Laura Lea Berry ‘10 gaped at the people streaming into Simpson 3 on March 3. “I’ve never seen it so full in my time here,” she stated flatly. “Never.” Over two hundred people came for the first presenter in the Vermont’s Table Speaker Series, noted fermentation revivalist and New York Times best-selling author Sandor Katz.
The Vermont’s Table Speaker Series, co-sponsored by Sterling College and Galaxy Bookshop, is designed to bring contemporary perspectives and visionary speakers on local and global food systems to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Katz’s latest book, The Art of Fermentation, veers away from the how-to ethic of his previous book Wild Fermentation. It, and the talk he gave at Sterling, was more a philosophical exploration of fermentation and how it is practiced by every culture on Earth.
The word “culture” is used for both the specific microorganisms that ferment food items, as well as for human society. Katz linked both by stating that a culinary culture is made up of the microorganisms that help create foods and drinks that characterize a society.
Katz was passionate about these microorganisms that have evolved along with humanity, and deplores the current phobia of bacteria in Western society.He reminded the audience that bacteria outnumber human cells by ten to one in our own bodies. “Coexistence,” he said, “is imperative.”
After his talk, there was a lively question-and-answer period with the audience. The first question was a question on food safety.
Katz laughed, and said he’s conducted thousands of workshops to teach people how to make sauerkraut and similar foods, and in every single one, people are concerned about getting the wrong kind of bacteria in their foods.
He reassured the audience that fermented foods made with raw vegetables were pefectly safe, but did note that fermentation with meat or milk needed to have more safety parameters.
“The number of reported fatalities from eating fermented vegetables, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” he said, “is exactly zero.”
“Once cabbage is chopped, salted, and fermented in its own juice, natural bacteria take over, acidifying the environment and destroying natural bacteria.”
After the question and answer period, Katz signed books for a steady stream of fans. All three of his books—The Art of Fermentation, Wild Fermentation, and The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved—were on sale outside of Simpson 3 by Galaxy Bookshop.
The talk capped a very busy stay for Katz. He gave a fermentation workshop in the Sterling College kitchen for community members. He also toured Jasper Hill Farm and High Mowing Seeds.
Katz said of his visit to Sterling College and the surrounding area, “It was a great pleasure to visit Sterling College. The students impressed me with the breadth of their knowledge and experience, and their depth of interest in fermentation. It’s impressive to meet young people interested in both practical application and theoretical ideas. I am also grateful for the opportunity to see local cheesemaking, brewing, maple sugaring, seed growing, and other food-related enterprises in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Sterling is situated in an environment rich in local food production, and thereby rich in education stimulation. Thanks for a great visit!” •