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     ON FERMENTED FOODS
Alternate Title: On the Definition of Living Foods - Prelude

by Tom Billings

This article deals specifically with the topic of fermented foods, and whether they are really living foods. The significance of this article is that it was the spark that made me address the topic of trying to develop an actual definition for the term living foods (a term that means different things to different people.) There are two more articles, to be published in future, that will address that topic more directly.

Fermented raw foods, such as raw sauerkraut, pickles, seed "cheese", rejuvelac, sprout milk yogurt, and even raw miso, raw soy sauce, are important foods for many raw fooders. On the other hand, some raw fooders refuse to eat fermented foods, or limit their consumption of fermented foods to one or two specific food items.

The object of this article is examine the topic of fermented foods, and their role in raw food lifestyles. To save typing, will use FF as an abbreviation for the term: fermented foods. Will begin by specifying some of the positive and negative points of FF, with questions noted. Note that only lacto-bacillus based FF are of interest; yeast based FF (e.g., alcoholic drinks) are ruled out and are not relevant.

Positive: + most FF contain lacto-bacillus (Acidophilus) and promote good intestinal bacteria populations + very high in enzymes + reported to be pre-digested (by bacteria), hence easier for your digestion + most FF, except for rejuvelac, are considered tasty + seed cheeses and almond cream reportedly help underweight raw-fooders gain and maintain body weight (see Ann Wigmore, "Rebuild Your Health", pg. 49, for almond cream recipe; her recipe is FF) + FF are a major part of Ann Wigmore's living foods program, which has been used by many people in healing and overcoming serious illness + raw cabbage and cabbage family vegetables can cause severe flatulence if eaten unfermented. The same vegetables fermented do not cause flatulence.

Negative: - most FF are very acid-forming foods; ref: Gabriel Cousens, "Conscious Eating", pg. 129. - soy sauce contains about 1% natural MSG, mono-sodium glutamate; ref: Glutamic Acid, Advances in Biochemistry and Physiology; L. J. Filer, Jr. et. al. eds., pg. 27. Soy sauce, and possibly miso also, can be 0.5-2% alcohol. The MSG and alcohol are products of natural fermentation. - except for yogurt (made from dry culture, not rejuvelac/seed cheese), FF are considered "tamasic" by yoga/Ayurveda. Here tamasic means that in the long term, the food has a depressing effect. Yoga recommends avoiding tamasic food. - rejuvelac, if fermented a few more days with honey added, becomes alcoholic; ref: Ann Wigmore, "Rebuild Your Health", pg. 52. - although often referred to as "living foods", FF can be seen as "dying foods". Fermentation is the process of bacterial growth in a base food that ultimately dies. For example, a pickled carrot or beet will not sprout if planted in the earth; a raw one will. Wheat sprouts that are decaying in water (rejuvelac) will not grow if planted, but regular wheat sprouts will grow. In a FF, the base food eventually dies; ultimately, the only living part is the bacteria culture that is growing on the base food. It is thus reasonable to ask: does a living bacteria culture on a dead/dying base qualify as a "living food"?

Q: Is sprout milk yogurt different from other fermented foods?

A: Maybe: * yogurt (dairy yogurt) is considered "sattvic" - balancing, soothing, by yoga/ Ayurveda. It is the only sattvic FF recognized in yoga/Ayurveda, all others are tamasic.

* yogurt culture growth time very short; growth of culture normally stopped, by refrigeration, before culture growth by-products (i.e., acids) are at level that is toxic to bacteria (that is how fermentation serves as a natural preservative - e.g., sauerkraut, pickles). Yogurt has the shortest culture time of any FF. * also as a result of short culture growth time, yogurt is very similar in nature to original base food - sprout milk. Indeed, the base food may still be "alive" after only 6-10 hours of culture growth. For many other FF, base food is clearly dead.

My personal evaluation of fermented foods is that they can be useful in a raw/ living foods diet, provided one uses them in modest quantities. Their primary advantage is that they allow one to eat certain raw vegetables, like cabbage, and avoid the painful flatulence that can otherwise occur. Additionally, they may be helpful to people with impaired digestion. Their biggest drawback is that they are acid-forming, and it is easy to overeat them, due to their taste. They also stimulate digestion, which is a plus for many people, and a minus for others. Also, they are some work to prepare.

If one is not concerned with whether FF are living foods or not, then the most important factor in deciding whether to consume them, is how you react to them when you eat them. If the reaction is bad, avoid them, if it is good then there is no problem. Here reaction refers to both the immediate effect and longer term effects, as well as side effects

P.S. those seeking recipes for raw FF are referred to books by Ann Wigmore, Viktoras Kulvinskas, Gabriel Cousens. 

ON THE DEFINITION OF LIVING FOODS - MOTIVATION

What is the precise definition of the term "living food"? Apparently, there is no single, universally accepted answer to that question, as I have heard raw fooders give sharply different answers to that question. A search for written definitions of the term, living foods, did not yield an explicit definition. The closest to a definition can be found in "Rebuild Your Health", by Ann Wigmore (pg. 28), where she says: "Living Foods consist of super nutritious young organic greens, power packed sprouted nuts, seeds and grains, fabulous fermented preparations and exciting dehydrated foods." She specifically mentions rejuvelac, energy soup, and wheatgrass.

However, with great respect, Dr. Ann has not given us a definition; instead she has basically said that "living foods are defined as the foods I eat". Such an approach does not provide an informative definition, only a list of foods. A precise definition would allow one to examine a food and determine if it qualifies as a "living food".

The problem in using a list, rather than a definition, is as follows. One can simply define living foods as sprouts and fermented foods (in which case there are questions about some fermented foods, per my previous article on fermented foods). On the other hand, if one defines living foods as those foods with highest life force energy in them (intuitively, a *very* desirable definition), then sprouts qualify, fermented foods are again in question, and some fresh fruits/veggies consumed within a few minutes of picking might qualify (but refrigerated, shipped produce has lost energy and doesn't qualify). Of course, if one defines living foods as the foods with highest life force, then dehydrated foods would not qualify. To make life even more complicated, some people using the term living foods, specifically exclude (some) raw fruits/ veggies, even if picked only a few minutes before eating.

Some brief thoughts on what constitutes a living food are as follows.

* clearly fresh, raw sprouts are alive and growing/active; hence they are living

* cooked food is dead so it is not a living food

* unsprouted raw seeds, nuts are alive in the sense that one can activate them by soaking/sprouting. In the unsoaked form they are in suspended animation, or "asleep". As sleep can be considered philosophically a form of death, and they are not biologically active, they are clearly alive but probably not living food in the sense that most use the term. (The life force energy in them is dormant, until sprouted.)

* vegetables and fruits present some dilemmas. Most raw root vegetables, if planted in the ground, will grow hence are alive until they spoil in storage. If alive="living" they could qualify as living, though many raw fooders exclude them from the term. Things like baby lettuce, greens, are alive and actively growing at picking time, and if eaten very soon thereafter might be considered living; however if they are refrigerated, shipped long distances, and eaten 2 weeks after picking (while still green, before turning yellow or brown), it is unclear how much life energy is still in them.

* the situation with most fruit is similar to lettuce, but with the additional complication that some fruits must be picked and ripened off the tree, an example of which is avocados. Some people include raw fruits and veggies in the term "living foods", others specifically exclude them and refer to them only as raw foods.

* when one considers liquids, such as honey, sprout milk, fruit and vegetable juices, the situation is very unclear. Probably the best guidance here is freshness of the materials used in making the liquid, and also how long the liquid is stored. Enzymes - so long as one talks about original enzymes present in the food, not enzymes added as a supplement - are a good measure of freshness. Some raw fooders think enzymes = life force; that is clearly not true; enzymes are an agent of the life force but are not the life force. (The life force is an energy; it cannot be powdered and sold in pill form, like enzymes are.) Getting back to liquids, if the liquid is made from living foods, and is only a few minutes old, then it should qualify as a living food itself.

* fermented foods present more definitional problems, as the base food clearly decomposes (dies) in time, such that eventually only the bacteria of fermentation is alive (and in some fermented foods they produce so much acid that they literally die in their own acid "waste").

* one more complication - pollen. Is it alive? I would argue that it is as one can remove pollen from plants, refrigerate it, then brush it on living flowers and it works. (Talking about fresh pollen, not freeze-dried). So, it is alive, but should it qualify as a living food?

The topic of the definition of the term, living foods, will be discussed further in a future article. 

 

 

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