Do real vegans consume bacteria and yeasts?

My sister writes home periodically, which is nice, because she’s completely out of cell phone range (I sent a text a few days ago, and it took till today for me to get the notification that it couldn’t be delivered…far out). The farm she’s at now sounds like it agrees with her; which is to say, it functions well without a strict authoritative hierarchy. It’s spring, which means new babies are being born everywhere. While Claire missed getting to watch the birth of a goat, she did write about seeing a newborn kitten nurse for the first time, and the mother eating the placenta.

Let’s pause to talk about this. Mothers eating placentas is, for me, one of those things I never, ever heard about until—I don’t know—a month back when Claire told me about another WWOOFer who was flying home to assist in a friends birth and planned to ingest the friend’s placenta. It makes sense under scrutiny—eating one’s own placenta, that is—because it’s protein rich, and no savvy mother in the wild would let that go to waste. If you think about it, it’s kind of a cool concept, if only because a placenta is the only piece of meat you’ll ever find that didn’t involve the donor dying (or being horribly maimed). It rather speaks to how secure people feel about food, that most women in this society wouldn’t consider reclaiming the nutrients they lose during birth.

If you’re wondering at this point, my placenta happens to be buried in a pot, and the calla lilies it’s fed over the last 20-some years happen to be extremely robust.

Dad’s been exploring his bread-making craft for the first time in about a decade. He used to bake a lot when I was young; a friend of his from the Irish folk music community recently came back to the U.S. from Germany with a smuggled bread starter and sparked Papa’s interest in homemade bread. Last night over supper, eating the last of his (highly successful) first batch, we discussed the method of creating a starter from flour, water, and microbes. What happens, in a nutshell, is that the yeasts and bacteria from your hands and in the air combine with the basic ingredients to create a unique yeast. You just need a little of that substance to make bread, but it is a living and breathing organism mass that’ll grow in volume fairly quickly (unless you put it in the fridge, in which case it becomes dormant). You discard most of it every two weeks and feed it extra flour to keep the starter from maturing and making your bread sour. I was tickled to learn; it’s like we have a third pet.

The yeasts and bacteria feed off the flour by digesting gluten and “pooping” carbon dioxide. Ergo air pockets in bread. The majority of this activity occurs after the three hours of dough prep, while the dough sits for it’s final rise. I have to wonder how the gluten content of homemade bread compares to store-bought. If, imagine, Wonderbread were to have twice the gluten content of a loaf you bake yourself, mightn’t that explain the gluten overload that’s purported to have set off the rash of gluten intolerance across the country? I’m not researching anything; I don’t know how accurate my assumptions are—consider yourself warned—I’m just wondering. It’s pretty obvious to me that a diet high in processed foods will make you sick, but why isn’t it more obvious across the health and nutrition field that a loaf of Wonderbread might be so bad for you that it’ll make you straight up allergic to all bread and pasta? For that matter, would a (mildly) gluten-intolerant individual find himself more tolerant of a homemade loaf of bread with lots of air pockets?

I posed this question to my parents and my mother observed that she never used to see so many people allergic to grains or peanuts, but that “some things have always elicited a reaction from some people.” My father concurred, pointing out that his sister was born with an allergy to shellfish. I surprised even myself with an immediate response: that’s no surprise that shellfish and seafood allergies became prevalent before other kinds did. Not only is the ocean food chain a long, complex one, but the ocean has been the dumping ground of the world for centuries. Shellfish absorb and composite a heavier share of toxins from their environment, so it’s no surprise that humans developed an intolerance to shellfish and other seafood before developing symptoms toward other foods with a lower spot in the food chain and water cycle; we’ve been sending pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals down the river for ages…not to mention shitting everywhere, like untrained animals, for centuries more. Not a surprise at all.

What’s really disturbing is that some people are now showing intolerance toward grains. If the soil is ground zero, the crops grown from it are only a degree or two removed; we’re talking extremely low on the food chain. And if plants are provoking reactions like gluten intolerance, what sort of disaster does that preclude in all the subsequent levels of the food chain? I feel lucky to have grown up before the advent of GMOs. I’m lucky that my mother abstained from all meat and seafood until a few years after I was born. I’m lucky that we get a good number of our leafy greens, vegetables, and herb seasonings from our own backyard and that we can feed those plants with our own compost, instead of relying on nitrogen-heavy fertilizers. All in all, I feel I have a huge biological advantage over a lot of people, having no food allergies and consuming a lot of local produce, without having to worry about tainted meat products. And it all stems (hee) from my family’s and my diet.

The only thing: I do have a great love of shellfish and seafood. If I ever find myself with a placenta on hand to bury in a pot, I’ll need to look into plants that tolerate heavy metals.

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