This is a guest blog post by Kaitlynn Fenley, Cultured Guru co-founder and microbiologist. Kaitlynn is a proud LSU alum. After graduating with a degree in microbiology, Kaitlynn teamed up with LSU digital advertising alum Scott Chachere to bring together microbes, fermentation and healthy foods. Kaitlynn is passionate about microbes and how they can help us live healthier.
While planning a Thanksgiving meal, or giving thanks around the table, have you ever thought about being thankful for the invisible world around you? By that, I mean the population of trillions upon trillions of tiny microorganisms that created the world as we know it and keep the world going.
Let’s go on a journey to discover how microbes play a roll in literally everything, from the very beginning all the way to your Thanksgiving meal.
You’ll quickly see that we owe microbes quite a bit of thanks and credit for allowing life to persist on earth, for impacting history, and for providing health and the world as we know it.
First off, you are here, on this day, reading these words because microbes made the earth habitable. Big thanks for that one. Every living thing on this planet releases byproducts or waste into the environment as a result of metabolism. For about four billion years, this planet was all microbes all the time. It turns out that the byproducts or waste of those microbes changed the chemistry of earth drastically, eventually making it habitable for more complex organisms like you and me.
Microbes are the core of life on earth. They made our lives possible and still do every single day, working away in our intestines to provide digestive support and to balance absorption of nutrients. They even protect our skin from unfriendly microbes. They toil away in the soil enabling plants to thrive and bear vegetables and fruit. They decorate the world in beauty and wonder, never seeking credit and most often unseen.
Fast forward a few billion years. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and guess what? Thanks microbes… again. Microbes set in motion the history of Thanksgiving. Yeah sure, the humans made decisions and did the “big” things, but let us step away from our anthropocentric view for a moment. Without microbes, the story of the first Thanksgiving would not have unfolded, because most of all, there would be no food without them. Microbes or artificial fertilizers are the only way to provide nitrogen to plants, and there were no artificial fertilizers back in the day of the first Thanksgiving, so it was all up to the soil microbes to fix nitrogen for food crops.
Let me explain…
There were originally 102 people on the Mayflower, and only half of them survived the journey from England and the first winter in North America. Most of the pilgrims died from contagious bacterial diseases (microbes again) and scurvy. The following spring, with a little less than half of the Mayflower passengers alive, the pilgrims received a visit from an Abanakei Native and another Native American man named Squanto. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. He was taken by an English sea captain and sold into slavery. He then fled to London and voyaged back to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.
Squanto, being a kind person, taught the Pilgrims, who were weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to grow food that would help protect them from disease and nourish their bodies. He taught them how to grow corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe. In 1621, Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Natives shared an Autumn harvest meal, which is considered the first Thanksgiving. The need to protect themselves from microbial diseases, and thus the learning of how to grow crops naturally (for which microbes are necessary), set forth the path to the first Thanksgiving feast, which we celebrate still today.
Besides a planet to live on, regular bowel movements and a national holiday all about good food and family, here are some other microbe-centric things to be thankful for this holiday:
1. Soil Microbes and Gut-healthy Turkey
You may eat turkey, chicken or ham on Thanksgiving. Did you know that these animals (when they are free range and humanely raised) keep themselves healthy with sand, mud and dirt? They roll around in microbe-rich soil because this helps keep their skin microbiomes healthy and balanced. Some of the healthiest farm-raised birds and pigs are also fed fermented grains and vegetables in order to keep their gut microbiomes healthy, which means healthier, more nutritious meat. Also, all of the vegetables that appear at Thanksgiving meals are able to grow because of soil microbes. Like I mentioned before, without soil microbes there would be absolutely no food for us to eat. Your green beans, potatoes and cranberries were all able to grow because of the rich soil microbiome (a community of microbes). Even a green bean plant, a legume, harbors nitrogen-fixing bacteria in root nodules.
2. Mocha Coffee
Are you having chocolate in a pie for desert? Homemade bread on the table with your meal? Coffee after dinner? Many microbes are involved in the production process of chocolate and coffee, and bread rises thanks to yeasts. Obviously we must give thanks to microbes for the irreplaceable foodstuffs of bread, coffee and chocolate.
Being able to digest and absorb optimal amounts of nutrients from your Thanksgiving feast, SURPRISE, also depends on the microbes in your gut microbiome (the community of microbes living in your gut).
We should also give thanks for what microbes have in store for the future of health care and sustainability. Probiotics and microbiome balance are at the forefront of research for cancer therapy, autism, eczema, sustainable agriculture, crop disease prevention, depression therapy, Crohn’s and Colitis, IBD, indigestion, prevention of antibiotic-resistant bacterial disease, bio-fuels, sustainable energy, healthy coral reefs, and even the search for extraterrestrial life.
The past is microbial and the future is microbial. Do not fear them, and be grateful we are part of this microbial universe.
Here’s a recipe from the Cultured Guru Blog for a fan-favorite, microbiome-friendly Thanksgiving side!
Probiotic Cranberry Sauce
- 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of raw unrefined cane sugar
- 1 tablespoon of Agave Syrup
- 1 twelve ounce bag of fresh cranberries
- 1 tablespoon sauerkraut brine from Cultured Guru Sauerkraut or homemade sauerkraut
Takes 1 hour.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the orange juice, water, sugar and syrup on medium heat.
- Stir continuously until the sugar is dissolved.
- Stir in cranberries and bring to a boil. The cranberries will start to pop open. Stir continuously for about 12 minutes until the sauce is thick.
- Remove from heat, place in a glass bowl or serving dish, allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- Thoroughly stir in 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut brine.
- Place in refrigerator and allow to chill for two hours, or over night.
- Taste test and sweeten to your liking with some more syrup or sugar.