I preordered Michal Pollan’s new book, Food Rules, so it arrived on the day it was published. At 112 sparse pages, it’s really more of a pamphlet but I’ve been enjoying reading it off and on for the last few days. When I reached Rule #33 (of 64) it stopped me in my tracks, and it started me thinking. Here’s the rule:
Eat some foods that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi.
Many traditional cultures swear by the health benefits of fermented foods — foods that have been transformed by live microorganisms, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, soy sauce, kimchi, and sourdough bread.
Pollan goes on to list essential nutrients, vitamins, etc. found in these foods. He ends by mentioning that probiotics are contained in many fermented foods, which studies “suggest improve the function of the digestive and immune systems,” and may combat allergies, too.
So here’s my question. If, as Pollan seems to suggest, that it’s fairly settled that fermented foods have health benefits, doesn’t it then follow that fermented beverages would, too?
In Rule 43 he suggests drinking wine with dinner, while not mentioning beer at all. And the man’s from Berkeley, for chrissakes. He appears to be following the old reservatrol canard in choosing wine over other alcohol, though he admits alcohol of any kind can be beneficial in moderation, something that’s becoming increasingly apparent in study after study.
That slight aside, isn’t fermentation fermentation? It’s an anaerobic process (meaning it takes place without oxygen) in which chemical reactions split complex organic compounds into more simple substances. And if it’s good in food, it should be similarly beneficial in beer, wine and spirits, too.
Beer has been called liquid bread since ancient times. It’s nourished men and women since civilization began, and increasingly is believed to have been the very reason for civilization’s beginnings. Some scientists now believe that our ancestor’s tolerance for alcohol in quantity was an important factor in their survival. So much so, that quite literally you and I owe our very existence to the fact that we have an unbroken chain of ancestors stretching back to the dawn of civilization whose ability to process alcohol insured they lived long enough to reproduce. If that had not been the case, I wouldn’t be here to write these words and you wouldn’t be here, reading them now.
Anyway, just some … ahem … food for thought. Any brewers, chemists or scientists out there know if there would be any substantial difference between fermented food and a fermented beverage? I certainly can’t think of any. If not, I would suggest that Food Rule #33 be amended to “Eat some foods or drink some beverages that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi.”