This year, two articles helped propel a conversation on diversity among fermenters: Miin Chan's Eater article "Lost in the Brine" (which explores cultural appropriation in fermentation) and Jiayang Fan's New Yorker piece "The Gatekeepers Who Get to Decide What Food is 'Disgusting'" (which highlights how Westerners' views of "disgusting" food require immigrants to assimilate to local food culture). Listen to these two writers and a trio of BIPOC producers as they debate the topics of diversity and cultural appropriation among fermenters, and discuss who gets to determine what "tastes good."
Is Fermentation "So White"...or Not?
As a medical doctor & researcher obsessed with taste, food culture, ferments and nutrition, Miin founded Australia's first tibicos business, Dr. Chan's. She helped to create the local wild fermentation industry through products, education, science communication and consultation. Working with farmers' markets, food sovereignty and systems, and urban agriculture communities, she has a deep love for all things food, from soil to gut and beyond. Miin is undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne researching the effects of fermented foods on chronic disease via gut microbiota. In 2021, Miin wrote a long-form article for Eater exploring the issue of white purveyors dominating the fermented food industry, "Lost in the Brine."
Sebastian Vargo. Vargo is a Chicago-based chef who previously worked at Merchant, Dixie, Schwa and Girl and the Goat. Vargo, like the rest of the restaurant industry, was forced to leave his head chef role at Merchant during the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time, he created Vargo Brother Ferments with his fiancée Taylor Hanna, also a Chicago-based chef. Vargo Brothers Ferments is a chef-driven ferments company that sells seasonal ferments using fresh ingredients sourced locally from Chicago community gardens and out of Vargo's backyard garden. Vargo's ferments are an intersection of physical and historic preservation -- some of the flavors he uses plays homage to his upbringing in an African-American household in the Midwest with Southern heritage. You can find him on Instagram @vargobrotherferments
Jiayang Fan has been a staff writer at the New Yorker since 2016. She is at work on her first book, Motherland, forthcoming from FSG in 2023.
Kheedim Oh is the founder of Mama O's Premium Kimchi based in Brooklyn NY. A life long food enthusiast and accidental entrepreneur. Kheedim asked his Mama O to teach him how to make kimchi because all the kimchi in the stores was not to his liking. Starting with $50 and a skateboard he started selling at Jeffrey Meat Market in Essex Market. Fast forward ten years and now his products are sold in stores like Whole Foods nationwide.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Mara has spent her 20+ year career as a food professional learning, practicing and sharing knowledge around Good Food. In 2011 she co-founded Ozuké, a fermented foods company that distributes nationally in the US. In 2017 Mara helped to produce a series of short films on Southwestern Chinese fermentation practices with Sandor Katz and Mattia Sacco Botto, and is currently working on a book about Chinese fermentation practices. In October of 2021 she joined IE Hospitality, an impact driven Colorado based restaurant group and grain mill, as Director of Fermentation. She is excited to infuse her passion for the traditional arts to enliven and amplify the restaurant group's fermentation and zero waste programs.