Tuesday, December 3, 2013

For One Year, I Will Eat Only Fermented Foods, Then Publish a Book About It

The Fermented Man

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.


  1. What an awesome journey you are about to embark on. Such a great idea. Can't wait to follow your Fermencation (Is that a thing? I think it is now). Cheers!

    1. Hahaha. How has no one come up with that term before? Brilliant! (And thanks for the encouragement!)

  2. Has your path crossed Sandor Katz' (author of several notable books on fermentation) yet?

    1. Of course, yeah. I have both his books, and Art of Fermentation was pretty much the first thing I tackled on the subject. It'll be a go-to resource throughout the year. I have not met him in person or been to any of the classes / lectures he gives, but hopefully one day, as this thing unfolds!

  3. I wish you luck, and I look forward to reading this as it unfolds.

  4. It's not as crazy as it first sounds. You basically just get to eat delicacies for year. Sounds awesome.

    1. Hahaha. Don't tell too many people this, I have to maintain suspense.

  5. What a damn cool idea! Really interested to see the ups and downs, and the interesting bits you'll document for the book. Congrats on the book deal and best of luck with the project!

    1. Thank you very much! I'm super super excited about this, and all the feedback is making me even more so.

  6. Wow dude, you ARE crazy!
    Though I suppose it wouldn't be too hard to pull off - bread, cheese, buttermilk, every sort of pickle imaginable, beer, some more beer, top off with beer, followed by some nice beer. Spirits are also products of fermentation... You may as well start smoking a pipe since pipe tobaccos are extensively fermented, lending them the vast variety of flavors and aromas, and only get better with age and thus more fermentation.
    In any case, I'll be following your adventured for sure!

    P.S. I love the new logo!

    1. Hahaha I know. But hey, I'll have more of that beet kvass for you.

      That's it though, there are so many fallbacks. (And so, so much beer.) I spent a good month or two thinking about whether I could do this, and the more I thought about it, and read about fermentation, the more I felt it would not be nearly as hard as it sounds at first.

      Is cigar tobacco fermented? I've never smoked a pipe, but I guess this kind of demands it.


    2. I don't think cigars are intentionally fermented. I know they change over time due to microbe activity, but that's about it I think. My cigar knowledge ends about there :) Pipe tobaccos though, depending on the variety and the way it's processed, are actually kept in vats and barrels for up to 18 months and get darker and more complex over time if kept properly.
      Be very careful if you try it, it's just as "addictive" as homebrewing and just as vast and versatile. Speaking as a guy who started reading about it at some point and ended up with about 10 years worth of tobacco supply...
      But back to beer. I imagine a lot of stouts and bocks will make it into your rotation if you go ahead with it. Yeah I don't think you'd have much of a problem. Just be careful since most fermented foods tend to be on the salty side as well.

    3. Haha, good to know. I should probably stop collecting hobbies...

      Yep, The salt thing was one of my first thoughts as far as possible health concerns — the only thing I'd really worry about "overdoing." But I don't think fermented vegetables are necessarily that high in salt compared to most store-bought, processed food. The comparison is something I really want to try to look into more.

  7. What a bombshell of an announcement. Good luck Derek and I'll be following along closely. Take some pictures of the fridge and all the backup cultures you'll likely be storing.

    1. Thanks Aidan. I'll definitely be taking tons of pictures of all sorts of things.

  8. Can I come down and spend New Year's Eve with you? I think it'll be hilarious to see what you'll be stuffing into you THAT day, before this all starts!

    Congrats, though, that's awesome news!

    1. Thanks!

      You are more than welcome to. I've actually thought about that, and will be taking suggestions for my last day of meals. I need to go all out, clearly.

    2. I think starting with those Oreos is a good idea... and go from there.

    3. I will figure out how to ferment Oreos, don't you worry.

  9. No kidding, I will be doing this right alongside you. I am water fasting for the first month of 2014. I have fasted a few times in the past for up to 10 days. I really want to fast for 30 days this time. I currently have a few gallons of sauerkraut and other vegetables fermenting to end my fast with. I stumbled upon this page while trying to find information on fermented meat. I am definitely going to be a raw foodist from this day forward and that will include a TON of fermented vegetables. I really want to ferment all sorts of meat and maybe even my own cheeses. No joke, I will buy this book from you in advance, or just donate to your efforts. This is going to be a very valuable book!! I am worried that I will lose contact with this blog or not be able to find your new blog. In case that happens, please email or facebook me a link to the new blog so that I can follow it. Please also keep in mind that I need a fermented fish and/or meat recipe soon. My email: thomasgthyne@gmail.com facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thomas.thyne

    1. Cool, a 30 day fast sounds quite ambitious! Glad you found my blog. I'm not sure I can help you out with any fermented meat recipes at the moment — it'll be a while until I try making those at home myself. I'd have to defer to the experts myself.

      If you're on Facebook, you can follow my page at www.facebook.com/bearflavored so you don't have to worry about losing touch. Thanks!

  10. how did this turn out?


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