Food for Thought

In his quest to only eat fermented foods for a full year, Derek Dellinger opened eyes and palates to a fresh and flavorful world


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Dellinger’s memoir tells the story of his full immersion into the infinite world of food fermentation.

For most of us, the idea of eating one type of food for an entire year might seem less than appetizing. But not Beacon resident Derek Dellinger. On January 1, 2014, the writer (a Hudson Valley magazine contributor) and brewer set out on an international quest to eat and drink only fermented foods and beverages for 52 weeks. In his book The Fermented Man (released in May), the author details his journey, and here he shares a few morsels.

What sparked your interest in fermentation (the process of preserving food through microbial action)?
I was home brewing beer and became fascinated with how yeast and bacteria were involved in that process. And then I started seeing they were in different foods like sauerkraut and yogurt. I researched it and had this thought that fermentation is much more ubiquitous than people realize. I thought living off fermented food for a year—even though extreme—would be a good way to illustrate how commonplace it is. So, I dove in.

Can you give us a specific example of how fermentation can change the food we eat?
There is shark meat in Iceland and it’s one of the strangest foods in the world. You can’t eat it fresh or it will kill you because it’s poisonous, but, if you ferment it properly, it becomes edible. It’s a drastic example, but fermentation has the potential to turn something completely poisonous to a food that people eat for survival. 

What were some of the challenges you faced over the course of the year?
Any very limiting diet is going to drastically affect you, and this got to me psychologically. The diet forced me to eat simple foods in their original element as opposed to making more elaborate and prepared meals out of them. I felt like I was eating a lot of the same thing and I worried I wasn’t getting enough calories. It was the most difficult year of my life. I had to think about every single meal I was going to eat. I really had to stage everything in very exhausting detail. 

What was the first food you ate after the year was finished?
When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, I tackled a giant bowl of guacamole. I had one fermented avocado at a café in New Orleans, but I couldn’t replicate it for myself, so it was quite challenging to go an entire year without them.

Do you still eat fermented foods even though you finished your experiment?
I’m still eating a lot of fermented food and fermenting a lot of vegetables. Right now, my refrigerator is packed with bizarre and unique fermentation experiments.

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