Random Ponderings

My Microbiome, Me, and the Industry makes three.

Have you ever tried fermented salsa? Well, it tastes like any other salsa except vinegary, so, it’s definitely salsa just not as nice. It was a little over a year ago and I was still working at my old job. One of the tasks my boss and I would complete at the end of a long work day was to recline in our respective chairs and flip through the latest catalogs mailed to us by our distributors. It was one of my favourite things. Checking out the sales and new products on offer. We would often play this sort of rapid fire game. Mention a new product that we could bring into the store and then quickly decide whether it was a good idea or a bad one and then why. “Fermented Salsas!” I exclaimed. First, two important facts needed to be known–ingredients and retail price. Then through a back and forth we would discuss whether we thought the product would be a good match for our client base. Fermented Salsas was an easy one.

That past year research findings detailing the integral role our microbiome (a community of microbes) has on our overall health had catapulted onto the health food scene. Fermented foods –sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, kefir–became the go-to products for those customers interested in adding more probiotics to their microbiome systems to aid in their digestion. Most importantly, the benefits that pro and prebiotics have on our system was not a controversial fringe idea. This was backed by scientific and nonscientific communities and, therefore, an idea that many people from all stripes could participate in. If our microbiome is a relatively new concept to you then my suggestion is to read Robb Dunn’s The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Thanks to my partner, it was the first book that I had read that introduced me to the importance of the symbiosis relationship between ourselves and the bacterial and wild world that we not only interact with, but are intricately a part of. There are one hundred trillion bacteria on and in our bodies; so, in other words we are our bacteria.

Rewind. “What would the price be again for the salsa?”my boss asked. “Ekk…approximately ten dollars.” I replied. We thought about it. “It’ll sell.”  

I have been working in the organic and/or health food industry for about five years now and one of the most frequent comments I hear is, “but, it is so expensive.” It is a bothersome comment for it is a continual reminder that there are many people who cannot afford to walk through our doors. It is a reminder that to eat “good, healthy food” is viewed as an elitist concept and currently not a universal one. However, this reality exists not simply because “healthy food is expensive food” but, for the fact that most stores fall into the trap of appealing to their higher echelon customers. If you are a savvy business owner or manager then you listen to your top customers over anyone else. It might not seem fair, but when there are bills that need to be paid and you have a customer who regularly drops a few hundred dollars a week and suggests to you a few products to bring in then you tend to listen to them. This is how you get $10 fermented salsa, $40 Gelatin, or $15 coconut wraps. There are people who are asking for and buying these products. They might only be the top five percent of the folks who come to shop, but they are the stores bread and butter and can be the difference between a company staying open or going out of business. However, for all those other people, especially for those coming to shop for the first time, the prices make it feel exclusionary and that healthy food is only for those who can afford it. Well, I disagree.

Where there is an opportunity companies will take it, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept what they’re giving. The next food fad is coming our way and vinegary salsa is just the beginning. Currently, multinational food corporations are getting into a new line of business–microbiome research. In March 2015, Seventure Partners was the world’s first fund created to focus solely on microbiome research. Seventure’s backer is none other than our favourite Parisian yogurt maker, Danone. How much money has Danone put down? Oh, just about $100 million dollars. On the other side of the Atlantic, Nestle has invested $64.1 million into Seres Health, which is focused on treatment for C. Difficile. Now, the result of all this investment and research by food companies is going to be a noticeable change on what appears on our food shelves on mass in the not so distant future. Set aside our low fat, low carb products and say hello to probiotics and prebiotics in just about everything. Do you want to feed the millions of beneficial bacteria in your gut? Well, here’s a granola bar, muffin, chocolate bar, and sausages SAUSAGES that should do the trick. The impending onslaught is a perfect example of how companies take a need and then monopolize upon it. In addition, for the larger multinational companies they will take a food item that is generally highly processed and low in nutrition and stick in something that is marketable as “healthy.” Voila! Our sausages are all of a sudden good for you! Therefore, on one side of the spectrum we have ridiculously overpriced, but well made food products filling a need and on the other side of the spectrum we have a direct response to that need with low-priced, low-value food developing that need into a fad.

However, what if we ignored all of this? The overpriced salsa, powders, and pills and the same old products served up to us in our supermarket chains, but just pin pricked with the fad of the decade. How do we take advantage of something that is inherently good for us, yet without the expensive consumerism that often comes along with it? Well, keep it simple, because feeding your microbiome is insanely easy and cheap. First off, there are two distinctions that we need to make. There are probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria and prebiotics are food for the probiotics. Do you want to make sure you are consuming prebiotics in your diet? Then eat a banana, legumes, or jerusalem artichokes (aka. sunchokes), and if you have never had a jerusalem artichoke before, then have one because they are delightful and an adorable root. Probiotics? You ask. Well, you could eat sauerkraut, sourdough bread, or kimchi; however, I am a huge fan of kombucha–a fermented, carbonated tea. A drink enjoyed in the east for centuries , but which has only appeared in North America over the past couple of decades.

Now, to enjoy kombucha, most times, takes an acquired taste; however, there are ways to acclimatize. I suggest that one starts off by buying different brands of kombucha (they all tend to retail around $3.99 per bottle). Once you have tried the drink a few times you can decide whether this is something for you or not. I, personally, love having a teacup full at the end of a long day of work. I find it has a calming yet awakening affect. (And I know those two words seem to contradict and, yet, there is no other way I could describe it). If you like what you are tasting then you can graduate towards brewing your own. And, please, I must assure you brewing your own kombucha is quick, easy, and painless.   Here are a few tips.

    •  If you are interested in making your own kombucha the first thing you will need is a scoby. Most people that I know have gotten their scoby from a friend or family member, for scobies reproduce after every brew and soon your fridge will be full of baby scobies. If you don’t know anyone who brews their own then you can get dehydrated or fresh scobies over the interweb. I would suggest getting a fresh one.
    • Follow the instructions! And keep things sanitary!
    • I would start drinking your kombucha after five or seven days. Kombucha after thirty days is going to be strong!

Finding effective and prudent ways to feed our microbiome and simultaneously ignoring the onslaught of new products coming our way now and in the future is the game we have to play if we want to save our dimes. We don’t have to be rich to be healthy, but we do need to be more informed and more savvy with our money and our time. Now, I think I’m going to do a little freestyle rap, “I save my dimes and spend my time to keep my microbiome fine.”

3 thoughts on “My Microbiome, Me, and the Industry makes three.

    1. Hi Kelli! Thank-you so much. Your support means a lot to me! If you currently aren’t making your own kombucha, but want to…I would be more than happy to drop off some baby scobies. I’ll be looking into recording my entries this week. Exciting!

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