Farm to Table Conference speaker promotes health in fermented foods

Fermented foods help people stay healthy, says Sandor Katz.

And the really good news? You've been eating and drinking them for years.

Yogurt, cheese, bread, sauerkraut, chocolate, pickles, wine, cider and beer all are fermented, as are the more esoteric kimchi, miso, kefir and kombucha.

Mr. Katz, whose mission is to spread the gospel of fermentation, is the keynote speaker at this weekend's Farm to Table Conference, held tomorrow and Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

This is the second year (and a new location) for the conference, which brings together farmers, nonprofit groups, markets and other food-related businesses to show consumers the resources available for eating locally.

You can't get more local than making sauerkraut from home-grown cabbage, and that's how Mr. Katz's fascination with fermentation began 14 years ago. His kraut is far from traditional; to the cabbage he's added carrots, onions, garlic, seaweed, greens, Brussels sprouts, turnips, beets, and burdock roots.

Although kraut can be processed and canned, Mr. Katz prefers his straight from the crock. "So much of the power of sauerkraut is its aliveness that I wonder: Why kill it?" he writes on his Web site,, which gives sauerkraut- and pickle-making instructions.

Fermented foods are good for us because they promote microbial cultures in the body, Mr. Katz writes in his book, "Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods" (Chelsea Green, 2003).

"Biodiversity, increasingly recognized as critical to the survival of larger-scale ecosystems, is just as important at the micro level. Call it microbiodiversity. Your body is an ecosystem that can function most effectively when populated by diverse species of microorganisms."

Fermentation is a popular, low-tech method of do-it-yourself food preservation around the world, especially in Southeast Asia, but not so much in America.

Because fermented foods also can cause botulism, it's important to learn how to do it correctly.

The day after the conference, from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Mr. Katz will lead an Introduction to Fermentation workshop at the East End Food Co-op, demonstrating how easy it is to make your own kimchi (a Korean dish of spicy, fermented vegetables), kefir (a cultured milk product) and more.

(Seating is limited; call 412-242-3598 to register. Fee: Sliding scale donation of $5-$20 payable at the lecture.)

A New York City native and retired policy wonk, Mr. Katz lives at Short Mountain Sanctuary, a small, rural commune of gay and lesbian people in Tennessee. He has been HIV-positive since the 1980s and believes fermented foods are an important part of his health and well-being.

At the Farm to Table Conference, Mr. Katz will speak from 4 to 5:30 p.m. tomorrow on "Local Food Beyond Consumerism: Sustainability is Participation."

Organized by Pathways to SmartCare, the conference features more than 30 exhibitors and two days of speakers and cooking demonstrations; for a full schedule, see

Hours are noon to 6 p.m. tomorrow and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The $15 fee includes both days; for students 13 to 18 it's $10, and children under 12 are admitted free. A local food-tasting event, from 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow, has an additional $20 fee. Information or to register: 412-563-8800.

Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590. Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590.


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