Category Archives: Knowledge

SauerKnowledge contains tips, tricks, stories and musings before, during and after food fermentation

Saueressen on salt

Although many others discuss the matter of salt in ferments, and do a pretty good job, Saueressen has yet to find a more complete practical discussion of salt.  We attempt a more complete introduction to salt use, below, in two parts:  How much salt?  (the more popular question first) and Which salt?  Please comment if you have questions or more information / experience to share.

Table of Contents

  1. Why Salt?
  2. How much salt should I use?
    1. General Guidelines
    2. Ingredients Quality
    3. Self-brining?
    4. Remember Osmosis
    5. Salt for Security
  3. Which Salt?
  4. Final Note:  The Value of Salt

Why salt?

Salt performs several functions in a vegetable fermentation process.  Among other things, it

  • inhibits the growth of undesirable organisms,
  • inhibits the activity of pectic enzymes that threaten to turn your ferment to mush
  • slows down and regulates the fermentation process,
  • draws water from the vegetables to create an anaerobic brine,
  • helps select for anaerobic lactic-acid bacteria (LAB) that create the desired end product and
  • enhances and balances the flavor of the ferment (making it taste less acidic)

Salt has a place of importance in such ferments.  That said, people can and do ferment without them.  For example, some people ferment vegetables in wine.  In Nepal people mash kale leaves and ferment them unsalted in their own juices to create gundruk, a food of great national importance (emphasis mine):

The shredded leaves are tightly packed in an earthenware pot, and warm water (at about 30°C) is added to cover all the leaves.[2] The pot is then kept in a warm place.[2] After seven days, a mild acidic taste indicates the end of fermentation and the gundruk is removed and sun-dried.[2]This process is similar to sauerkraut production except that no salt is added to the shredded leaves before the start of gundruk fermentation.[2]

Gundruk has very different characteristics than sauerkraut (including the fact that it results in a sun-dried product).  Those differences stem from different processing techniques and expectations, and have little or nothing to do with the safety, quality and performance of the ferment itself.  In fact, what makes for good sauerkraut might make for bad gundruk, and vice-versa.  So much of what makes a “good ferment” boils down to expectations formed out of preference and acquired taste.

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How much salt should I use?

Short answer: salt to taste.

Not satisfied with that answer?  Same here.  Some further guidelines and points to consider, below.

General Guidelines (longer answer)

use more salt if:

  • your ferment involves physically-delicate ingredients
  • your fermentation enviornment tends to run hot (70-75 or higher *F)
  • you do not have a reliable airlock and way to keep your ferment submerged in the brine (e.g,. a weight or various mechanical systems — ask about those and I’ll write an overview)
  • you are doing a “plain jane” ferment without other protective ingredients (garlic, onion, herbs, spices)

use less salt if:

  • your ferment involves tougher vegetables you wouldn’t mind softening a little bit during fermentation
  • your fermentation environment tends to run cold (65-60 or lower)
  • you have a reliable airlock system (airlocked crocks, airlocked mason jars, or baile-top [fido-style] mason jars) and submersion method
  • you tend to ferment with other protective ingredients (garlic, onion, herbs, spices)

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Ingredient Quality

Different vegetables — and even the same vegetables across different farms or harvests — contain different salt/water/sugar balances.  Celery, for example, typically has a high salt content.  I’ve worked with both relatively dry, dense and savory and relatively heavy and sweet cabbages.  Technically the same cabbage, but grown and harvested at different times and places.  The carrots I get from one of my farm suppliers taste so juicy, crunchy and sweet, it almost feels like I’m eating a fruit or a piece of candy.  That difference in going into the ferment creates a noticeable difference in the outcome as well.

Other ingredients have preservative qualities in the ferment, such as garlic, onion, antioxidant/anti-microbial herbs and spices (ginger, rosemary, tannic acids from grape or oak leaves, etc).  These “minor ingredients” help balance the finished flavor while providing additional protection for the ferment throughout its lifecycle (including in storage), potentially allowing more flexibility on salt use.  I’ve found adding such ingredients gives me much more flexibility and control over the finished flavor, quality and longevity of the ferment — so much so that it’s become a core part of the Saueressen Process and our concept of sauerchi.

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Self-brining?

Use enough salt to extract juice from shredded vegetables.  NOTE:  The more finely shredded the vegetable, the less salt needed to create the self-brine.  If the shredding is too coarse, you run the risk of oversalting to create the brine!  If you drain off some of the excess brine, it will leave the remaining vegetables much less salty.  Adding ingredients, such as an unsalted pesto, will also further reduce the salt content (which can rescue base ingredients that you accidentally oversalted).  You may also rinse over-salted vegetables, in a pinch.

Remember Osmosis

The perfect amount of salt will initially taste like too much salt, until it diffuses equally throughout the liquids and solids of the ferment over the course of about a week.  The same principle applies when adding salt to soup or sourdough bread, so if you’re used to seasoning soup, you should have an idea of what to expect when salting vegetables for a ferment.

Salt The Top for Security

A ferment will always most likely (and often does) become contaminated along its edges — especially the top.  Sprinkle additional salt over the top of the packed ferment to give the top of the brine or other surface more protection during the vulnerable, early stages of the ferment.  The salt will diffuse throughout the rest of the ferment over time.  Only take this opportunity if the ferment still needs additional salt!

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Ok, sheesh.  So, which salt?

Short answer: Use either unrefined mineral (mined) salt or unrefined sea (evaporated) salt in fine grain texture (e.g, not rock salt or flake or powder).

Both unrefined sea and mineral salts have all the good stuff the ferments need (trace minerals and nutrients, fantastic flavor) and none of the bad stuff (such as aluminum and other chemical additives).  Supposedly the iodide supplement in table salt can further inhibit or kill the micro-organisms responsible for fermentation, but I haven’t noticed a difference.  Even then, it could be useful to slow down overly-vigorous fermentations (e.g,. in a warm environment).

Consider the granularity of the salt — how coarse or fine the salt is.  Fine-grain sea salt tends to be cheap, ubiquitous and practical.  It stores compact, doesn’t require additional processing to use, is easy to measure and handle, and dissolves quickly into solution.  If you keep recipes and use different sizes of salt grains, remember to measure by weight and not volume!

Some people also consider salt a spice and pay a premium for different types of specialty or “finishing” salts to affect taste, texture and even color, such as black salt and smoked salt.  Whatever floats your boat, although such salts probably get lost in a ferment (if you’ve found specialty salts useful in ferments, please write in and let us know!).

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Final note:  the value of salt

Our bodies are self-contained sacks of salty brine.  We need salt to live.  If the concentration of salt in our bodies falls too low, our bodies stop functioning. Yet, we need freshwater, not salt water to help balance things on the other end.  Human (and probably most) life depends on a very delicate balance — a balance that requires our bodies to continually readjust.  Readjustment requires, at its core, salt and freshwater.

In light of this delicate balance, throwing something like a vegetable brine away feels to me like throwing away liquid gold.  Such a rich, nutritious and useful liquid, full of electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, sugars and other nutrients.

Instead of throwing out excess brine:

  • Reduce it down to a thick, syrupy brine.  It will store for a long time in a refrigerator.
  • Use it in recipes that call for both salt and liquid.
  • Use it as a soy sauce substitute — it provides much of the same rich, umami flavor.
  • Use it to deglaze/braze pan-cooked meals (such as veggies, meat, rice, quinoa, etc; just don’t add dry salt!)
  • Create marinades and dressings with it
  • Make a stock, broth, soup or stew out of it
  • Use it as brine in non-self-brining ferments

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Wild Fermentation: the “one book to buy” about fermentation (review)

Introduction

Sandor Ellix Katz (aka Sandorkraut) isn’t the first person to evangelize fermented foods, nor thankfully will Katz be the last (not in the least because he has created so many acolytes).  But I can think of several good reasons why Sandorkraut is perhaps the best-known fermentation evangelist to-date and for the forseeable future:  For example:

  • He has a compelling personal story.
  • He researches and knows his topic well.
  • He makes things the reader knows nothing about seem both familiar and doable.
  • He communicates with humility and honesty.
  • He “writes about the transformative power of fermentation with such infectious enthusiasm that he makes you want to try things just to see what happens,” according to fellow evangelist Michael Pollan, himself no slouch when it comes to writing.

For the above reasons and more, Wild Fermentation is a classic inside and outside of its field.  If you trust our word without explanation: Saueressen strongly recommends Wild Fermentation as most people’s first purchase to help guide their foray into the world of food fermentation.  Read on for more details…

Contents

  1. Why Read Wild Fermentation?
  2. Who:  Suggested Audience
  3. How: Suggested Use
  4. To Purchase

Why Read Wild Fermentation?

Wild Fermentation looks like a modest book at first blush.  However, the number of fermentation topics it covers would be staggering and overwhelming were it not for Katz’ ability to make everything sound so darn fun, and show just how truly easy most fermentation really is.  Through this book, Katz breaks down technological, technical, cultural and psychological barriers to empower his readers to experiment and integrate fermented foods into their own lives.  He covers historical, philosophical and practical angles, including recipes and processes to get the reader started with their own projects.

Katz does a fantastic job discussing variables (such as heat, salt, sugar content), and prepares the reader to experiment and see what works best for them.  That in itself is huge.  In an internet culture spreading so much fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), with so many people posing as experts only to scare and confuse newcomers with unfounded claims, Katz stands apart from the crowd — through his life, writing and work — as an ethical model and a timeless resource of unquestionable integrity.

Wild Fermentation and its bigger (albeit younger) sibling, The Art of Fermentation (review forthcoming) bring thousands of hours and dollars of experience and expertise to their readers for pennies on the dollar.

Who:  Suggested Audience

Anyone interested food will benefit, one way or another, from familiarizing themselves with the material in this book.  This includes people who just enjoy reading about food (the Michael Pollans of the world; although they’ll probably want to start experimenting), as well those of us who enjoy preparing food from scratch.

More specifically, live-culture food and fermentation hobbyists of all types and fermentation enthusiasts and professionals alike should read the book purely on the basis that it has had such a massive impact on the revival of interest in food fermentation in the United States, and for good reason.  Wild Fermentation presents few, if any pitfalls, making it easy to recommend wholeheartedly as an introductory and foundational text in an evolving and expanding field.

How:  Suggested Use

Read the book itself straight through the first time as a sort of well-written and interesting fermentation travelogue.  Then go back and use it for inspiration and recipes, over and over again.  Katz presents a wealth of cultural information in a very concise and compelling manner, then backs up each fermentation topic with all sorts of recipes that show how quickly variations on a basic theme can lend diversity to the topic.

To Purchase

For local (Willamette Valley) residents:  Please buy the book from (and support) The Book Bin.

If you read this review and are non-local, please ask your local bookstore before purchasing online.  If you do purchase online, we ask that you purchase Wild Fermentation through us directly using the link on the sidebar to the right of this article.   Doing so directly supports Saueressen, the publisher and the author.  Thank you!

Sauerchi Recipe: Using Fennel in the Ferment

Fennel has wonderful versatility.  It provides a delicate and subtle anise-like sweetness, and every part of the plant has culinary use:  The root/bulb, stalks, fronds, flowers and seeds all have a role to play in fennel recipes.

In general, I find that the sugar-content and tenderness of fennel decreases as you go higher on the plant, while the anise-like sweet-spice flavor increases from bottom to top.  To me, this generally means

“use the bulb and lower, tender and younger stalks like a vegetable; use the higher stalks, fronds, flowers and seeds like herbs and spices”

Recently, I applied this principle using the Saueressen Process to create a fennel-spiced Sauerchi.  I used about a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of fennel to red cabbage by weight.  I chose turmeric due to its subtle earthy flavor to complement and enhance the fennel without overpowering fennel’s relatively delicate flavor.  I relied mostly on the fennel for the pesto, using just enough onion to smooth out the texture.

Recipe:  Fennel-Turmeric Sauerchi

  1. Brine the base ingredients:
    1. Shred and salt the red cabbage to prep it for the self-brine.
    2. Separate out the fennel bulb from the rest of the plant.  Shred it like you would cabbage, and mix it with the cabbage.
    3. Cover, weight and self-brine the fennel bulb-cabbage mixture for 24-48 hours, until the salt seems equally distributed throughout the brine.
  2. Sometime after step #1 above and #3 below, make the fennel pesto:
    1. Chop the fennel stalks and fronds perpendicular to the grain (so you don’t get something stringy and fibrous) into small chunks, no longer than 1″ (the shorter the better).
    2. Food process a generous amount of fennel seed with an onion base.   The onion provides additional sweetness and protection for the ferment, and it improves the texture of the pesto.
    3. Add the chopped fennel fronds and stalks to the onion-seed mixture and continue processing into a thick paste.
    4. Mix with turmeric, cover and set aside.
  3. Drain the brine from the base ingredients, mix with the pesto, and crock the Sauerchi.

While I never know how something’s going to turn out, I always strive to produce amazing flavors and combinations on the way in.  My first thought in tasting this recipe was, “I don’t want to share this with others!”  Always a good sign.  I should have approximately three gallons of this recipe available this winter.  And, yes, I plan to share it with others!

Full meal recipe: White Sturgeon

So, this is Saueressen’s first practical post to Ferment Revolution, aka the Saueressen Knowledge Base, dealing with how to incorporate live-cultured foods in everyday life.

I feel fortunate that tonight’s fare happens to deal with aspects of live-culture food crafting and use that we often ignore:  the “waste products.”  Really, we should completely eliminate that word waste from our vocabulary and thought patterns — both we and the world would benefit as a result.  Tonight’s recipe gives a very tangible example of what happens when we creatively use what we typically throw down the drain or onto the compost pile.

Tonight’s menu

  1. Wild winter salad featuring Saueressen dilly beets (coming soon!)
  2. Fennel-sauted white sturgeon
  3. Veggies in a garlic-herb brine

1.  Wild winter salad:  kale, brussel sprout greens, dandelions, arugula, sow thistle and kohlrabi coarse-chopped mixed with shredded dilly beets; lemon verbena, parsley, oregano and thyme fine-chopped; hothouse pickle dressing with vinegar and olive oil.  Live-active cultures via the pickle juice and dilly beets.

2. Fennel-braised white sturgeon:  coarse-chopped onion, carrots, and fennel stems browned and braised in pan w/white sturgeon and fennel seed; deglazed w/veggie brine

3. Veggies in garlic-herb brine: pan browned broccoli and summer squash with garlic and rosemary; deglazed, steamed and salted with veggie brine.

Conclusion

Heavenly, very satisfying meal.  I paid $8 for the wild-caught sturgeon and negligable $$ for everything else (the expensive stuff came out of the garden).

Prep time

about 1hr total, including gathering and processing ingredients.  I have ~2-3 more meals out of it.  15-20 min per meal?  Not bad.

Live-Culture Connection

Makes use of every aspect of live-culture food production:  the excess brines, the veggies themselves, and the leftover sour pickle juice (a great savory substitue for lemon juice!).  I can only guess at the nutrient density (the brines add lots of nutrients), but it *feels* fantastic.

Next Steps

I’ve only started cataloging live-culture food recipes.  How do you incorporate live-culture foods into your life?

SauerKnowledge: The Practice of SauerChi

SauerKnowledge is the title of the sum-total of all the practical knowledge and experience of SauerNation with regard to producing and using SauerChi.  Saueressen catalogs, distributes and holds SauerKnowledge in public trust via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Authors include In-house artisans, with guest contributions from other local or live-culture food activists, professionals, hobbyists and consumers and their little dogs, too.

Topics include recipes for making live-culture foods; recipes to incorporate live-culture foods into your diet;  other fermented food recipes;  fermentation tips and tricks;  workshop materials;  customers’ live-culture food travelogues and musings, other professionals and fermentation hobbyists sharing their experience; fermentation, nutrition and food security.

Why?  Because the revolution starts at home, with healthy guts and bodies, and builds from there as we developing a food secure culture of fearless fermentation!

You can find all SauerKnowledge posts through the Saueressen website.

Position Paper: Issues Underlying the GMO Debate

Oregon teems right now with expensive advertisements touting positions for and against a newly-proposed GMO food labeling law.  According to independent polls, most people (77%) support the law.  The arguments I see in support of labeling boil down to using the law as a tool in either of two ways:

  • Personal consumer tool:  People want more transparency in their food (they want to know what eat, where it comes from and how it’s made; which means they want to feel good or at least OK about what they eat).  They want to make it easier to avoid GMOs without necessarily having to buy organic, for all sorts of reasons.
  • Political economic tool: Additionally, labeling foods containing GMOs creates opportunity to put consumer pressure on producers to use non-GMO ingredients.  In other words, the law “lets the market decide” whether and to what extent it will accommodate GMOs.

So far, the opposition has grossly inflated how much the law would cost to consumers (est. $2.30 annually).  The rest of the opposition’s arguments seem to base themselves in some sort of fear that labeling will decrease market demand for GMOs, which they consider a bad thing (mostly because it harms corporate profit or they believe a world without GMOs threatens food security).

Saueressen supports the Yes on 92 Campaign as a cost-effective, market-based partial solution to the GMO debate.  Do Oregonians have a right to know what foods contain GMOs?  Absolutely — no question there, if you accept that we live in a democracy.  But at the end of the day, GMO politics exist like an oil slick lingering on the surface of a Deepwater Horizon oil spill, obscuring rather than addressing any of the underlying issues.  Skimming the surface won’t stop the catastrophe.  Lurking in those murky depths are myriad issues fundamental to our food security and our society.   Saueressen identifies four key issues implied, but unaddressed, by the GMO debate:

Saueressen maintains a position that GMOs exist at their worst as symptoms of those deeper issues.  Further more, the underlying issues will persevere and progress until we bring them to the surface or dive in after and figure out exactly what we consider problems if we want a chance at implementing effective solutions.  This paper constitutes Saueressen’s effort to contribute to that pathway forward vis-a-vis its own food security-based mission and operating philosophy.

Let’s get into it, then…

Issue 1:  Genetic Engineering vs Corporate Control

Do we oppose or support genetic engineering, corporate control of food systems, neither, or both?  I feel very fortunate to have recently discoverd and read a fantastic National Geographic (NG) article on the future of farming and food security in relation to genetic engineering and agro-ecological (including but not limited to organic) practices.  The article clears up many of the points of confusion in the GMO debate, which I greatly appreciated.  I also felt it also gave sufficient weight to the importance of investing in agroecology as a foundational technology for food security and environmental restoration.

From the above-mentioned NG article:

“If you want to have a conversation about what the role of large corporations should be in our food supply, we can have that conversation—it’s really important. But it’s not the same conversation about whether we should use these tools of genetics to improve our crops. They’re both important, but let’s not confound them.” — Robert Ziegler, Director, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

The confusion around genetic engineering and corporate control begs an important question: Can we have the one without the other? if so, how?  If not, why not?

The IRRI is not Monsanto.  It has no private shareholders or profit incentive.  It does not seek to control seed and food supplies for profit.  Does a world without Monsanto still need organizations like the IRRI?  The IRRI uses genetic engineering as one of many tools to fulfill a mission that most people might have a difficult time finding fault with.

Corporations use GMOs as a tool to monopolize control of nature and food.  Consider that proprietary, patented seeds now make up 82% of all commercial seed transactions, and the ten largest global corporations own 67% of all those patents, or 55% of all commercial seed (source: ETC Group; local copy here).  However, corporate patents extend beyond GMOs into non-engineered wild and domesticated species.  LIkewise, not all GMOs exist as proprietary corporate property.  Addressing GMOs in our food supply does little to address corporate control of food and nature, since GMOs represent merely one of many different tools of control that corporations use.  Banning GMOs to quell corporate control is like banning spoons because a “spoon gang” appeared around town weilding spoons as weapons to harm other people.  Let’s address the gang behavior.

If we make decisions about our food through our democracy, then we must also address the corporate control of our political system itself.  Take, for instance, the spending breakdown on Measure 92:  The opposition spending comes form 100% large corporate, out-of-state sources.  But most of the support spending comes from out of state sources as well (albeit a healthier mix of individuals, non-profit and corporate donations).  This means that Oregonians — the primary stakeholders — play at best a marginal role in framing and discussing the issue at hand.  I find that disturbing.

The issue here isn’t so much whether to accept or reject genetic engineering, but who gets to make that decision, and under what terms?  Now consider that Oregon Community Rights Network addresses this question directly by empowering communities with tools and resources to define and sieze democratic control of their health, safety and welfare — including their food systems.  The Community RIghts movement accomplishes much more than any labeling law ever will, using a fraction of the financial resources, to address problems at their root.  It deserves at least as much support as this labeling law.

Let’s continue…

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Issue 2:  Which genetic engineering?

So, is the tool itself — genetic engineering — faulty?

In order to determine whether we support or oppose genetic engineering itself, or let alone determine whether it can occur without corporate control of our food, we need to understand the range of genetic tools in use to produce new varieties and species.  Fortunately, the aforementioned article does a fantastic job introducing those tools to the reader.

The article mentions three genetic tools in addition to traditional breeding techniques which already have common acceptance in our society:

  1. Marker-assisted selection:  Combines traditional breeding and hybridization techniques with genetic engineering to identify relevant genes or introduce markers.  Breeders may engineer plants to “knock out” certain genes until they find the relevant ones they wish to manipulate through a breeding process.  Then they can use markers to determine whether the breeding process succeeded, saving time and money.  Results in a faster breeding process, makes use of existing biological diversity (no new genes or proteins).
  2. Mutation breeding:  Mutations happen naturally over time.  We speed the process up by deliberately exposing seeds to chemicals or (more often) radiation (think: X-rays and gamma rays, like Bruce Banner and Incredible Hulk!) and seeing what results, using conventional breeding to create the new variety or species.  We’ve been introducing potentially novel genes and proteins into ecosystems and our food supply this way since the 1930s.
  3. Transgenic engineering:  This is the newest form of genetic engineering, which introduces genes from unrelated species into a second host species, followed by conventional breeding to develop the new variety or species. When we talk about genetic engineering and GMOs, we most often mean transgenic engineering.  It resembles the natural process of endosymbiosis (aka symbiogenesis, aka cooperative evolution), but again, in an accelerated form.  I actually see this as less problematic than mutation breeding in some ways, because at least we’re dealing with DNA and proteins that already exist in some way, shape or form in our environment.

So, which genetic engineering tools does the proposed Oregon labeling law cover?

  • The law definitely targets transgenic foods for labeling.
  • I can’t suss whether the law covers mutation breeding.  If it doesn’t, it probably should, even for the sake of consistency.
  • I honestly can’t tell whether the law affects marker-assisted selection, since that process can involve messing with the genes of plants.

I would love for someone with authoritative knowledge to help answer this question.  I could not find any discussion on this question, which seems of central importance to the GMO debate itself.

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Issue 3:  The Need for Speed?

Savvy readers may have noticed a theme with the above-mentioned genetic engineering tools:  accelerated results.  In the discourse on our food systems, so much of what we read falls into a “race against time” narrative.  We need to produce more food, faster.  We need better varieties, sooner.  Quick quick quick.

The narrative takes for granted that our food-related problems are problems of production.  They are not.  They are problems, first and foremost, of distribution, profiteering, and power (ref. Issue 1: corporate control of food, above).  The narrative takes population growth as a given, rather than seeing how reducing gender discrimination (education, economic opportunity, social standing, reproductive control), for example, can slow or even reverse population growth and therefore slow the growth in demand for food, create new resources and better distribute available resources.

So really, there is no inherent reason for us to single-mindedly focus on faster, bigger, better production and breeding.  Which is good, because safe change takes time, as does proper longitudinal (read: long-term) safety testing.   While we take the time to assess and adapt to the changes we’ve made, we can allocate resources more appropriately toward developing small-scale, decentralized, diversified and resilient food systems.  We can move food security ahead in leaps and bounds if we allocate even a small fraction of the $24 million spent on arguing over GMOs in Oregon toward efforts that really matter, such as women’s empowerment and small farms development grants, community rights and other resources.

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Issue 4:  Which Agriculture?

The health, environmental and socioeconomic issues people often cite in opposition to GMOs long predate the existence of GMOs.  Through our use of conventional breeding techniques in an industrial economy that prioritizes profit over all else, we’ve replaced the nutritional density and flavor of several staple foods (apples, corn, potatoes, wheat, etc) with sugar or other substances of addictive or dubious nutritional value, and destroyed entire bioregions by mining topsoil and biodiversity in the name of food production.  No GMOs required.  Consider the priorities that guide our breeding and selection processes:

although wheat in North America goes through 50 different quality assessments—to analyze factors such as yield and baking performance—“none are related to nutrition.”

Let’s let that sink in:  We don’t breed our food for taste, nutrition and resilience, first and foremost.  We breed it for economic performance. As a result, we’ve taken a lot of easy shortcuts that have ironically made the road ahead of us much longer and more difficult than it needs to be.  MIchael Pollan, for example, reminds us in his discussion of the history of the apple that the selection of crops for industrial-scale monocultural production generally causes a dramatic loss of genetic diversity that requires increasing inputs of pesticides and fertilizers.  What will it take to rebuild the nutritional value and diversity of our food systems?  More organic production?

Big Business loves organic, creating what Michael Pollan calls Organic-Industrial Complex.  Have you ever seen an industrial-scale organic farm or feedlot?  It looks more like our worst genetically-engineered nightmares than like the friendly local family farms we idealize.  Saueressen urges people to support local family farms before they support industrial organic farms, even if the family farms aren’t certified “organic” (many already use organic practices as a matter of course).

Industrialization, monoculture and corporate control all predate GMOs, and these issues will continue until we address them directly.  In this sense, Measure 92 represents the latest in a game of “whack-a-mole.”  The community rights movement argues that maybe it’s time to stop playing the game and just unplug the industrial machine at its source.  Saueressen supports that position.

Food systems predict and shape a society’s structure, and therefore can create or solve many societal problems.  We can improve all aspects of our quality of life by changing the way we produce and distribute our food to mimic the complexity of productive and healthy ecosystems.  We need to start de-emphasizing industrial monocultural methods and emphasizing permacultural and other agroecological approaches that enhance our food production while healing the earth at the same time. if we put even a small fraction of resources that we contribute to genetics and the politics around it into permacultural techniques, small farms, community rights and the empowerment of women, we would see global food security improve in leaps and bounds.

We see this holistic approach play out in organizations like IRRI (Source: NG article):

Since the first green revolution, says Robert Zeigler, ecological science has advanced along with genetics. IRRI uses those advances too.

“In the early ’90s you didn’t see birds here. The pesticides we used killed the birds and snails and everything else. Then we invested a lot to understand the ecological structures of rice paddies. You have these complex webs, and if you disrupt them, you have pest outbreaks. We learned that in the vast majority of cases, you don’t need pesticides. Rice is a tough plant. You can build resistance into it. We now have a rich ecology here, and our yields haven’t dropped.

“At certain times of the day we get a hundred or so of those egrets. It’s really uplifting to see. Things can get better.”

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Conclusion

The debate over genetic modification exists within the context of a very real global food crisis.  Underlying that crisis, we have social problems of power and food distribution across society, social inequality and agro-economic practices that destroy rather than heal and enhance our life support systems.  These issues predate genetic engineering, and they will persist until we either address them directly or kill ourselves off.  Saueressen urges you to:

  • vote “yes” on measure 92 as a small step in the right direction toward demand-driven transparency in our food, and let the market decide what to do with GMOs and more importantly,
  • remember to see the forest through the trees and continue the fight past the ballot box.

At stake is a food culture war, of sorts, between two competing philosophies that differently prioritize food security and profit.  When corporations like Monsanto prioritize profit above all else — as an end in itself rather than a means to a greater end — food security comes second at best and sometimes even suffers.  We need more organizations who make profit a means to a greater end in all aspects of our society.  We need holistic, multi-faceted solutions to the global food crisis.  It sounds like the IRRI understands that point.  I’d take that over Monsanto any day, even if it does include a smidgeon of genetic engineering.  Saueressen embodies this ethic by using profit to support artisans who lovingly create hand-crafted live-culture foods so they can give back to the community that sustains their craft and help build a more food secure future for us all.

So where do we go from here?

Action items

A few things we can do beyond voting and purchasing decisions to improve food security and quality of life for everyone:

Let us know if you have any questions or thoughts!

Why Saueressen? EF Schumacher

My last post in the Why Saueressen? category was fairly personal.  In contrast, this post explores some of the more technical questions, such as:

  • Why live-culture foods?  Why food?
  • Why a small artisan-owned cooperative?
  • Why a community-supported enterprise model?

If I had to throw one reference at you, it would be Small Is Beautiful, by EF Schumacher.  Why?  Two words:  appropriate technology (aka “intermediate technology”), or technology that is “people-centered, small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound and locally controlled.”

To hear me talk about technology in this modern, industrialized world, you might mistake me for a luddite.  Fair enough — I used to mistake myself for a luddite, too.  Until I encountered EF Schumacher and permaculture and learned to articulate my ethical code concerning the development and use of technology.  Unfortunately, much of the technology produced and used by modern industrial economies falls far short of such an ethical code in both design and implementation.

Saueressen stands for farm-fresh fermented foods

Saueressen stands for farm-fresh fermented foods

I created Saueressen to bear a standard of sorts for the appropriate technology movement by way of its focus, the technologies it uses in the course of operation, and its organizational structure.

Focus On Food

A society’s food system largely defines or heavily influences the overall structure of that society.  In other words, a change in the way we relate to our food creates ripples of profound change throughout the rest of society.  By building a better food system, we build better people and communities.  By better, I mean more diverse, resilient, decentralized, environmentally friendly, healthy, transparent, responsive, etc.  Saueressen takes all this into account in our choice to work with local, organic farmers, which also keeps more money in the local community!

Food also serves another important foundation:  Health.  As one customer puts it:

“As an RN, I am a health conscious, research driven food consumer. Our fast paced culture has forgotten the benefits that fermented foods play in our health. As eating yogurt has become “popular” in the past years, I believe fermented foods will continue to gain popularity as people educate themselves on the beneficial properties of fermented foods. Just a quick search on the internet will bring up hundreds of articles on why fermented foods are good for us.”

Fermentation stands apart from other food processing methods in a key way: it enhances the nutritional (as well as economic) value of the foods in question, rather than degrading them. Fermentation excels at delivering key probiotics and micronutrients we need to maintain a healthy body.  Simply put, live-cultured foods form an important part of a healthy diet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, omnivorous or carnivorous. Your body will benefit from live-cultured foods.

Core Technologies

The core nutritional technologies that form the lifeblood of Saueressen have existed for hundreds — sometimes thousands — of years.  Fermentation is a time-tested and well-established means of nutritional preservation and enhancement.  Likewise, the equipment and techniques needed to produce most ferments are as equally well-established.  We ferment veggies in high-fired, lead-free clay crocks, for example.  The crocks have a very sophisticated airlocked design that significantly enhances batch reliability and lowers labor costs.  Other tools we use to process include implements to chop, shred and grind ingredients.

We also make appropriate use of our environment — a key condition for successful fermentation.  Most lactic acid ferments do best in cool, temperature stable environments.  Koreans bury their kimchi pots to stabilize temperature and prevent oxygen contamination.  In other words, they use geothermal energy.  In the summer, the ground cools.  In the winter, it warms.  The result is a fairly consistent and reliable cool temperature range, year-round.   We use a basement kitchen space to the same effect.  Under these conditions, we gain the option of producing — and preserving — batches of fermented veggies over the course of years, rather than weeks and months.  Have you tasted a four year-old vintage sauerkraut?  Sandor Katz has, and said it was sublime, like a fine wine.  The same, of course, goes with fermented meats and dairy.

In contrast, most long-term mixed-SCOBY ferments (vinegars) actually benefit from exposure to temperature extremes.  Placing oak barrels out in an unshaded, unheated above-ground structure results in a higher quality product.  It’s all about using space — including microclimates — effectively.

Using fermentation, we start to see a world where we don’t need refrigeration and electricity.  They become nice amenities, but do we want to slide into a crisis state every time they go away?  With fermentation, life with and without electricity becomes much easier and more enjoyable!  While Saueressen makes use of electrical implements, we also dedicate time and energy researching and developing electricity-free modes of processing ingredients into live-culture foods as part of our focus on food security.

Organizational Structure

EF Schumacher argues, in part, that the debate over “public vs private ownership” is misleading irrelevant, in large part, inasmuch as it ignores the issue of scale.  Small is beautiful in large part because smaller scale operations are inherently more sensitive and just in their distribution of the work and the benefits derived from that work.  The larger the scale the enterprise, regardless of whether it is public or private, the more difficult fair and just distribution of work and derived benefits becomes, which in turn requires a greater degree of planning, intentionality and perseverence to ensure that problematic dynamics do not arise (e.g., a combination of those who derive benefits from and may exercise control over others’ work without themselves contributing to said work).

Saueressen will always remain small because of its growth plan.  It operates as a cooperative of artisans who share the production space and overall decision-making.   Each cooperative kitchen will support about 3-5 owner-artisans who source ingredients and distribute products and services locally.  Each kitchen operating under the Saueressen label becomes a part of the trademark collective, gaining access to all Saueressen knowledge and resources while retaining complete financial independence.  Grassroots drive the entire organizational structure:  artisans manage the kitchen, and the kitchens manage the collective brand identity.  So even if the Saueressen concept of artisan-owned cooperative live-culture kitchens really catches on, Saueressen will never become the WalMart of fermented foods.

Lastly, Saueressen functions as a benefit corporation, meaning it exists to provide a “material positive impact on society and the environment while meeting higher standards of accountability and transparency.”  We use fermentation as a vehicle to enhance community food security.  To make this happen, Saueressen supports open standards, including Creative Commons licensing and open-source software such as Open Food Source.  We build our business on transparency, trust, quality and value.  Saueressen embodies the values we look for in our best friends and family.

Thanks for reading!