Inuit Fermentation: Animal-based & Archaic

Probably the most memorable trip I’ve ever taken was a business/art junket to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. While there I had the great privilege of hanging out with Inuit people who shared their food traditions, songs and stories. So I’m especially excited about the last North Carolina State Fermentology seminar this Thursday, June 10th at 12PM ET:

Inuit Fermentation:
Animal-based & Archaic

As part of the Arctic Indigenous diet, Inuit fermented foods are all animal-sourced, even the ones made from plants. From the stomach content of the caribou to the seabirds in sealskins, this short seminar introduces Inuit fermented foods illustrating how these rare foods present us with an opportunity to appreciate the diversity of dishes and flavors that might come from an entirely animal-sourced diet. Aviaja Hauptmann, who is an Inuk microbiologist, will discuss the role that Inuit fermentation has played and has the potential to play in the future.

Sign up here to attend live but if you can’t make it, the video will be uploaded to the North Carolina State Applied Ecology YouTube channel here.

Paleo Grift

The myth of a golden, prehistoric age of ease and leisure before the toil of agriculture is an idea that pops up often in the urban homesteading and permaculture scene. While I’m sympathetic to complaints about modern agriculture, I’ve long thought that this Golden Age narrative sounds too simple, too much like the “noble savage” archetype, the idea that if we can somehow just get back to “nature” all will be okay.

This notion of a idyllic distant past was the subject of an excellent episode of the Trillbilly Worker’s Party podcast. Their guest was Daniel Immerwahr, a history professor at Northwestern University who was on to discuss his review of James Suzman’s book Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots.

Suzman’s book, popular with the tech bro set, focuses on the Bushmen or San people of the Kalahari Desert, made famous by the 1980s movie The Gods Must Be Crazy (which I’ve never understood the appeal of, frankly). Suzman, relying on bad research, makes the claim that the San work 15 hours a week. In reality that 15 hours is the time spent just gathering food and the total doesn’t take into account processing food, building shelter, childcare etc. Other anthropologists peg the total at around 42 hours a week. And the San don’t live an idyllic life. In reality they are malnourished, don’t forage much anymore and were forced into resettlement areas by the South African government. The Gods Must Be Crazy, it turns out, was more propaganda than comedy.

Which brings us to Immerwahr main point, that a more careful reading of history might lead us to different conclusions. As he says in his review of Suzman’s book,

A 300,000-year history of work, done well, could ask probing questions about gender, slavery, inequality, the wage system, ideology, and workers’ political power. It might yield conclusions that would be more uncomfortable than encouraging to our ascendant elite. It might, indeed, offer insights as to how to dismantle that elite.

I’d add that the rosy view of hunter gatherer cultures contains a kind of racism that assumes that this way of living is easy, that it doesn’t involve skill or, as in the case of California native peoples what looks to westerners like hunting and gathering is actually a form of agriculture, just not a form that looks like European farming (See Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild for more on that thesis).

I guess it’s not surprising that our tech bros executives would embrace short work weeks and fictitious pre-historic diets while somehow forgetting about little humdrum things like the rights and dignity of workers, child care, shelter and food preparation.

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