Much has been made about the health benefits of sauerkraut. You’ve heard it all before. Sauerkraut provides immune-boosting probiotics and nutrients. It increases the “good” bacteria in your gut as opposed to the “bad” bacteria (notice how food consumption has a moral dimension). It helps you lose weight. It is low in calories and high in fiber, which is to say you fart a lot after eating it. Until recently, few have objected, because it has been used mainly as a garnish on hotdogs and bratwurst at county fairs. Now, however, it’s the thing to eat, having dethroned King Kale. Just maintain social distancing. Wear a face mask if needed.
To all of this, I say “nicht so schnell!” After buying three two-pound jars of sauerkraut over the past few months, I feel compelled to point out the danger of the fermented cabbage. This includes so-called “organic” sauerkraut (whatever that is) as well as regular sauerkraut (whatever that is). As you might expect, the regular variety is tastier and crunchier, which I like. The organic variety has the texture and taste of cold, wet sod; not that I’ve eaten sod, but you get the idea.
So, what are the lessons to be learned from sauerkraut?
Nummer Eins: most things that taste like sod (without actually being sod, mind you) are good for you. In a broader sense, longevity, health, and fitness derive from things we would rather not do, eat, or drink. I am heartened by stories of centenarians who smoke, drink, and maintain a social life that puts mine to shame, but in general the evidence supports those boring things the experts exhort you to do and have attained near-religious status with the yoga-yogurt-probiotic-high intensity training set. You know the drill: eat vegetables and fruit, exercise six times a week (right), and make sure you have a healthy support system. The latter does not refer to personal athletic gear but friends and family. To all of this I remain skeptical, although I keep St. Paul’s lament in mind about his not doing those things he should be doing but rather things that are wasteful (Rom 7:15).
Lesson Nummer Zwei has to do with change and thus offers a profound truth about the nature of life. To wit, after three two-pound jars of sauerkraut, I have come to appreciate the cabbage, even like it. Sauerkraut, like many of the finer things in life, is an acquired taste. That I eat it with a spoon right out of the jar as if it were peanut butter confounds some people as it did the man from Bavaria this week who reacted with a mixture of incredulity and suspicion as if I had been pulling his leg. I had to explain that I wasn’t trying to be funny and didn’t believe all Germans ate sauerkraut, although I remembered the Italian woman I met in October who disliked tomatoes. Probably didn’t like Rossini, either. Must have been a socialist.
Lesson Nummer Drei refers to the danger of sauerkraut mentioned above. I don’t mean the inconvenience of intestinal gas, which is real even if not lethal, although you should never eat sauerkraut with raisins and martinis. If you do, make sure you have unobstructed access to a restroom. I mean the danger that comes with opening the vacuum-sealed lid. With each of the jars, I nearly cracked a tooth and sprained both wrists trying to get the thing open. And I tried everything from towels and rubber potholders to silicon strips, hot water, and, finally, banging on the lid with a hammer. I was prepared to smash the lid just so I could open the jar, not that I became obsessed or anything like that.
In the end, I was able to open the jar through a recurring cycle of walking away and returning to it every twenty minutes and giving it old-fashioned, elbow grease. But that’s tricky. You have to limit the arc of the turn so as not to aggravate the sprain and keep your mouth open so as not to press down on a molar. The last thing you need is cold sauerkraut splashed all over the counter and an emergency visit to the dentist. The saving grace in all of this was that no one else saw it. But this is an extremely important lesson.
If you can get the right rhythm of walking away and reengaging a person, place, or thing without cracking a tooth, you’re on your way to a happy life.