Tunnels bypass previously impassable areas, free up congestion in cities, and hide unsightly traffic. With family in Massachusetts and a husband who grew up outside of Boston, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the port city change and adapt as a result of the most expensive highway project ever undertaken. If you last drove in Boston before The Big Dig, you won’t recognize parts of the city anymore: the 15 year project transformed formerly dead spaces in Boston’s South End into walkable areas alive with commerce and parks, while connecting the North End with the rest of the city. Buried below, traffic hums along in a 3.5 mile tunnel, its noise hidden, its air pollution tidily filtered away.
Our nation’s agricultural system operates in a similar way, with above ground and below ground components that extend beyond the visible stalks of corns and their underground roots. Above ground, we expect to enter a grocery store and buy whatever food we want, seasonality be damned. Okra in March? It may not be possible to grow that viscous vegetable anywhere in the US in early Spring, but you can always buy a handful of Honduran okra, if you’re so inclined. Our above ground system showcases a system of plenty and excess, from the stocked grocery aisles, to heaping hot plates at buffet restaurants, to the 97,000 pounds of avocado that Chipotle goes through each day. If you only glance at the surface, it’s easy to think that all is functioning exactly as it should be.
With the exception of that incredibly hard freezing snap that wreaked havoc on farms throughout Oregon, Portland’s winter has managed to cast itself as both mild and one of the driest in recorded history. Though I can’t complain too much about the fifty degree days (who wants to be the person verbally raining on someone’s weather-induced happiness by commenting that this drought doesn’t bode well for summer water levels?), I often had mixed feelings when I looked down at my feet on a late January day and realized that I wasn’t wearing socks… and didn’t need to.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone who reads this site that my list of favorite foods is exceedingly large, ranging from cheese to bread, beer to wine, sauerkraut to pickles. The common factor in all of these favorites? Fermentation. Though I could douse everything with soy sauce and can never turn down a hunk of clothbound aged cheddar, until recently, I hadn’t linked these fermented foods together, or understood that these cravings were nourishing a very important part of my body: the microbiome that resides in my gut, swirling with trillions of bacteria and other microbes. Over the last six months, I’ve devoured several books that delve into fermentation – notably, The Art of Fermentation and Cooked – and as is usually the case when I’m suddenly desperate for information on a new topic, I began finding articles and conversations surrounding fermentation and bacteria everywhere I looked.