No discussion on food preservation and LABs would be complete without some consideration of the LABs that reside in and on the human being. The scientific literature refers to them as the human biome. Some alternative literature refers to them as the human micro-flora or human eco-system. Take your pick – the essential thing to remember is that we are just beginning to understand how essential these tiny life forms are to our continued good health.
There are literally trillions of bacteria residing in our guts, our mouth, our scalp, our skin and every single orifice from top to toe; 100 trillion bacteria reside in the human gut alone many more in our mouth, our nose and the female vagina; there are 10 times more bacterial cells in our body than there are human cells; the total weight of the bacteria residing in and on the human body weighs approximately 1 kg – the same weight as many of our organs. It is estimated that up to 60% of our human biome resides permanently in our body with the remaining 40% transiting the human body requiring regular replenishment to keep the remaining 60% functioning.
Our individual eco-system is distinct from and different to our DNA heritage yet we live in a completely harmonious, symbiotic relationship with these bacteria. To survive the bacteria require a healthy host (us). To keep their host healthy they make every effort to ensure pathogens are kept at bay, that our immune system is in tip-top order and that we digest as many nutrients as possible from the food we eat. Neglect the human eco-system and it will be unable or unwilling to perform its vital functions.
Study after study is slowly but surely beginning to reveal that our micro flora plays a vital, indeed essential role in controlling many of our needs from mental well being, to digestion, to ensuring a fully functioning immune system. In return for us feeding, nourishing and paying attention to the needs of our micro-flora, they in turn help us to regulate functions that our bodies, on their own, are simply incapable of undertaking. Our micro flora is fed, nourished and replenished by the food we eat, the most important branch being preserved fermented foods.
The scientific literature on our micro-flora, extensive though it is, is still very much in its infancy but what is becoming increasingly obvious is that to neglect the beneficial microorganisms residing in and on our body is a grave mistake … and neglecting them we have through modern, industrial food processing techniques that typically involve high-heat processing, anti-bacterial sterilisation and the elimination of all microorganisms be they the good the bad or the ugly.
War on bacteria – a scorched earth policy
In our desire to eliminate the bad and the ugly in food we have been effective at eliminating the good – and the good, as it turns out, is very good indeed. Destroying microorganisms through high heat processing – either in the form of pasteurisation or sterilisation is akin to a scorched earth policy.
Annihilated alongside the enemy are many nutrients, live enzymes and beneficial bacteria. The result of this scorched earth policy is to render the food, post sterilisation, a dry, arid desert rather than a thriving eco-system packed with natural nutrients, beneficial bacteria and flavour. In the process of destroying the landscape in order to flush out the enemy the structure of the food is altered beyond recognition. In the case of beneficial bacteria that replenish our internal micro-flora it is genocide. In the case of enzymes that help us digest our food it is a case of total wipe-out. In the case of heat-sensitive nutrients such as Vitamin C it is a case of complete destruction. Natural flavours are often damaged beyond repair. (See also Chapter on fats on effects of high heat processing).
The food industry is obliged by law to apply this scorched earth policy. For very understandable reasons. If one is preparing food for millions of people on a daily basis then there is a very real risk of pathogenic bacteria contaminating the food. As with all scorched earth policies, however, it’s destructive force, long-term is unsustainable. To try and address this inherent challenge the best way to consume nutritious, preserved food brimming with nutrients and beneficial bacteria is to prepare the preserves at home or purchase them from small scale artisanal businesses where traditional methods are correctly applied and adhered to.
High heat food processing, as practised in large-scale production facilities, is a ham-fisted approach that suits mass production but categorically does not suit the human biome. Those that rely upon convenience and factory-prepared food are at risk of depleting their micro-flora to such an extent that it will ultimately lead to ill-health, allergies and in extreme cases chronic illnesses. For some individuals the situation has become so extreme they have literally resorted to eating another person’s faeces to try and replenish their sterile guts – when all they really needed to do in the first place was eat plenty of home-made nutritious food in order to maintain a thriving, well-balanced, micro-flora. Follow some of the delicious recipes for home-made pickles in Master in the Kitchen and it is highly improbably that anyone will have to eat someone else’s faeces ever again.