We at Free Range Quest are blessed to meet so many who motivate, inspire, and teach us.
Sandor Katz has been called evangelical in the way he speaks about fermented foods. It has been said that he “has become for fermentation what Timothy Leary was for psychedelic drugs: a charismatic, consciousness-raising thinker and advocate who wants people to see the world in a new way.” He was invited by David Chang last year to taste the latest in experimental ferments in Momofuku’s secret test kitchen. He is an inspiration!
Sandor Katz (or “SandorKraut”) – author and ‘cultural revivalist’ was in Portland for a speaking engagement recently and kindly granted FRQ and ALFie a visit!
Kristina discovered his work on fermentation a few years ago while expanding our bubbling and brewing frenzy. Fermentation for the most part is a strategy for safety, but it has also greatly improved the way our food tastes and how it helps us digest and stay healthy! It was when Kristina began reading Sandor Katz’s work that we decided that ALFie (the bus we are converting into an RV) would need a Fermentation Station on the road!
We were interested in learning more about Sandor’s move to the country, how he got started in sharing his skills through writing and publishing popular books (such as The Art of Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved), and his passion for all things fermented. Here is a small taste of Free Range Quest’s interview with Sandor Ellix Katz:
Katz made the leap from working in politics and PR in New York City to a farming collective in rural Tennessee, where he discovered the magic of fermentation while harvesting a particularly large vegetable crop and more or less asking himself “what do I do with all of this cabbage?”
“My yoga teacher, an herbalist, started to take me for walks in Central Park. I started feeling called by the plants and wanted a life where I could interact with the plants more and grow my own food. That sort of coincided with a random encounter of people who were a part of this community. I went down and visited a couple of times … and then I lived there.”
This opened the door to exploration of all things probiotic, the natural processes of acidification and most importantly how to make food that tastes good and is naturally probiotic. A need for the preservation of a huge crop of cabbage and rich Tennessee tradition led Sandor to break into the bubbling art of fermentation.
“I always was interested in the idea of how you make food from scratch. I had already been baking bread in my apartment, had always been interested in cheesemaking. I wasn’t specifically interested in fermentation, but then when I got a garden in Tennessee, it almost came as a shock to me that all the cabbages were ready at the same time.
I was faced with that realization I should learn to make all kinds of sauerkraut.
In Tennessee, there’s this very vibrant tradition of country wine – you make wine out of whatever you got, elderberry, blackberries, plums, so I started playing around with country winemaking, goats, cheese making and all of these kinds of projects turned into a whole obsession. I already knew that I loved the flavors but it was really that move in getting involved in the garden really gave me a practical reason [to start] fermenting.”
“Starting in 1999, these friends in Tennessee were kind of turning their family homestead into an eco-education center. They started turning their annual event – kind of in response to the Y2K scare, they turned the event into a food skills sharing event for the new millennium.
In summer of 2001, I spent the whole summer in Maine — I was not nearly as jet-set as I am now — I self-published a little zine called ‘Wild fermentation: A do-it-yourself guide to cultural fermentation’ (still available at Portland Microcosm Press.) As soon as I went to the copy shop and made hundreds of copies of it – I realized it would be a great thing to turn into a book. Then started researching the historical processes of bacteria – before the discovery of the process – just realized it would be a great thing to write about.”
And “Wild Fermentation” was born.
Developing a relationship with his food ultimately moved Katz to write about the “culinary mutiny” currently underway in the U.S.
“We live in this historical bubble where we all have these refrigerators in our home. We have this huge dependency on this little box – we have this dogma that it’s dangerous to eat food that hasn’t been in a refrigerator.
And certainly the fridge is a handy tool for extending the life of certain foods – but within a generation or two we’ve created this complete dependency on this energy-sucking machine – that we won’t necessarily all be able to have machines like this in our homes. Meanwhile, we’ve made everyone believe they couldn’t live – eat or effectively store food – if they didn’t have that
So I’m not encouraging people to throw away their frig, but think about not everyone has these and surely before now – a lot of these foods fermented foods are strategies for preserving food before people had the ability to.”
From The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved:
“Just as fermenting liquids exhibit a bubbling action similar to boiling, so do excited people, filled with passion and unrestrained. Revolutionary ideas, as they spread and mutate, ferment the culture. Agitation of fermenting liquids stimulates the process and quickens fermentation, as evidenced by increased bubbling action. Agitation similarly stimulates social ferment. The kinds of places I have visited to talk with groups and teach workshops have often been food co-ops, farmers’ markets, community spaces, and farms. I’ve met people who are reclaiming their connection to food in many exciting and hopeful ways”
“This revolution rescues traditional foods that are in danger of extinction and revives skills that will enable people to survive the inevitable collapse of the unsustainable, globalized, industrial food system. Nothing is more revolutionary than actively seeking to embody and manifest the ideals we hold.”
What a great idea for a New Year’s Resolution — To continue our own revolution daily as we seek to embody and manifest the ideals that we hold!
Happy New Year From FRQ,
-Kristina & David-