I hope not. Because to me it then wouldn’t be food. Sterile food is e.g pink slime. It looks like food, they make it taste like food but is it really food?
Let me first tell you what inspired me to write this. A good friend of mine from way back when I studied Software Engineering in Germany made a comment on one of my blog posts. My friend meanwhile has a family, one son and lives in Germany. We both studied IT in Heidelberg as part of a retraining. Me retraining from a Gardener (who used to work with soil/dirt), him retraining from a baker who had a flour dust allergy. We both became software engineers. I am telling you this to give you a bit of a background. My friend was a baker with passion. On our weekend break he went home and worked at his old workplace, wearing goggles and a breathing mask. That’s how much he loved his work.
Now some 15 years later …. I moved to New Zealand and live a very much self-sufficient life, he is back in Germany and started a family. We couldn’t have changed more and moved apart more. I meanwhile slaughter animals, shoot pest/game, go fishing, bake bread, brew beer and wine and make cheese. I think cow shit actually has some sort of a nice smell to it. And the cheese making was what led to his comment. I posted something about an experiment I wanted to do to make a cheese the same way as it was done hundreds of years ago. I took the Swiss mountain shepherd and dairyman in the Swiss Alps called a “Senner” as an example who lived up in the mountains from beginning of spring until the dawn of fall. They had to be self-reliant. The next shop was a walking distance of one or more days away. They milked the cows and made cheese. This was the birth of Swiss cheese. But they didn’t had a web page where they could mail-order their freeze dried cheese cultures. They didn’t use any. They used the bacteria in the milk and in the air. That’s what made the Swiss cheese typical. So that was my experiment (which failed in its first stage and is delayed for now but this is not the point of this post).
Now the comment of my friend was something like:
“You can’t be serious! I am very worried about you and your health. You surely don’t want to eat this food which is loaded with bacteria. Baking is a different matter, baking with wild yeast at least uses heat as a steriliser. Do you really want to kill yourself?”
Now let’s look at this. There are two main ideas in this comment: 1st - Bacteria are bad and 2nd - food needs to be sterile.
We have 10 times more bacteria in our body than we have cells. We need bacteria for a healthy life. We even have E. Coli in our guts. Yes that’s right, E. coli which got all the bad press recently.
The modern food industry supported by government authorities tell us that bacteria are dangerous. The first thing what comes to people’s mind is “dirty”. Bacteria are a synonym for dirty, unsanitary conditions. And who really wants to eat dirty food? But our definition for clean and dirty has changed over the years. Clean was just this: naturally clean. Nowadays clean means sterile. One only has to watch TV commercials and you think we are under constant attack from germs and bacteria. I sometimes wonder how we survive out there.
When I was young, we lived a life outside. We ate disgusting things. We took fruit from trees without washing them first. We ate sugar beets we stole from the fields and broke open on a rock. We dared each other to eat earthworms and snails. I wonder how much sand and soil we involuntarily swallowed when we were rolling around on the ground (usually fighting with other boys). We cut our knees open and didn’t care about dirt in the wound. Nobody used antibiotic soap and disinfectant spray. We washed our hands with soap (if at all). We played with dogs and horses. We had hamsters and pet rabbits. So how did we survive? We had something called an immune-system. And boy was it strong! Because it was highly trained. It was hardened over time, right from the beginning. We sucked it in with our mother’s milk and strengthened it in the sandbox and on the playgrounds. And it was under attack a lot. But it was under attack from natural normal bacteria. Not under attack from antibiotics and antibacterial soap. We need to re-define our understanding of clean and dirty again. We need to bring it back to a normal, a natural level.
Now the second part is about “food has to be sterile”. Where does this come from? Food was never sterile. Everything based on fermentation is using yeast fungi. Bacteria are part of our food. Almost all dairy products are based on bacteria. But the real problem is, food which is alive is perishable. And this doesn’t fit into our modern food system which is based on Just-In-Time delivery, long term storage, filling demands, transportation and lean production systems. The only reason why our food is full of preservatives and chemicals is purely for profit. Why do you think do we have flavour enhancers? To make you more happy because it tastes better? Why do you think we have artificial flavours? To make you happier? Why do we (according to a cheese factory owner in NZ) pasteurize our yogurt after it was cultivated and then add some beneficial bacteria later on? To make it healthier for you? Why does the government put up a big fight and argument every time the raw milk discussion comes up? To protect you from harmful bacteria? There is only one answer to all these questions: It is to support the modern food production, to support the long term storage of food in warehouses, to support the long transport around the world - to make profit! This is the only true reason.
Are you happy to eat and drink all these additives and preservatives and colours and artificial flavours so that some food business can make more profit? I tell you one thing for sure, Goodman Fielder doesn’t want artisan bread which lasts only a week. They want pre packed bread, all in one size which fits nicely into a tray, which goes into a rack and gives an optimum of space usage in their trucks. Fonterra doesn’t want raw milk and raw milk dairy products. They want products which can be ripened in huge warehouses and carted around the country and overseas. They want yogurt made from milk powder because that stores way better than raw milk. Coca Cola doesn’t want fresh pressed fruit juice. They want fruit drinks based on apple juice concentrate which is freeze dried and pasteurized and can be stored in silos which are imported by ship from China.
Dead sterile food is profitable and manageable and needs additives to appear nourishing. Live food is perishable, seasonal and healthy. But sorry, food which is alive contains bacteria, fungi germs and the occasional snail shit! I can live with that. I actually want to live with that. What do you want?