Fermented Reflections on Philly Beer Week

Posted on by Denny Waxman

Beer Week in Philly has caused me to reflect on the history and nature of beer and other alcoholic beverages. I did not like to drink beer or any other alcoholic beverages until after I started to practice macrobiotics. As a teenager I preferred sweets and ice cream to alcohol. Over the years of eating grains, and other complex carbohydrates, I gradually developed a taste and appreciation for well crafted beer, sake or wine as well as miso, sauerkraut and other similar foods. It seems that naturally pickled and fermented foods, whether they contain an appreciable amount of alcohol or not, complement a diet based on grains, beans, vegetables and other complex carbohydrates.

After changing to a healthier diet and lifestyle I became intensely interested in the history of food and it’s various methods of preparation. My studies revealed that pickled and fermented foods are the most unique methods of food preparation in the world. For example, sauerkraut is much more than cabbage and sea salt. In the fermenting and pickling process unique and beneficial enzymes, bacteria, vitamins and other nutrients are formed that were not there before. The preparation and regular consumption of sauerkraut has been an important family tradition throughout China and Europe for more than a thousand years. People have know about it’s wide variety of health benefits for a long time.

Fermented beverages date back to the beginning of recorded history. These beverages have played an important role in religious and cultural ceremonies. There is also a lot of controversy about the the benefits or harms of alcohol consumption from religious and cultural or social viewpoints. When I lived in Japan, while out drinking sake, I often heard that sake is thought of as the king of one-hundred medicines. Later I heard the second and maybe more important part of this saying, sake is also the king of one-thousand poisons. Maybe this is the key to this controversy. It is unfortunate that our nature often leads us to excesses that can prove harmful.

After World War II, naturally pickled and fermented foods have almost entirely disappeared due to the use of modern food preservation techniques. Modern preservation techniques leave us with dead rather than living foods. The action of beneficial enzymes, bacteria and yeasts are destroyed rather than encouraged, the way they are in traditional food processing.

Slowly over the years naturally pickled and fermented foods have reappeared due to the work of the Kushi’s, Aihara’s and other macrobiotic teachers. Pickling and fermentation have been an important part of macrobiotic education since the 1960’s. The introduction of naturally produced and fermented miso, soy sauce, umeboshi plums and sauerkraut has slowly sparked new industries.

Since the 1970’s local micro-brewed beers that are naturally produced and unpasteurized have slowly reached the mainstream. In the same time there has also been an explosion in organic, unpasteurized sauerkraut and other naturally pickled vegetables and foods including miso. It is my hope that these new industries will also create an renewed interest in healthier foods. I hope you enjoy your local micro-brews sensibly this week with healthy vegetarian snacks.

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