Today, Dear Readers, I’m happy to reveal my biggest experiment yet. For one year (January 1 to December 31) I am only going to live off of only fermented foods and beverages.
Yes, really: everything I eat during 2014 will be a product of fermentation. I am then going to write a book about all this fermentation business, which (depending how quickly I can turn in the manuscript in to my editor, and also depending if I can write the words real good) will then be published by Overlook Press in early 2016. Yes, as far as I have been able to determine, Overlook Press is a real actual publishing company, and not a figment of my imagination. (As I am not yet living on a diet of fermented foods, there is no reason to assume that the hallucinations have set in). The working title of the book is The Fermented Man. (Update: www.thefermentedman.com is live for daily imagery and updates.)
While I don't want to get into too much intense detail with this announcement today — I'll be blogging plenty about it over the next year and onward — I do want to answer a few of the more obvious questions about the project. And please do comment below and let me know your thoughts and questions. While my own experiences will provide a basic framework, the real point of this book is to explore the nature and usefulness of fermentation in our culture and diet. After I stumble through this year of fermented everything, I want to then walk readers through the magical world of microbes and explain how fermentation already impacts our lives — much more than even a beer nerd might realize.
You're really only eating fermented food for a year?
Yes, I really am. Like, nothing but fermented food. For one year. Sadly, that means no Double Stuf Oreos.
Are you only drinking fermented drinks, too?
I will still drink water, but otherwise, yes.
Are you insane?
Yes, but this project is unrelated.
Why are you doing this?
I have been fascinated by fermentation for years, but mostly as it relates to beer. I got this wacky idea earlier this year after learning more about different types of fermentation. At some point it clicked in my mind that there was an entire realm of fermented food out there that few people recognized or understood anymore. I want to draw people's attention to the fact that bacteria and yeast play a huge, largely beneficial role in our lives, even as we've been taught to fear them indiscriminately. There will certainly be interesting results from my personal journey — health issues and creative issues and logistical issues that result from the framework of this book (only eating fermented foods) — but to be honest, the structure is mostly just that, a concept that allows me to explore fermentation in-depth and then write about it. At the risk of spoiling the twist early on, it's not really about me.
I want this setup to get people to ask: "Wait, how can you live off that stuff?" and then, "Okay, what is 'fermented food'?" and also "Is that even good for you?" I am not trying to create a fad health craze, or the next paleo diet, or any such thing. The point of the book is definitely not to convince anyone else to only eat fermented foods — just that they should probably eat some, and be aware of what that means. By doing this myself for a whole year, I hope to prove that it's not that intimidating of a thing.
And really, most of all, I’m doing this for the insane amounts of cash money and fame up for grabs to first-time authors in the publishing industry these days. Ha ha.
Wait, can you live off that stuff?
Almost anything can be fermented. I already live mostly off vegetables, bread, and cheese, and I can conveniently continue to eat all those things. I can even drink coffee! (Without coffee, no book would ever get written.) You’ll be shocked at what all I can eat, I think. I wouldn't have agreed to this if I were just going to be miserable for the whole year — fermented foods, in addition to many other benefits, are (mostly?) quite delicious. (For example: kimchi was recently ranked in the Top 10 Awesome Smelling Foods by editors of the website www.bear-flavored.com.) The only things limiting the variety of my diet will be time, effort, resources, and that fact that I can't figure out what sort of vessel to put tacos in now.
If creating new and exciting flavors isn’t enough for you, fermentation also unlocks all sorts of nutrients, makes foods easier to digest, destroys pathogens and toxins, and may even grant the ability to shoot deadly rays of lactic acid from your mouth. Many people (perhaps entire cultures) throughout history would not have survived without preserving and enhancing foods through fermentation. People in Greenland can make it through winter by eating fermented seagulls, so not only am I fairly certain that I'll make it, but I'm also fairly certain there's an interesting book in there somewhere.
Okay, what is 'fermented food'?
Ah, the big question. So far I’ve told a number of family members and close friends about this project, and it’s interesting how standardized the responses have become. (Of course, that’s half the point.) Answering this question requires a bit of rambling on my part, and I don’t want to dump out too much info on you today. As a follow-up, I have an entire entry covering this question — and of course, keep up with me for much much more.
What if you can’t find something to eat?
When I was first brainstorming this idea with my editor and debating whether it even could be done, the initial sticking point, for me, was traveling. Clearly, traveling is going to be a little dicey — just visiting friends for an evening, heading to neighborhood cook-outs, or even (especially) going out to dinner. When hiking or out on day trips, I will simply have to prepare a bit ahead of time and figure out a few things that are easily portable. Traveling extensively will be hard, but also part of the adventure.
Most restaurants, and many stores, do not serve any sort of fermented vegetable or specialty foods, but as a last resort, I can find bread and cheese to eat just about anywhere. On the other hand, relying too heavily on just bread and cheese would not make for a very good diet, or a very interesting book. It is in my best interest to keep things interesting, because if the book (and blog) are not interesting, I don’t know why you would want to read it.
Will you be blogging about this?
Within the next few weeks, I plan to launch a separate blog which will document my experience on a more day-to-day level — mostly through pictures and brief explanations of different fermentation processes, dishes, and traditions. After debating for a while, I decided I wanted Bear Flavored to pretty much retain the format it has, with longer essay / recipe-based musings. Of course, there will be overlap. I hope to learn a great deal about fermentation in general, and I expect the things I learn about different fermentive microbes (primarily LAB) to come in useful for enhancing my wild ales, as well. There’s so, so much left to discover out there.
I’m not over the health thing, frankly. Are you sure this will be safe?
Good question, and I appreciate your concern. I will write whole sections about this in the book, but suffice it to say that most fermented food is considered very healthy. And I say most — common sense should still be observed. While it would be very easy to just eat a brick of cheese for every meal, I think even the staunchest proponent of fermtive health will agree that this would not be great for me.
I do plan to consult a doctor throughout the year, at the very least. In fact, here is where you might be able to help me out, or even play a role in my book. Do you know a nutritionist, doctor, or scientist that is possibly interested in studying the results of someone eating only fermented foods for a year? I would love to speak with such people about health issues, have them monitor any superpowers I may develop, or simply interview anyone interested in fermentation from a scientific / research standpoint. If you know anyone who is involved with this stuff professionally, please drop me a line!
Will you be on Oprah / Dr. Phil / The View?
Frankly, I don't think it's a question of "if," but "how many times?"
You should really look into [person] / [place] / [thing].
I plan to interview all sorts of experts and enthusiasts involved in all sorts of fermentation for the book, and the blog. Please do not hesitate to ask me questions, leave me suggestions, send me recipes, set me up with potential resources, or wander the streets handing out pamphlets explaining what I’m doing. All input and aid is very welcome.
How can I follow along?
Start here at www.bear-flavored.com for my continued brewing adventures, and stay tuned for my fermented food blog. Follow me on Twitter @bearflavored, follow Bear Flavored on Facebook, and Instagram.