Why it pays to be friends with cultured artisan Gillian Kozicki.
With a mantra of “ferment to better health” underpinning everything she does, I suspected cultured foods might be the way to Gillian Kozicki’s heart. What I didn’t know was just how generous the Cultured Artisans founder is with her own cultured creations. From family barbecues to work colleagues, being within Kozicki’s sphere of influence reaps with health benefits.
Ilona Marchetta: I read that it was when conventional medicine failed that you got into wholefoods. Will you tell us more about that?
Gillian Kozicki: I’m an epileptic and have been on medication since my first seizure at the age of 23. I have to take daily medication to control it but the medication has had a dramatic effect on my energy levels, possibly my skin and at different times, my moods. I kept my epilepsy very private as my life felt drained, I was always tired and no one could fix me. I felt like my body and the medical system failed me. Even though my seizures were under control, I couldn’t drive and no one knew from the outside, I just wanted more out of life.
My whole foods journey started when I was on a Carbon Farming Course in Tennessee where, among other people, I met a guy called Sandor. He was just another participant as far as I was concerned until the final day when he set out his 2 books to sign and sell.
As we had been chatting about the soil food web for days, I was intrigued that there was so much more to him. Especially when he outlined that we could ferment foods and drinks, which had their own microbial world, which interacts with our bodies through our digestive system. He knew so much and was so passionate. He is and was Sandor Ellix Katz. What he said made so much sense that I knew I had to know more.
Regrettably, the day I arrived home, I had a horrific seizure. It set my plans back significantly. But eventually I did learn more and will continue to explore this amazing microbial world of fermented foods as it is so interesting, so ancient and so connective.
But, that was just one aspect of the course as far as my whole food journey is concerned. Joel Salatin, led the final class, with all his localisation lessons on chickens, beef, pork, dung beetles, community and food miles. He spoke of soil health, fostering the intuitive nature of the animals, humane slaughtering and local consumption. Let alone the nose to tail eating to honour the whole animal with minimal wastage. As an omnivore and a conscious consumer, I related well to his approach, his passion and his high regard for the importance of ensuring the future of appropriate farming both for the farmers and the land.
My journey has evolved over the years as I’ve attended different forums and classes. The two most significant ones are the annual MINDD Foundation’s forum and Georgia Lienemann from Stirring Change, ‘What to Eat Program’. These have both been full of high quality, well researched and reliable information that has really taught me the importance of the food we buy. It is absolutely essential to consider in our buying decisions;
- Our ethics on agriculture, soil, food kilometers, community and profit.
- The way food should be prepared (fermenting, soaking, sprouting or, dare I say, ‘activating’) and also, processing, additives, storage and shelf life.
- Our consumption patterns, that is, what we eat, when and why as well as what not to eat, when and why!
- Our gut health, our ability to access the nutritional contents of the food we ingest and the impact that process has on our immune function, mental health, weight, inflammatory responses and overall health and wellbeing.
IM: People interpret ‘wholefoods’ to mean different things. What’s your perspective?
GK: My perspective of wholefoods is:
- Unprocessed in the sense of chemical additives and preservatives to make it shelf stable and long life. So real food not food like substances!
- GMO free
- Heirloom varieties
- Natural and whole in the sense of un-pasteurised and un-homogenised milk I’d like to see the regulation of the animal health so its disease free not the killing of the life in the product to ensure its disease free.
- Natural colour and flavour
- No artificial sweeteners
- Grass fed and finished meat, humanely transported and slaughtered
- Pesticide and herbicide free
- Appropriately prepared
- Mindfully consumed
Ideally I’d love to see food sold on value not price so local, seasonal, heirloom and the story behind the food should be advertised to inform the consumer’s decision when purchasing their food. Help consumers to know the important questions to get answered with regard to their food.
IM: How do you incorporate fermented foods into your own diet?
GK: I incorporate fermented foods into my lifestyle and my family’s diet by having a diverse range of fermented foods on the go at the same time. We consume:
- Milk Kefir plain or in smoothies of a morning
- Water Kefir or Kombucha during the day, particularly early or late afternoon,
- Labne dips, made from the curds of milk kefir, as a sweet or savoury snack during the day
- Cultured vegetables or sauerkraut with lunch or dinner.
We really try to incorporate a fermented element into every meal and use tonics when we feel a little under the weather to ward off viral attacks.We are forever extending the range by looking at what else we can do and try so it’s quite adventurous in the kitchen as well as a bit messy and chaotic at times. It’s real, lovely, and attractive to others when we share and talk about it!
IM: I read on your welcome page a reference to “the friends” you ferment with. What’s that all about? It sounds like you have fermenting parties!
GK: When you ferment you have to move from a scarcity mentality to an abundance reality as you continually end up with an abundance of the end product, whether it’s SCOBY’s (which are the various types of heirloom cultures and is an acronym for a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeasts), the sauerkraut or brined vegetables prepared in season when abundant and cheap or the output from the drinks like kefir, kombucha and Jun.
I take some of this abundance in to work to share and marvel at the interest and desire to learn that the different ferments can bring. We also have informal dinner parties at home where we sit down out the back and instead of having a glass of wine we will have a glass of Kombucha, in the wine glass or champagne flute. We have ferments offered at every gathering or BBQ we hold and we normally send people home with a ‘take away’ jar of their favorite ferment.
I often ferment with my daughters, and friends talk of coming over to learn but mostly they want to talk about it and take it home! We have done it on a small scale but I think in the New Year we will hold a ferment party as a project to prepare some vegetables for a local charity we are partnering with.
IM: What is the number one thing people do wrong when it comes to fermenting at home?
GK: Well, there’s a few simple things.
The first is they worry too much. I teach and showcase as many of the various stages when fermenting to put people at ease but fermenting at home was just a skill kids were taught at home. With our modern western culture this is now lost. People worry about germs, bacteria and that they are going to poison someone by making fermented foods and drinks at home.
Secondly, people don’t maintain the right environment at the edge or surface of a ferment, so mould or bugs on the surface is an issue. We teach how to foster the right environment to achieve success every ferment.
And finally, when I speak to people about fermenting, the most frequent comment I get is ‘when I made my sauerkraut it was so salty! I put the amount in as I was told but I don’t like the taste’. We teach people to salt to taste when making sauerkraut but with a backup plan B. Not everyone enjoys a very salty dish so we encourage people to measure out the recommended salt and then slowly add the salt and taste as you go and to stop at the desired saltiness. Also measure the salt by weight not by volume due to the variety of salt textures from fine to coarse.
IM: Has fermented foods had a bit of a revival in the past few years? What have you observed from your own work about changing attitudes or trends?
GK: Yes! A fermenting revival is brewing, particularly with kombucha but a full on ferment revival is coming and I’m so excited about it! So many people have been promoting the benefits of ferments for decades in classes, café’s and books but it’s as if the message is finally bubbling to the surface as people are hungry for all that fermenting can offer at the table, to the body and for community!
I’ve found that a lot of our parents and grandparents grew up with ferments as a natural part of their culture, lifestyle and diet but we have moved away from them for so many reasons and, I think, to our detriment. It’s time to reconnect to these ancient skills, the microbial life the ferments contain and to think of the impact for one to two generations ahead so that the benefits can be fully realised.
The revival has the potential to be a total wholefood shift, from the grass roots up through the way food is grown, sold, prepared and consumed. Fermenting really is infectious in a magical way.