The Probiotics Proselytiser: Sandor Katz

The Probiotics Proselytiser: Sandor Katz Chaired by Te Radar  9.15am, 8 March, Hannah Playhouse

After Te Radar strode onto the stage withsandor-katz_credit-sean-minteh Sandor Katz, he thanked everyone in the audience for coming to an event so early on a Saturday morning. To be fair, most of the audience looked like they needed a coffee, which we were about to learn is one of the many fermented foods that make up our diet. Katz, a self-titled “fermentation fetishist” began making sauerkraut in his thirties after growing a cabbage glut, which turned into running fermentation workshops. He is now the author of three books on food fermentation and politics: Wild Fermentation, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, and The Art of Fermentation.

With a bristling mustache, checked shirt, and relaxed manner, Katz talked easily about the long history of food fermentation and preservation, the first take-away from the session being that fermented food makes up around a third of our diets. That is, the metabolic process that turns sugars into acids creates foods such as miso, wine, beer, coffee, yogurt, pickles, and bread. Fermentation lets us preserve food in times of plenty for times when those foods are scare, and also provides a way to enhance the flavour of food. And while we currently use refrigerators to preserve our food, Katz argued that it might not always be so. There may be a time when the ancient art of fermentation becomes a necessary part of daily life.

The question of whether it is safe to eat live bacteria in our food came up repeatedly during the session. It is obviously a topic that Katz has had to battle, and he gently corrected both Te Radar and the audience when they suggested that fermented foods might cause harm. Instead, Katz asserted it is other bacteria (sometimes introduced by industrial systems of food production) that cause illness, as well as the way modern stringent hygiene routines have impaired our immune systems. The second take-away tip: don’t eat food with brightly coloured mould, but the white stuff is just fine. That’s not to say Katz is against food safety, stating more than once that hands and cooking tools should always be clean, but that the idea of a sterile home environment was a “fantasy.”

Katz is both political and practical in his message, but stated that he never wants to be a zealot. Instead he wants to encourage people to experiment with their food, and to eat a varied diet that includes both fresh and fermented food. Through such balance, Katz argued, we can diversify our gut bacteria, support digestion, and mental wellness. Audience members were certainly no stranger to his message; when Te Radar asked who already fermented food at least half raised their hands. To conclude, Katz talked about his own cellar at home where gallons of miso are currently maturing, and beet and turnip sauerkraut ferments in an oak whisky barrel. It’s a wonderful image, and his words will be of inspiration to those interested in health and food.

Written by Sarah Jane Barnett on behalf of Booksellers NZ

For those who want to know more about this topic, Sandor’s website is