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

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.

At Our Table


If you’ve ever read Farmer Boy or any of the other Little House on the Prairie books, you’ll notice food plays an enormous part in the story. And, to me, it’s fascinating.

First of all, it was an important part of the family and community. It brought people together, gathered them under one roof or around one table spread and nourished them both physically and emotionally because of that.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the gathering of the family to the table happened every day, mostly three times per day. Eating out was very rare, and because producing food was a part of their work, eating the fruits of their labor became a joyous, and continuously changing part of their lives. Sometimes there was plenty and other times things were scarce.

In Our Kitchens


It takes time to prepare food from scratch. Many of you know that. And without electricity or running water it takes even longer. But it is fulfilling work, the nourishing of one’s family, even when it is all encompassing.

Spending less time in the kitchen has been directly related to two things:

  1. Convenient devices such as electrically run refrigerators and appliances.
  2. Convenient foods that are prepared in a factory and take little time to bring to the table.

And history has shown that when the first came into being, the second followed shortly thereafter.This is not surprising as the lure of less time spent in the kitchen lead from one to another while businesses found a growing market when they enticed us from home-cooked to store-bought.

Now some will say that we should not have to be a slave to our kitchens, but I would argue that this is simply work that needs to be done, and someone has to do it, if we are to eat real, sustainable foods. So the daily work of cooking, preserving, and cleaning up is just one aspect of a sustainable food system.

On Our Land


The changes in our kitchen and at our table are the fruit of a much larger change elsewhere. Nowhere has a larger shift occurred, arguably for the worst, than on the land.

Here is a bit of agrarian history for you:

  • In 1760 farmers made up 90% of the workforce.
  • In 1840 farmers made up 69% of the workforce.
  • In 1900 farmers made up 38% of the workforce.
  • In 1950 farmers made up 12.2% of the workforce.
  • In 1990 farmers made up 2.6% of the workforce.

We have completely shifted from a nation of producers to a nation of consumers, from a nation of agrarians to a nation of industrialists. When we went from having the majority of the population play a role in food production for their families and their communities, to outsourcing this most basic of responsibilities to large corporations who could get it done efficiently, we completely shifted the food system from small and sustainable to large and unsustainable.

Now, you may be asking yourself what does cultured food have to do with all of this?


Well, cultured foods have always been a part or product of traditional, sustainable food systems. In fact, they were often discovered on accident when people had been living off the land without modern day conveniences. So, while farming practices are tantamount to getting back to a sustainable way of eating, cultured foods are what comes next.

So, join me as we discuss how cultured foods play a vital role in creating a more sustainable food system. And, please, share your own thoughts on the topic in the comments.


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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  1. Claudia says

    Is this a series that one signs-up to receive? If the onus is on us to continue reading future info on this topic how might we be reminded to do so? Thanks.

    Ah! Scrolling down I find the answer to my question. Now I just have to do some subtraction to qualify…

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