A diagnosis of stomach cancer and the need for radical surgery led a writer named Anna Stoessinger to plan a series of meals before surgery. She and her husband care enormously about food:
My husband and I have been known to spend our rent money on the tasting menu at Jean Georges, our savings on caviar or wagyu tartare. We plan our vacations around food — the province of China known for its chicken feet, the village in Turkey that grows the sweetest figs, the town in northwest France with the very best raclette.
Yet in her two-page article she doesn’t mention fermented food even once. (Leaving aside a mention of cheese.) Here are some foods she does mention:
- roast duck, crostini and rich fish stews
- roast chicken with leeks
- roadside cheeseburgers, bonito with ginger sauce, hazelnut gelato
- peanut butter and jelly doughnuts, ginger ice cream, sashimi, grilled porterhouse, wild blueberries
- foie gras and fig torchon
- butter-poached smoked lobster
- passion fruit coulis
- butter-seared scallops
- wild boar terrine and Guinness vegetable soup with rosemary whipped cream
- apple and cinnamon tarte tartin
Of the thousands of fermented foods, eaten daily by people all over the world from time immemorial, nothing. To me, it’s like she’s had a stroke and has spatial neglect. She is unaware of half the visual field but doesn’t notice anything wrong. The absence of fermented foods from her article reflects the larger near-total absence of fermented foods in American restaurants (both high and low), supermarkets, cookbooks, newspapers, and health advice.
I no longer use cookbooks. I rarely use spices. I make the food I cook taste good by adding fermented foods — for example, miso or yogurt or stinky tofu or fermented bean paste. The result is much tastier than almost anything I can get in restaurants (if I say so myself) and no doubt much healthier.
Ms. Stoessinger’s article reads like a series of boasts: look how much I know and care about food. I think that’s part of the problem: You can’t boast about fermented food. It doesn’t require expensive skilled preparation to taste delicious. You can’t impress guests with fermented food, you just serve it. A bowl of miso soup: big deal. The bacteria made it delicious, not you. So fermented food can’t be a high-end product. Nor can it be a low-end mass-produced product because it takes too long to make, is hard to standardize, and is “objectionable” (e.g., stinky tofu). The growth of our modern food economy has pushed it to the margins, with very bad consequences for our health.