Behind a folded table strewn with jars like an apothecary, Karen Diggs, classically trained chef, nutritionist, holistic culinary author and entrepreneur blithely sliced the butt of a crisp cabbage head into delicate slivers for a demonstration of her lacto-fermented concoctions in the Tea Shop on Nov. 15.
Similar to an apothecarist of yesteryear, Diggs explained the science, medicine and nutritional value of the age-old practice that spans across cultures and epochs. Lacto-fermented food or fermented raw food origins are traced to China, Korea, Russia and Germany to name a few.
“Fermentation is not only a kitchen craft or a trend. It has been a part of every culture,” Diggs said. “It is the original way of food preservation. Food as medicine and health.”
Diggs says she and her international investors proved that fermentation was not just a trendy, fringe movement when she started a Kickstarter campaign for her Mason jar fermenting system that makes the process accessible for those interested in making easy, small vat recipes. Funded by over 3,000 backers, her campaign piqued the interest of those who wanted to see the product go beyond its inception.
“It’s not fringe, it’s a huge movement,” Diggs said.
The most critical piece to understand about fermentation, Diggs said, is that the microbiome that typically thrives in one’s gut slowly dissipate throughout their lifetime due to antibiotics ingested by humans to address illness, those found in conventionally farmed meats and due to eating pesticides that treat conventionally farmed vegetables. She said this causes poor digestion and a myriad of harmful side effects linked to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods help replace some of the missing microbes.
“Just because you eat a meal does not mean you are digesting properly,” Diggs said. “This is where fermented food comes in. A little fermented food or beverage each time you eat will help you digest your meal.”
Nicole Gaetjens, sustainability coordinator, invited Diggs to speak on campus for her Green and Healthy Living course after seeing her presentation at the Ecology Center in Berkeley. Gaetjens noticed a cross-section of her work teaching students about green lifestyle options.
“Part of the class is making green options more accessible,” Gaetjens said. “Students feel empowered by being engaged in what they are eating.”
Undergraduate student Erendira Palma
wanted accessibility to the practical knowledge of making lacto-fermented foods rather than a lecture on microbes.
“For those that just want access to the health benefits without the complicated language,” Palma said. “Who has access to that knowledge?”
Diggs explained that making sauerkraut is actually as easy as salt and cabbage. She made sure to clarify the importance of using sea salt instead of table salt because the former retains minerals that are beneficial to the body.
After the demo, Palma said she was glad that she stayed.
“I’m glad I have this information now,” Palma said. “I am going to call my mom to let her know to throw out the table salt and to get sea salt.”