Getting to Know Ourselves: Our Microbiome, and Fermentation as an Act of Healing
This week in Farm to Table class, we explored coevolution, fermentation and the gut!
The human microbiome is arguably understated, considering how central it is to our experience of health, wellness and life itself. The gut assimilates the food we eat into nutrients while also moderating our immunity, detoxification, brain development, energy levels, cell regeneration, and countless other body systems. As such, these crafty little inhabitants of our microvilli serve as the mediators between our selves and the world around us. They also constitute a world within us: scientists believe that at least half of the cells in our body belong to microbes, constituting over 10,000 species. So when you “trust your gut”, you are taking advice from trillions upon trillions of microbial voices. Our microbiome is amazing!
After getting better acquainted with our microcosmic counterparts, we discussed the benefits of fermentation and made kimchi, a traditional fermented Korean side dish. Students split into stations and chopped and grated napa cabbage, green onions, carrots, daikon radish, garlic and ginger. Together we salted and massaged the veggies with chili flakes and pack them tightly into jars, to be shared after spring break. We tasted kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, and some homemade pickled limes; it's always exciting to watch students react to new tastes, or see their eyes light up with familiar flavors. Fermented foods have a more profound place in our diet than many may realize; cheese, yogurt and kefir, coffee, bread, beer and wine, soy sauce and most other condiments, pickles and some meats and fish we have subsisted on, thanks to the process of fermentation, for thousands of years. Only relatively recently has Western culture waged a war against bacteria, and within our current industrialized food model we are increasingly disconnected from the process of growing, preparing, preserving, healing and connecting through our food.
As we explore fermentation in Farm to Table class, we find so many ways in which it connects to our greater values of peace, justice and sustainability. The process of fermentation is an opportunity to reconnect with our food, our communities, and our own power to heal. It creates a space to celebrate food stories and locate ourselves within many intertwined, rich cultural histories. It is an opportunity to reconfigure our roles as consumers in a fragile, fossil-fueled, sterilized, capitalist food model. And it is an opportunity to proactively support the health of our body systems and communities outside of the pharmaceutical-dominated biomedical model.
And it is a chance to share good company, microbial and human alike!