like chicken noodle soup, comes from the contribution of boiled bones. Much of the flavor in clam chowder comes from boiled shells. Gelatin comes from bones and hooves. The great traditions of sausage-making and charcuterie use all sorts of animal parts, including blood. Restaurants from Paris to Beijing, some of them quite fancy, feature brains, tongues, intestines, glands, and lots of other organs.

So, for the record:

As long as animals are of known origin, and inedible bits (gall bladders, scent glands, etc.) are removed, I am in favor of grinding up animals and eating them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Google Uses Goats To Mow Its Lawn

Check it out here.

"It costs us about the same as mowing, and goats are a lot cuter to watch than lawn mowers."

Anyone out there want to set up a rent-a-goat business? I would consider investing, and I bet others would too. Or maybe you could get an SBA loan.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fermentation Demo, Sat 10/9/2010, 10:45AM, Union Square Farmers' Market

I'll be doing a fermentation demo using whatever autumn vegetables fall readily to hand at the Union Square Farmers' Market this Saturday at 10:45AM.

I'll be doing this as part of the Urban Homesteaders' League UHL Market Stand, which hosts a series of how-to workshops every few Saturdays. Joining the UHL meetup page is the best way to hear about local sustainability events, including a lot of food-related ones. Tremendous stuff.

Map of Union Square:

Hope to see you there.