The Role of Cultured Foods in a Sustainable Food System: Food Preservation

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Fermentation is a funny thing; it kind of just happens. But most of us do what we can to control it. We add salt to our vegetables to keep them crisp and preserve them longer. We add specific cultures to our milk to manipulate the flavor of the end product. And we go out of our way to make it work for us.

But fermented foods as we know them, for the most part, were discovered often times by accident. And it is those accidents that we now cherish and add to our meals. But our ancestors most likely considered the best parts of these foods to not be the delicious flavors they add, but the preservation qualities of the fermented foods themselves.

This form of food preservation has been going on for generations, and for good reason. Before canning and freezing and the modern day appliances that made all of that possible, fermentation could preserve food with very little added energy or special ingredients. And that is precisely what makes it a more sustainable means of food preservation today.

Here’s what I mean.

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Shannon

Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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The Role of Cultured Foods in a Sustainable Food System: Introduction

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Branching off from our series on ancestral fermentation, I thought I’d start a series on how exactly cultured foods play an integral role in a truly sustainable food system. But first, I think it’s important that we address what a sustainable food system looks like, and how the current food system is broken.

Anyone who is interested in nourishing their family probably takes an interest in avoiding GMOs, chemically sprayed foods, and improper animal husbandry. But what is the alternative and where exactly have we gone wrong?

Not long ago, things looked very different at our table, in our kitchens, and on our lands. We could point to anyone of these three places and find an enormous shift from just 100 years ago. Let’s take a look at each.

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Shannon

Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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Ancestral Fermentation: Catching a Wild Sourdough Starter

Sourdough cultures have been credited with keeping the Pioneers alive as they traveled across country to start a new life in the West. They carried with them very little in supplies – accounts of flour sacks, molasses jars, and salt pork telling the tale.

I have always enjoyed reading of this time period, as I think it gives some great perspective. But you don’t have to go much further than the Little House on the Prairie series to hear how one or two meals of pancakes and salt pork a day made up a good part of the diet while traveling.

And those pancakes were often made with the sourdough starter the family carried with them. It makes sense to me. If you’re going to subsist mostly on flour products, then fermenting them first – both for nutrition and taste – makes a great deal of sense.

Back then, if a sourdough starter wasn’t given to you by a friend who had already established one, then you were going to have to make one yourself. It’s certainly not complicated, but it does take a bit of dedication, and it might surprise you a bit that we’re not just catching yeast from the surrounding air.

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Shannon

Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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Ancestral Fermentation: Living in a World Without Refrigeration

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During my earliest days of being introduced to the world of fermentation, I was apprehensive and a bit worried.

Worried that I might poison my husband by putting milk in an oven with a pilot light with nothing more than a few tablespoons of yogurt to do the culturing.

Worried that those vegetables were going to smell putrid, not pleasantly sour after a few days bubbling away on the counter.

But, you know what, they were fine. Actually, they were great, and they opened up a whole new way of thinking about food. A world where pasteurization and refrigeration aren’t necessary, a world somewhat similar to what our ancestors would have known.

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Shannon

Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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