Second Food and Health Group Meeting – Fermented Foods

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Our second local food group meeting took place on 2nd December 2012, with 35 people attending. 

The wrist bands worn by these tribal elders are in fact important tools – disk-shaped steel blades, used for flaying and butchering a goat in a matter of minutes.

Part 1: The Turkana Diet

We started with a talk from Paul Inskip (see photo, right). He has spent time living with an isolated tribe – the Turkana – ancient pastoralists in northern Kenya. He shared with us the profound, even spiritual effect the experience had on him. Their traditional lands have turned to desert over the last thirty years, creating a very hostile and harsh environment – parched and barren – barely able to support the goats on which they have depended for thousands of years.

What was fascinating, at least from the perspective of this blog, was their diet. Although in the current drought they are dependent on food-aid corn from which they make an unappetising porridge Paul soon realised that it was insufficient to maintain life and health in such an extreme climate. He quickly developed headaches and could not sleep without animal proteins and fats which he started to crave. One source – which he learned to value as highly as they did, was the Turkana’s goat’s milk which, surprise, surprise they fermented before drinking!

On his leaving day they roasted a whole goat and as he was the guest of honour they served him first with the most valued part – the liver. Once all the internal organs were consumed they moved on to the meat, picking the bones clean. After this children, as young as five, set about skillfully smashing the bones with expertly chosen stones to get the marrow out. Everything was eaten – eyes, brains – the lot.

His story was powerful, personal and humbling. Yet its food aspects resonated strongly with the theme of our previous talk – the importance of bones and organ meats.

Part 2: Gut Health & the Role of Probiotics

Keir Watson gave a talk about the role of the gut in health and the place of probiotic foods in the diet. There was a major focus on traditional fermented foods as a source of probiotic bacteria to help restore or maintain healthy gut flora. You can review his slides here:

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Part 3: Demonstration of Home Fermentation

Kefir_DemoFirst, Caroline showed us how to make Kefir, and at the end of the talk gave away kefir ‘grains’ so participants could start their own kefir cultures. In the picture opposite she is demonstrating how to make Crème fraîche from cream and kefir.

The second demonstration from Caroline was about making home fermented vegetables – (lacto fermented veggies). She had a dozen large jars of home-made fermented vegetables including Sauerkraut (cabbage), kvass (beetroot) along with various mixed vegetables – all colouful and with a delicious aroma. To me, the most interesting jar contained fermented salmon with dill. The tangy fishy scent that emanated from it was enticing – I can’t wait to try some!


Perhaps the prime importance of fermented foods is the range of beneficial bacteria and yeasts they provide. These can help restore and protect our intestinal microbiome, and as Keir explained in his talk there is a need for a predominance of such species to ensure pathogenic bacteria do not take over. Gut integrity is a cornerstone of health whilst ‘leaky gut’ and dysbiosis (imbalanced gut flora) are associated with many modern diseases such as thrush, diabetes, schizophrenia and arthritis as well as the more obvious bowel diseases such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and Coeliac’s, and the very common irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Whilst the significance of gut flora in disease is a rapidly growing area of modern medical research, it is humbling to realise that traditional diets have always included probiotic fermented foods as demonstrated in Paul’s talk about the Turkana.

Additional Resources

Next meeting: “Grains – living with them, living without them”

Our next meeting is on Friday January 11th, 2013, 7:30pm.
Bassil Shippam Centre, Tozer Way, Chichester.
All welcome.

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