Doing Fieldwork on Fermented Foods in the World

(Mar.22-Sep.24, 2022, Nagoya University Museum)

Conclusion. Toward the creation of a “fermented food field studies”*

Introducing how fermented food are produced, consumed, and marketed as a cultural activity based on fieldwork by researchers by itself cannot possibly give a clear idea of the useful properties fermented foods possess and the capable microorganisms that have been domesticated for the purpose of producing fermented foods. What is required are efforts to surpass the borders between academic fields under the important themes of how humanity has been associated with fermented foods and how to preserve valuable fermented foods in all parts of the world.

■ Creation of a “fermented food field studies”

In research on fermented foods, while fieldworkers conduct fieldwork in all parts of the world, elucidating the techniques and knowledge of the people putting microorganisms to work to produce fermented foods in light of the natural environment, history, culture, and social background of each region, microbiologists analyze how bacteria and mold are involved in fermentation in laboratories with the latest equipment. Fieldworkers refer to the research done by microbiologists, while on the other hand, microbiologists also refer to information provided by fieldworkers in a sense that they develop their academic field by analyzing microorganisms newly discovered in various parts of the world.

Thus, it is important to promote this research and establish “fermented food field studies” as an academic discipline integrating fermented food research with roots in both fieldwork and laboratory research. The structure of the framework for this study is shown in Fig. 1, and its focus is on the following three research themes.

The first theme is a framework for shedding light on the actions of people who produce various fermented foods by using the products obtained through their livelihoods in accordance with the natural environment, in light of their relationship to the environment. In recent years, as changes in the socioeconomic environment such as penetration of the market economy and globalization occur, agricultural, marine, and livestock products have come to be produced in an industrial manner. This affects local food culture as well as local production of fermented foods, so the perspective here is of clarifying the environmental regime (system or structure) observed in these changes.

The second theme is research from the perspective of clarifying the traditions and identity, i.e., the culture, of each actor (producer, consumer, etc.) involved with fermented foods—playing a role or making wide use of them, whether as seasonings, preserved foods, or refreshments or as offerings in rites and rituals—and shedding light on the livelihood culture observed in the techniques thus established.

The third theme is research from the perspective of elucidating flavors that serve as criteria for determining the success or failure of fermentation and the effects of ingesting fermented foods on the body; and clarifying the relationship between the indigenous knowledge cultivated for their production and use and the domestication (a term applicable to plants, animals, or any other living things) of the more useful fermenting microorganisms that have been chosen.

These three research perspectives would demonstrate scientifically the relationship between indigenous knowledge and the microorganisms that promote health by involving microbiology researchers to conduct analyses of the microbial flora involved. Moreover, from the perspective of microbiology, we can anticipate the preservation of the microorganisms involved in fermented foods in the places where they are being used and the protection of traditional production methods and qualities, and the promotion of applied research aiming for the development of new ways of using them. Not only do fermented foods enrich people’s food cultures, symbolize ethnic identities, and protect health, but also have the potential to become an important research theme creating new discipline tying together fieldwork and the laboratories.

* The English title has slightly been changed from the panel.