The Fermented Man: Learning to Eat Simple Foods

September 28, 2017

Reviewing The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution, by Derek Dellinger (New York: The Overlook Press, 2016)

Derek Dellinger is a homebrewer whose interest in fermented food and drink expanded until he decided to do an experiment, eating and drinking only fermented food and beverage for an entire year. In this book he opens the mysteries of fermenting, delving into the ways that microbes work and why those in properly fermented food and drink are good for us. Dellinger explains the industrialized food industry in the United States, indicating how often it diminishes the quality and variety of the foods that are available to consumers.

The book recounts the author’s experiments in fermenting, some disappointing, others successful, and provides instructions and eleven recipes. Although the book’s subtitle refers to “the front lines of a food revolution,” the author clearly states that he is not urging readers to adopt the fermented way of life he followed for the year.

At the end of his twelve months he went back to a pattern of nutrition that included many of the unfermented foods he had set aside for twelve months. A few moments after midnight of the year his experiment ended he “plowed through a bowl of guacamole perhaps a bit too fast.” When he couldn’t finish the entire bowl he realized that he really wasn’t all that hungry and that his stomach had shrunk during the year. He decided to take it easy to let his stomach get used to the changes. “Some part of me now wanted my caloric intake in small and steady, efficient doses.”

Dellinger quickly realized that some popular and easily obtained foods, in addition to sauerkraut, are fermented, including bread, cheese, yogurt, and salami. Beer, cider, kombucha, and wine can be found most places. To live for a year on this short list of food and drink, however, would be incredibly boring and would be lacking in a full range of nutrition. Dellinger learned to find sources of already prepared fermented food and  prepared many for himself.

For some foods, especially vegetables, fermentation is straight forward: cut up the raw food, pack it tightly in glass jars, cover it with water, and add a little salt to the mix. Screw the lids down, but leave them just loose enough that carbon dioxide released by the microbial process can burp its way out.

Switching to his 100% microbial diet had an immediate and strong effect upon Dellinger’s body. It was relatively easy to maintain a nutritional balance, but getting enough protein took special effort. His health was good, but he was tired more than he liked. He stayed thin, even though he ate a lot of cheese. Especially interesting is the way that this special diet seemed to distance him from the typical American desire for abundance, variety, and satiation.

Dellinger points out that fermentation and fire (however the heat is applied) are two basic processes by which raw foods are transformed in texture, flavor, and nutritional properties. Fermentation and fire destroy harmful microbes and preserve foods.

Several chapters focus upon specific food groups and describe Dellinger’s efforts to learn how they are fermented and how it affects them. Dairy products, especially cheese and cultured butter, receive full attention. Natural processes of microbial transformation and the artificial processes of pasteurization are contrasted.

A chapter entitled “Differences Between White Bread and Cotton Candy” explains why the kind of bread that is widely used in the United States has been so altered in ingredients and manufacturing that its nutritional value is little different from that of cotton candy. Much to be preferred, he writes is bread made with a short list of ingredients—whole grain flour, yeast or sour dough starter, water, and maybe salt. It is mixed, kneaded, allowed to rise, given time to rest, and baked.

It’s the kind of bread my mother baked in a wood fired kitchen stove. I’ve thought about learning how to bake it myself, but for the time being will be content with sour dough multigrain bread made from scratch with basic ingredients that I can buy in a shop a few blocks from where I live.

At book’s end, Dellinger writes that he continues to eat simply and that “the pattern of simple eating may actually be the greatest shift in my long-term diet. . .The less complicated the food, the harder it is to overeat, and to overeat of things you maybe shouldn’t be eating much of at all.”



Wondering Around God

September 21, 2017

Two questions arise for most self-reflecting people. How did I come to be the person I now am? Have I become my real self yet? Elva Anson’s memoir, Wondering Around God (Fair Oaks, California: Emidra Publishing, 2017), is a thoughtful and candid exploration of her eighty-five years of life in which she seeks to answer these questions.

She describes her childhood and coming of age in small communities in the South San Joaquin Valley near Fresno, California. Because her father was pastor of Assembly of God churches, much of the detail in her life was shaped by religious ideas and practices—intense religious experience and the sense of the immediacy of God and Jesus; conservative, Bible-based doctrinal system; and strict rules about behavior, including a social pattern in which the father is head of the household and very much in control.

Despite a deep love for her family, Anson struggled with this system. She was fully engaged in church and public school activities, often in leadership positions, and sometimes experiencing conflict between competing systems. When she was invited to play cymbals in the school marching band, her father would not consent because his understanding of the Bible would not allow her to wear pants.

This challenge was resolved at one level when the band director decided that all the girls would wear white skirts while marching. At another level, however, the conflict remained. When she was visiting her grandpa’s farm, she was permitted to wear overalls when cleaning out the fox pens, and in the Bible men wore robes that looked like women’s clothing. How did these facts mesh with the rules her father laid down?

Anson’s struggles became more intense during her late teens as she focused attention on who she wanted to be. She knew that she did not want to be a missionary nor did she want to be a minister’s wife. “All of my wondering made thinking of the future confusing and difficult. “What I knew I didn’t want to be made me reluctant to try to find out what God wanted me to be” (p. 75).  Read more Wondering Around God

Liturgies in a Time When Cities Burn

September 6, 2017

Fifty years ago, in August 1967, my family and I moved temporarily to Seattle. Although the political temperature was heating up all around the country, we could not have imagined the terror that would descend upon the nation during the next few months,  a period that was climaxed by the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, riots and burnings in more than a hundred American cities, and the anti-Vietnam War rage in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.

By design, I spent part of my time that year working as a member of the staff of University Christian Church, presiding at worship, teaching classes, and serving as consultant to church committees. I talked with people and listened to their conversations, trying to sense the mood of congregants in one large metropolitan congregation.

Most of my time, however, was devoted to research and writing. My intention was to read in the fields of anthropology and sociology in order to broaden my understanding of the cultural function of worship and other modes of public ritual. Quickly my attention came into focus on a short list of philosophical writings.

I wanted to understand Ernst Cassirer’s writings on the philosophy of knowledge and Susanne K. Langer’s exposition of the relation of cultural forms to human feeling. These two philosophers drew upon a wide range of scientific data in order to develop their overlapping philosophies of feeling and form. Although neither of them affirmed the Christian gospel, they helped me understand religious faith and liturgical action in ways that have sustained me ever since.

I also took advantage of the year to read more broadly in a wide range of theological and cultural studies, guided in part by articles in Saturday Review which I read faithfully. I jotted down notes and reflections and incorporated some of these ideas into longer essays or presentations that I made in my work at the church and in travels around the country during the year.

During the final weeks of my research leave, I gathered these occasional writings together and edited them into a book that was published in 1969. Its title, Liturgies in a Time When Cities Burn, identifies its central idea. The final paragraph gives a succinct summary of what the book contains.

In this time of violent passage various forms of the racial myth, with their intimations of the miraculous and the mysterious, have arisen to give us hope. The results—injustice, inhumanity, genocide, assassination—reveal the inadequacy of this way out of our deep anxiety.

Impotent, too, is the traditional wisdom enshrined in the liturgies of the church, for Christian worship has been demonized, transmuted from a witness against us to a means of our self-justification.

In order to lead us in creating a new society, in some time yet to come, the Christian liturgy of Word and Sacrament must be revivified, purged of its demonic traits, filled again with the qualities which it is supposed to have.

The table of contents indicates the scope of this relatively short book: Violent Passage; Ritual Becoming High Art; Feeling and Form; Liturgical Style; Guidelines for the Free Tradition; Weekend and Holy Day; How Do We Get There from Here? An Interesting Thought, but Can It Cool the Summer? The book concludes with an appendix of prayers for worship, bibliographic notes, and index.

Despite the fact that this book is grounded in events and research that took place half a century ago, it still seems relevant to church people today. It would be difficult to rewrite the book because it is so intertwined with what I was reading and experiencing in the 1960s. There are places, however, where relatively simple editing could be done that would increase its usefulness for today, and that I may decide to work at this kind of uipdating.

The book is available in a few libraries here and there. Used copies are listed by some book sellers. Let me know what you think about it.

As frontispiece, I used a statement from Philosophical Sketches by Susanne K. Langer. We are living, she wrote in 1964, in a new Middle Ages, “a time of transition from one social order to another. . .We feel ourselves swept along in a violent passage, from a world we cannot salvage to one we cannot see; and most people are afraid.” Half a century later, we seem to be living in that same world.