Cooking and Fermenting – Ancient Pleasures

Peachy Reasons To Cook

from: Australian Museum

Why did our ancients invent fire and start cooking?
Here are three old and solid prongs in the hot debate about raw foods and cooking:

  1. Food Security
  2. Enhanced Nutritional Value
  3. Food Safety

1. Cooking for Food Security

Storing food makes life comfortable and dependable. It is really handy to be able to store your surplus foods, send some to a distant relative, trade some or have the weekend off from farming and mend some clothes. The farming of grains changed humanity and shaped the landscape. Suddenly, communities had long-term food storage of grains, tubers and dried pulses.  From this food revolution shaped our culture. Towns were founded, cities grew and supplies for adventures and wars were fueled.

The traditional methods of preserving food were:

April and the Pizza oven
Garden Prunings used for fuel at Silk Farm

Cooking foods to a temperature of 100°C for a minimum of 5 minutes will kill many food-borne disease microorganisms (ie. salmonella, e coli, campylobacter, listeria). This enables us to keep foods for longer because they do not decay as quickly.

2. Cooking for Enhanced Nutrition

The nutritional value of foods are often enhanced by cooking.

  • Heat makes many foods tastier (the sugars are released, flavours enhanced, and the fibers become more digestible.)

    cooking well geothermal copy
    Geothermal cooking well Rotorua NZ
  • Many vegetable fibers are naturally indigestible and heating and pounding helps to make them suited to human consumption.
  • The beneficial phytochemicals produced by plants such as peas and tomatoes are more readily available when cooked (but not to be cooked in carbon steel pans).
  • Most plant toxins are destroyed. Early varieties of plants such as beans originally contained lectin phytohaemagglutinin which is destroyed by cooking and fermenting.
  • Some cooking methods are more nutritious than others. Slow and sealed cooking locks in the nutrients.
  • Cooking can also destroy nutrients especially in oils and fats, making them harmful.

Not all Apples are Apples – What?

Malay Apple - Syzygium malaccense
Malay Apple

Identical apples of the same variety will rarely have the same nutritional value. Their richness of nutrients depends on the quality of the soil that the apple tree grows in.

As for nutritional value of meats, the animal’s exercise, stress levels and diet will affect the type fats and fibers in the meat. (Freely ranging animals have more nutrients and better quality fats. “Wild-animal fats are different from both farm-animal fats and processed fats, says Dewailly. Farm animals, cooped up and stuffed with agricultural grains (carbohydrates) typically have lots of solid, highly saturated fat.”

3. Cooking for Food Safety

cherub-chicago-museum_art_chicago

Many bacteria, viruses, some poisons and harmful micro-organisms lurk in our foods. This includes liver fluke (which can be transmitted by snails). Most of these threats can be killed by cooking. But not all.

Bacteria [ie. Salmonella] usually dies when cooked. Some by-products (ie.  the botulinum toxin) can be destroyed by heat but other toxins from moulds, micro-organisms, viruses or bacterial growth can still make us sick.

Good health is not so much about which foods are best to eat, or how to prepare them or what hazards to avoid. The ‘proof is in the pudding’ as long as it is a healthy mix of nutrients.

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Hard and Soft Technologies

 Can’t Live Without You – Dear Technology

help-meTechnologies can be classified as Soft or Hard. Most technologies sit within the range between these two extremes. Knowing the difference helps us choose a technology to do a task with the least environmental cost.

Basically, Soft technologies are those handled by people. Whereas, Hard technologies don’t need people to watch over them.

“We use hard technologies to make things easier and faster, by reducing the number of choices for users. Hard technologies are brittle and stifle creativity. They prevent us from doing things and that is why we use them.  They are complete. Hard technologies act as filters – they structure our spaces and limit what we can do.” Jenny Mackness

Elaborating on technologies

A fire pit is a soft technology because requires a skilled operator to start it and keep it going.  However, a wood-fired oven is a slightly ‘harder’ technology because some of the physical effort is reduced by the addition of walls and a chimney.  Eventually, the electric heater was developed. It required less effort and provided speed. This is how the technology of heating became ‘Hardened’.

Very Hard technologies don’t need humans to keep them in operation. A solar passive house is the ultimate Hard technology – it functions without an operator.

Soft and Pliable Technologies

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Ferrocement – a creative soft technology

Soft technologies are flexible and empower creativity. The user has to plan and orchestrate processes. This requires skill and creativity. Soft technologies may appear to be simple but they require time, skills and observation to function.

Co-Evolution

bikeMixed technologies can be an intelligent conversion or enhancement of technologies. The bicycle is the perfect mixed technology. It is the most efficient form of transport known to man. A bicycle requires human energy, skill and observation to operate it. And so we Segway to the Motor car. The common car is a mixed technology.  The self-powered, self-driving car will be a hard type of technology.

Hard Technology Improves Peasantry lifestyle

An example of a soft technology is a house that constantly needs cleaning. Consequently, hard technology deals with inevitable issues such as waste management. One example is the The flush toilet. This is a hard technology, requiring little handling to do a vital job. A simple pit-style of toilet (the old hole in the ground) is a hard technology whereas a good composting toilet is an evolved mixed technology.

chicken-weeds-worms-towerIn a simple chicken house, the poop builds up. The chicken in the wild would not tolerate this, it would move house and allow nature to recycle the waste. The domesticated-chicken-owner is constantly cleaning up after them.

Imagine a chicken house design that is self-cleaning. The Chicken-Worm-Tower is a mix of simple animal housing technology with good flow-management strategies (the waste from the upper level becomes food for the lower levels).

Softening Up The Hard Technologies

Traditionally, a building is a hard technology however, skills can be developed to soften any negative effects of a building.  With observation and adaptations the building becomes a mixed technology.  Adaptations develop and the user learns to drive the structure. These adaptations include simple tools like opening critical windows to allow breezes through. More adaptations include the use of heavy curtains to prevent air circulation and heat loss. In more extreme cases the user reduces heat-loss by applying insulating materials and plugging drafts.

Does a Technology have to cost the Earth?

Choosing a technology deserves a little bit of environmental analysis beyond the immediate financial cost.

  1. technology-save-us?What is the embedded energy in the product?
  2. How long will it last?
  3. is it able to adapt with my needs?
  4. How is it repaired?
  5. What waste is generated?
  6. Is it easy to dis-assemble and recycle?

Hard and Soft Technology of the Permaculture Site

A young Permaculture site is a soft technology. It requires vision, care, skill and training. The user needs to be flexible and creative. As the site matures we see the space become a Harder technology.  The mature forest is robust and requires less maintenance.

The hardened environmental system rewards us with food and improved habitat. Within the mature food-forest we will enjoy being creative and we have more resources to play with.

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The Great Eco-Tech Divide

You can’t always get what you want!

What an amazing era of technology we live in! Super efficient technologies pop up daily. But when the average earth-user reaches out to adopt them, there’s no-one there to guide them.  It’s tough and expensive to yearn for new technologies. The pioneers have to be prepared to take an active role in implementing new technologies and providing constructive feedback.

A key permaculture principles is: Information and observation replaces energy use. The more we learn and observe, the less effort we will need to spend getting it to work.

Retro-fit nightmares

Are your thinking about adopting a new technology? Maybe it is solar air-conditioning. This is a great recent science invention based on adsorption (not absorption). Or perhaps you want to convert your conventional toilets to a compost system. Well, how do you go about it? who can advise you independent of the sales people of a particular brand or particular technology or method?

There are lots of teething problems and pitfalls in the commercialisation of the eco-technologies.  Consumers risk failing with the business that strives to help them. When we recognise the pitfalls for the businesses, we can assess them better and help them and others.

Each Eco-technology manufacturer needs to build their:

  1. supply chain security with distribution methods
  2. support network for parts
  3. expert after-sales service
  4. methods to listen and learn from user feedback
  5. installers – trained installers
  6. demonstration sites where people can touch and feel the gear before committing

Brave Pioneers

Info-replaces-EnergyThe early adopters of new technologies pay a lot of money for products that are usually only just at the adequately functional stage.
These consumers often have to

  1. write their own ‘operations manual’ and
  2. source after sales parts and
  3. make modifications or improvements are at their own risk
  4. be able to service the equipment themselves

At Permaculture Visions we were the first people in our region to set up a solar-hot-water radiator heating system. We took temperature measurements for 12 months to help provide feedback to the supplier and write our own user-guide. With some self-maintenance it is still working well.  Sadly the provider, along with many local manufacturing companies, has closed down.

Speeding up the Eco-technology uptake

Eco-technology uptake can be sped up on three levels: government, business and grass-roots.  Greater government leadership can:

  • provide regulating authorities who provide advise on national and international standards
  • listen to independent forward-thinking councils such as Clean Energy Australia,
  • support regional demonstration institutions such as Future world
  • limited and targeted subsidies can make big impacts.
Clean Energy Council Australia

Business can bridge the gap

There is a gnawing gap between displays of new technology (crowing about it) and honest appraisal and evaluation. The consumer has to know their own needs and be able to assess whether the new technology is appropriate.

If you have a head for technology, are people savvy and don’t have an investment (financial or emotional) in any particular type of technology, here is a good business opportunity for you. You could advise people on which technology would suit their needs best. You could set yourself up as an aggregator. There are some aggregators for individual technologies ie. solar but there are no aggregators for a range of eco-technologies. This can be done as a consultant or in software format.

Business and institutions need to SHOW,  EVALUATE, INFORM, SOURCE improvements and MAKE COMPARISONS.

Choices on the domestic front

Whenever we make a purchase, we are making a technological decision. If we choose an old technology, we might feel we are playing it safe – but are we really safe? When we reach out for an older, proven technology our choice has two impacts.

  1. It supports the current way of life that is not sustainable and governments are already acting to limit this technology.
  2. It fails to support technological advances unless there is a real improvement on the old technology.

The safest option is to adopt a mixture of safe and new technologies to serve our need. This is like wearing ‘a belt and braces’ to be sure the pants stay up.  Consider first the soft technology options. There are a lot of natural and traditional technologies that cost very little to set up (eg. planting deciduous trees on the sun-side to cool the house in summer, using double glazing to hold heat and allow natural light).

Tailor and Blend your technologies

Optimise your soft-technologies like permaculture and dabble intelligently in the cutting-edge eco-technology to build a path to a healthier future.

Nature Knows How - Soft Technology

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Micro-Earthworks Boost Soil-Life

Gentle and Easy

Without water, the soil beneath our feet is vulnerable rock with trapped nutrients. Sometimes a few weeds will volunteer to try to help build soil and stop the soil from eroding away.  Throughout the world there is a strong correlation between lifeless soil and a lifeless climate. This is because the forests seed rain and build life. In the tropics the nutrients live in the mulch from fallen from trees. Whereas, in temperate zones the soils are deep and rich.

But most of us live in urban zones where the soil is nearly lifeless. And most people can’t afford machinery to redesign our patch. Frankly, even if we had the money, the machines can’t get in and the job is too small.

Earthworks for Earthusers

Given that more women than men grow food around the planet – here are some ideas for simple and effective earthworks without digging and without machinery.Swales-Microearthworks

Earthworks by machinery can be expensive so most of us try to manage without.  But when water management is neglected, the site struggles to reach full potential.

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The principles of permaculture earthworks are valuable for the preservation of soil and creation of abundance.  These basic permaculture earthworks principles help build mirco-organisms, enable plants to access the nutrients, save water and reduce erosion. We can apply the principles for earthworks on any scale: on farms or on a little veggie patch.

Permaculture Earthworks Principles

Water management is taught in detail In permaculture design training. When someone comes to do a permaculture design after years of managing a site, there are many regrets. It is easier to design before you start. However, here are a number principles that can be learnt on the fly:

  1. Catch, store and use every drop that comes to your site. Waste not any water that passes by.
  2. Recognise the 3 sources of water: Condensation, Rain and Underground springs
  3. Slow potentially erosive water. This is the core value of Natural Sequence Farming.

    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
  4. Take water out from the gulleys and send it to the ridges (this is a  powerful tool from keyline water design)
  5. Set up filters. Take responsibility for the quality of the water that leaves your site. The water that leaves you can be cleaner than when it entered.
  6. Use natural energies and filters to support your food forests. Filter, store  and transport water naturally through the permaculture system with biological resources (rather than plastics hoses and pumps).

Design with Pattern thinking

Designs with patterns such as streamlining and using lobes (small diversions) create opportunities to maintain the direction and speed of water flow.  The water will follow the design intention. It will pool and settle-out fine minerals and keep the channels productive and flowing. The water can even help maintain these flow-paths. In truth, you can’t argue with water. Water knows what it likes. What you need to do is sit and listen and coax the water to slow down and spread out.

Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall
Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall on the bends

Shake It Up

Use a variety of storage devices. Commonly, people want ponds or tanks to give them potable water. These are valuable but they are static and unable to evolve. On the other hand, bogs and forest are more effective to release the water safely.  Once a pond is full, it can do nothing to manage the next drop. Whereas, a forest is a continually working water-filter. It grows with the build-up. It can even respond to a deluge. The forest drops branches and traps more silt. The forest fungi burst into reproduction. Under-storey plants cup and store water, tree branches and leaves fall to protect the soil, seeds germinate. The forest is constantly adapting.

You can learn with us about how to make small, slow yet effective ways to build soil. You can also enjoy learning about earthworks and have a play in some mud.

Schumaker College has raised garden beds
Schumacher College has productive raised garden beds with trenches to direct water flow and duck traffic

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