Storing food in a localised low carbon system


Traditional methods of storing food include preservation of food in ice brought from the mountains and kept inside caves & icehouses, low-tech bottling and jam-making, drying of meat & fruit and underground storage at lower temperatures in hot countries.

On Monday Mark Shapiro, a Californian reader, sent this link to information about another method: fermentation, a localised probiotic food system which has significant economic, social and health benefits.

aaronAaron Vansintjan reflects that it’s easy to get the impression that we live in a world of scarcity, where there just isn’t enough food to go around, and food production all around the world is limited by technological backwardness.

On the other hand, there is an increasing problem of food waste in Western food systems. Though a range of expensive and complex technologies protects our fresh food supply against spoilage, a large proportion food produced is thrown away.

Aaron has a background in Natural Resource Sciences and is currently conducting research into food related issues, including marginalized communities access to food. He has observed the Vietnamese practice of fermentation, embedded within people’s livelihoods, local agricultural systems, food safety practices, forming a fundamental component of a sustainable food system. With the rise of the local food and food sovereignty movements, many are realising that we need food systems that could support everyone: from small farmers to low-income families. In a localised food system food needs to be stored for long periods. Fermentation makes that possible. He comments:

“Unlike many high-tech proposals like ‘smart’ food recycling apps, highly efficient logistics systems, and food packaging innovations, fermentation is both low-tech and democratic—anyone can do it. It has low energy inputs, brings people together, is hygienic and healthy, and can reduce food waste”.

vietnam market

In Vietnam there are wholesale night markets, mobile street vendors, covered markets, food baskets organized by office workers with family connections to farmers, guerilla gardening on vacant land. Food is grown, sold, and bought all over the place, and supermarkets are just a small (albeit growing) node in the complex latticework. Most people still get food at the market, but many also source their food from family connections. With this easy access to wholesale produce, many can turn to small-scale fermentation to complement their income—or spend less on food at the market.

The article goes into great detail about various recipes for fermented food Some call for water and salt: “At just a 1:50 ratio (2%) of salt to food, an environment is created in which bad bacteria doesn’t flourish and good bacteria is encouraged”.

the most popular fermented dishes in Vietnam

From left to right: Nem chua (fermented sausage), Thịt lợn chua (sour fermented pork), Com me (sour rice with fermented paste), Dưa chua/dưa muối (fermented fruit or vegetable), Mắm chua (sour fermented fish paste),Tôm chua (fermented shrimp), Nước mắm or Nước chấm (fish sauce),Tương (fermented soybean paste)

Vietnamese street vendors know the rules of hygiene and food safety, and, because they have to be careful with their money, they know exactly what kinds of food will go bad, and what kinds of food can be preserved. In doing so, they practice a food culture that has been passed down through generations—to a time before fridges, a global food system powered by container shipping, factory trawlers, and produce delivered to far-off markets by airplane.

Because of its low investment costs, fermentation lends itself well to supporting small businesses, allowing them to take advantage of seasonality while practicing a time-tested low-tech method of food preparation. Fermented food doesn’t depend on high inputs of fossil fuel energy to preserve food, high waste, and high-tech. It has to be produced locally: transporting it will risk explosions on the high seas

Aaron ends; “With increasing concern over the health side effects of common chemicals such as BPA (Bisphenol A, a  polycarbonate plastic) found in almost all cans and pasta sauce jars, people are looking to safer kinds of preservation, which aren’t killing them and their families slowly. In a world facing climate change, we need a low-impact food system, and fast”.

(Ed: some links and pictures added)