The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz was published two weeks and I got a copy from the publisher. It has a few conceptual chapters (“fermentation as a coevolutionary force”, health benefits, small business)  but most of it is DIY, how to ferment X, Y, and Z. Unlike a set of recipes, he includes background with each food so the result is a cross between an encyclopedia and a cookbook. There are also several pages of color photographs, cute marginal drawings, and excellent lists of references and sources. It covers lots of stuff I rarely see. For example, there is one page on fermenting eggs. When I’m in China, I eat lots of fermented eggs. The book doesn’t mention the controversy in China about heavy metals in the fermented eggs.

The author’s enthusiasm is contagious and I’m sure the book will encourage me to ferment more stuff. Nowadays I just make yogurt, kefir, and kombucha — not even sauerkraut. I once got a book called something like The Book of Yogurt that consisted of 30 different yogurt recipes — which differed from each other by only about 5%. Page after page the same with only minor differences. Talk about cut and paste! I got rid of it (“this is useless!”) but now I wish I had saved it because it was so funny.

Which is only to say that food writing is either incredibly difficult or incredibly awful. I used to subscribe to Saveur. Some of their recipes were very good. The writing was awful, however — like something from a tourist guide. Please, don’t tell me how beautiful the country, how friendly the cook, or how tasty the food! Katz does better than that, especially when he is describing what he has actually done. But about half of the book reminds me of my first piece of extended writing — a “state report” about Maine that I did when I was in fifth grade. I went to several encyclopedias and copied the interesting stuff. Katz has gone to quite a few books and copied the interesting stuff.

In at least one case, he has copied too much. I have made yogurt hundreds of times. Only in the beginning did I do something like what practically everyone in America, including Katz, advocates: heat the milk up, let it cool, put in the culture. Now I just take the milk from the refrigerator, put in a tiny amount of culture, surround the milk with hot water (using a Chinese yogurt-making machine that keeps the water warm), and wait. So much easier. The final product is better (smoother, thicker) than the old hard way, especially when I learned that tiny amounts of culture work better than large amounts. “In my experience, cultures from commercial yogurts never maintain their viability beyond a few generations,” Katz writes. My experience is different: I’ve never had a problem using them.

In contrast to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, The Art of Fermentation is more personal, more hands-on, and less scientific, all of which are improvements, in my opinion. It is also more opinionated, which since the opinions are commonplace, is bad. “I too love the beer they are usually thinking of . . . However I define beer more broadly than the famous 1516 Bavarian beer purity law . . . I define beer as a fermented alcoholic beverage in which . . . ” At another point, to my surprise, he mentions Jane Jacobs and her theory that agriculture began in cities. “If Jacobs’s theory is correct, then fermentation practices must also have had urban roots,” writes Katz. This is not interesting. The small business chapter is interesting whenever Katz is telling the story of a small business and uninteresting the rest of the time (“Consistency is not necessarily important to the home experimentalist”).

Oh well. I am glad to have a book that will encourage me to ferment more stuff and from which I can learn a lot about fermentation. The book is obviously a labor of love and there are not many of those.

Assorted Links

  • Benefits of fermented wheat germ extract
  • Why Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is unlikely. A list of AGW-associated “miracles”. Some of my favorites: “Unique among all sciences, climatology develops yet finds no surprises whatsoever, apart from when it’s worse than we thought” and “AGW is a grave threat to humanity, yet it can take the backseat when AGWers have to score their petty points (such as not sharing their data with the “wrong” people)” and “Having won an Oscar, a Nobel Prize and innumerable awards, having occupied more or less every audio or video broadcast for years, having had the run of more or less every newspaper for the same length of time, suddenly AGW leaders declare they’re not “great communicators” and blame this for the generally high levels of skepticism.”
  • Denmark has started to tax butter. “To discourage poor eating habits and raise revenue.”
  • Life-saving personal science: Mom figures out cause of daughter’s problems. “One spring night in 2002, she stumbled upon an old photocopy of a 1991 Los Angeles Times article that described a young girl whose condition had uncanny parallels with [her daughter’s].”

Thanks to David Cramer.

More News about Liberation Therapy

An Italian surgeon, Paolo Zamboni, claimed that he found low blood flow from the brain in 100% of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). He began by studying his wife.

A new study supports the connection:

The Canadian researchers analyzed eight studies from Italy, Germany, Jordan and the U.S. that involved 664 MS patients in total. The studies looked at how frequently CCSVI [chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency] was found in people with MS compared to healthy people or those with other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

One of the studies — Zamboni’s — found CCSVI in 100 per cent of people with MS, and zero per cent of people without the disease. Other studies found the vein abnormalities in people who didn’t have MS.

Overall, when the results were combined, people with MS were 13.5 times more likely to have CCSVI. Even when the study by Zamboni — which generated the excitement about CCSVI — was removed, the syndrome was 3.7 times more common in people with MS.

Thanks to Anne Weiss.

Examples of MS Liberation Therapy

This story from the Globe and Mail describes what happened to ten Canadians who left the country to get liberation therapy for their multiple sclerosis (MS). The therapy consists of widening veins that drain blood from the brain. The therapy does not always work, but it usually does. The improvement is so fast and large — comparable to giving someone with scurvy Vitamin C — that the thing being changed must be the source of the problem.

Mainstream MS researchers missed this completely. The mainstream view is that MS is an auto-immune disease (e.g., according to Mayo Clinic staff). This view would never lead you to the liberation surgery. Doctors not only have the wrong idea, they are unwilling to defend it. A woman in the Globe and Mail story tried to get the anti-liberation argument from neurologists. She couldn’t:

Unfortunately the neurologists are all hysterical. You can’t talk to them.

Remember this the next time someone tells you that ulcers are not caused by stress but are actually caused by bacteria — as several contributors to this EDGE symposium claim.

The vast improvement in understanding of MS came about because someone with the necessary expertise (a professor of surgery) cared more than most MS researchers because his wife had MS. I think this is why my self-experimentation found such different solutions than mainstream science: because (a) I cared more than the professional researchers who studied the subject (e.g., sleep) and (b) I had the necessary expertise to do research. I discuss this here.

Thanks to Anne Weiss.

Epilepsy’s Big, Fat Miracle …

… is the title of a New York Times Magazine article about the ketogenic diet, a treatment for childhood epilepsy, which I’ve blogged about several times (here, here, here, here, here). It’s a very-high-fat diet. It interests me for two reasons: (a) It connects a high-fat diet with proper brain function, as my self-experiments have done. A curious feature of the ketogenic diet is that it isn’t permanent. After several years the child can go off it. My self-experimentation suggests that Americans eat far too little of certain fats. Perhaps eating enough of these fats would prevent childhood epilepsy. (b) It shows how someone who cares enough — in this case, Jim Abrahams, whose son had epilepsy — can be more effective than professional researchers and doctors. Abrahams rediscovered the diet. He saw its value, the professionals didn’t. I’ve argued that this is part of why my self-experimentation found new solutions to common problems: because I had those problems. I cared more about finding a workable solution than researchers in those areas, who had several other concerns (publication, funding, acceptance, etc.).

The details of the article reminded me of something I learned in the BBC series The Story of Science. For hundreds of years, medical students were told, following Aristotle, that the liver has three lobes. It doesn’t. You might think that examination of thousands of actual livers would have dispelled the wrong idea, but it didn’t. The article contains many examples of doctors ignoring perfectly good evidence in favor of nonsense they read in a book or heard in a lecture. Epilepsy is easy to measure. If a child has 100 seizures per day, and has been having them at this rate for years, and this goes down to 5 shortly after he starts the ketogenic diet, and goes up again when the child goes off the diet, there is no doubt the diet works. As early as the 1930s, this had been observed hundreds of times. This was overwhelming evidence of effectiveness. Doctors ignored it, probably based on the modern equivalent of the three-lobed liver. They complained, according to the article, that there was “no evidence it worked” or that the evidence wasn’t “controlled” or “scientific” (whatever that means). A study published in 2008 “answered doubts about keto’s clinical effectiveness” — as if doctors needed the equivalent of a very-large-type book to be able to read what most of us can read with normal-sized type.

According to the article, “by 2000, more people were asking about keto, but most pediatric neurologists still would not prescribe it” — as if the parents needed the approval of their doctor to try it. You don’t need a prescription to buy food.

Thanks to Tim Beneke, Michael Bowerman, Alex Chernavsky, David Cramer, and Peter Couvares.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Casey Manion and Anne Weiss

Assorted Links

Thanks to JR Minkel.

Breakthrough in Treating MS

When Paulo Zamboni’s wife came down with MS (multiple sclerosis), he was in an unusual position: He was a professor of medicine. Not only did he have technical expertise, he was going to care far more than than most MS researchers about finding a cure. (Likewise, when I suffered from early awakening, I had both technical expertise and cared more about finding a solution than any sleep researcher.)

Using ultrasound to examine the vessels leading in and out of the brain, Dr. Zamboni made a startling find: In more than 90 per cent of people with multiple sclerosis, including his spouse, the veins draining blood from the brain were malformed or blocked. In people without MS, they were not. [emphasis added] . . . More striking still was that, when Dr. Zamboni performed a simple operation to unclog veins and get blood flowing normally again, many of the symptoms of MS disappeared. . . . His wife, who had the surgery three years ago, has not had an attack since. . .
The initial studies done in Italy were small but the outcomes were dramatic. In a group of 65 patients with relapsing-remitting MS (the most common form) who underwent surgery, the number of active lesions in the brain fell sharply, to 12 per cent from 50 per cent; in the two years after surgery, 73 per cent of patients had no symptoms.

Clearly Dr. Zamboni has discovered something very important. Perhaps no true health breakthrough would be complete without appalling responses from powerful people within the biomedical establishment. The American MS society issued a comment on these findings that the rest of us can marvel at. According to them, people with MS should not get tested for malformed or blocked veins!

Q: I have MS. Should I be tested for signs of CCSVI?
A: No, unless you are involved in a research study exploring this phenomenon, since at this time there is no proven therapy to resolve any abnormalities that might be observed, and it is still not clear whether relieving venous obstructions would be beneficial.

Persons with MS cannot be trusted with the dangerous knowledge of whether or not their veins are malformed or blocked! The Chairman of the Board of the National MS society is Thomas R. Kuhn. The President is Joyce M. Nelson. I would love to know how they justify this position. I wrote to the National MS society asking how Kuhn justifies this. The Canadian MS society is far less negative, perhaps due to public pressure.

Over at This Is MS, the National MS position is derided. Someone has made the shrewd observation that if there is something to Zamboni’s idea, persons with MS should get a red head after exercise more often than persons without MS and is collecting data to see if this is true. There seems to be something to it.

Not only is this a wonderful discovery but it is wonderful how the National MS Society can simply be ignored. There are now much better sources of information.

Thanks to Anne Weiss, Charles Richardson, and James Andwartha.

If Commercials Told Emotional Truth

…many of them, maybe all of them, would be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Thanks to my friend Carl Willat, you can now see such a commercial.

Carl makes commercials for a living but he made this one for fun. A labor of love. Not only did he (a) care about the product (Trader Joe’s), he had (b) great skill and (c) complete freedom. I think this combination is extremely rare and is why this commercial is utterly different from all other commercials I’ve ever seen.

My self-experimentation combined these three things, too. I studied (a) problems I cared a lot about (such as my poor sleep) with (b) the skills of a professional scientist and (c) total freedom. This combination, just as rare in science as in commercial art, explains to me why my self-experimentation seems so different than other research.

More superhobbies.

City of Berkeley Economics: The Value of Snobbery

The City of Berkeley, which Jane Jacobs called a “pretentious suburb,” isn’t doing well economically. There was a Barnes & Noble downtown, a kind of anchor store. It closed. There was a Ross downtown. It closed. Chain stores don’t do well in Berkeley. One downtown corner has gone through several renters, including Gateway Computers, Cody’s Books, and L.L. Bean, in just a few years. The main reason I go to downtown Berkeley is to take BART to San Francisco.

My neighborhood, North Berkeley, is doing much better, although there are two empty storefronts and the Starbucks will close. Elephant Pharmacy, a New-Agey kind of pharmacy (“the drugstore that prescribes yoga”), has been successful and has started opening branches in nearby cities. (It’s a good place to shop, too. Yesterday I bought some whole nutmeg there.) The Cheese Board, a worker’s cooperative, with a great selection of cheese, has done a good job adding pizza sales to cheese sales.

The overall economic record of the neighborhood is staggering, since it includes the original Peet’s, the inspiration for Starbucks, and Chez Panisse, the most influential restaurant in the world. It also includes the first Papyrus store. I don’t drink coffee, and didn’t start drinking tea until the Shangri-La Diet, so I never shopped at Peet’s until recently. A friend, however, has been going there almost its entire history. He says that when Mr. Peet died, the workers became a lot friendlier. Before that they had a snobbish attitude. Some workers from Peet’s started a similar business in Seattle, which they called Starbucks. It was very successful and they sold out to Howard Schulz, who greatly expanded it.

Was Mr. Peet’s snobbery “bad”? Well, it — plus the corresponding attitudes of Berkeley residents — allowed him to develop a unique business. After that business was developed, that attitude could be shed and the whole thing could be moved to a place (Seattle) where its business potential could be revealed. The shift of ownership allowed the idea to become separated from the “big business is bad” notion (which was helpful at first) and launch a thousand Starbucks. (An excellent company, by the way, that not only provides me a place to work but also produced How Starbucks Saved My Life, a very good and persuasive book.) This is yet another tiny illustration of my theory of human evolution, how it all started with hobbies which eventually became businesses. Peet’s wasn’t a hobby, but it was hobby-like in its expression of the owner’s attitudes. It was far more a labor of love than most businesses. There are other examples. Survivor is to The Real World as Starbucks is to Peet’s. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is to Slow Food as Starbucks is to Peet’s.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

Weston Price’s masterpiece, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects (1939), is online here. The chapters I like are the ones where he visits eleven groups of people around the world and compares those eating traditional diets with those eating modern ones. Those eating traditional diets had very few cavities, even though they didn’t brush their teeth. They also had very little “dental malocculsion” — crooked teeth caused by a too-small jaw. This was presumably because they got enough of certain growth factors in childhood. (The NIH health encyclopedia says dental malocclusion “is most often hereditary”–a mistake that speaks volumes.) The main thing I learned from this book was the importance of fat (to supply fat-soluble micronutrients) including animal fat. (There’s an evolutionary reason we like the taste of fat.) Swiss in isolated areas had to grow almost all of their food in spite of living in the mountains. They ate lots of dairy products, especially butter; apparently they were in good health because their dairy animals ate lots of fresh green grass, high in all sorts of necessary micronutrients including ones that may not yet have been identified. The isolated Swiss also ate lots of whole grain bread. To walk around any supermarket and see all these labels saying “low-fat” as if it were a good thing makes me think of the Middle Ages when people had all sorts of strange ideas about what caused disease — such as too much excitement.

This book seems to be emerging from obscurity due to mentions by Michael Pollan in In Defense of Food (2008) and Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007).

Praying With Lior and Labors of Love

Last night I saw Praying with Lior, a documentary about the bar mitzvah of a boy with Down’s Syndrome. Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year, better than There Will Be Blood, Mary Poppins (leaving aside the great song Feed the Birds), Blade Runner, and several documentaries, for example. I asked a friend why she liked the TV show ER. “It makes you feel happy and sad,” she said. Praying for Lior made me sad again and again, which is part of why I liked it so much. I also liked seeing someone with a handicap struggle and succeed; Praying with Lior has a lot in common with My Left Foot, one of my favorite movies.

The person responsible for the film is Ilana Tractman, who met Lior at a religious retreat. Her day job is making television documentaries. She got the money to make the film — from a large number of foundations and people — while she was making it. As far as I can tell, she had almost total freedom, in contrast to her TV documentaries. I use the term superhobby to describe activities that combine the skills and resources of a professional with the freedom of a hobbyist. All of the blogs I read regularly are superhobbies. My self-experimentation was (and is) a superhobby. Writing open-source software is a superhobby. Most books are superhobbies. When a superhobby produces art, we call the product a labor of love. As we get richer and richer — thus can afford more freedom — and skills and knowledge improve, these labors of love become better, more possible, and more common.

The Praying with Lior website revealed to me that the film had/has a “mission”: “to change the way people with disabilities are perceived and received by faith communities.” Perhaps that is another reason why such a good film was made: This purpose helped it get funding and other help (a lot of people worked on it). And maybe it was part of why Ms. Tractman began and continued a difficult and uncertain project.