I want to talk about pickles.

            Let’s establish that we’re not talking about your basic Vlasic pickle chip, all nauseously pale green and floating in its jar in the canned mysteries section of the grocery store, safely aisles away from the fresh produce and real food. We’re talking about pickles: vegetables (or fruit!) that have been fermented in brine. Changed. Transformed. Metamorphosed, if you will, into an entirely new thing altogether.

            Real pickles are made possible by bacteria. When you eat a true pickle, you are eating probably millions of bacteria, along with the vitamin C and other nutrients they produce in the work it takes to turn a cucumber into a pickle, or shredded cabbage into sauerkraut. But these are the good kind, the kind that belong in your gut and make your existence possible. (Did you know that? Did you know that we can’t survive without the billions of microorganisms living in our intestines? Did you know that we are aliens in our own bodies – that our cells are outnumbered by these bacterial cells ten to one?) They help us digest our food and regulate the environment in those inner crevices that we are barely even aware of.

            And here’s the crazy part: the bacteria that naturally occur on the skin of cucumbers, cabbage, and some other vegetables thrive in saltwater. Harmful bacteria, like the kind that rots food and makes us sick, can’t survive in saltwater. So stick a cucumber or two in a jar of brine, make sure the vegetables are entirely underwater, and let the bacteria do their work. The good ones will go out to town on the cucumbers, making the nutrients in cucumbers easier for our systems to digest and producing more vitamins along the way. The bad bacteria – well, they’re out of luck, because the saltwater keeps them from ever having a chance of growing.

            To think that a vegetable just so happens to have saltwater-resistant bacteria growing on it, when it’s not an organism that lives in saltwater. (I could understand this kind of bacteria existing on seaweed, for example.) And not only that, but this bacteria happens to be incredibly beneficial for human beings. And finally to think that someone, somewhere hundreds of years ago, decided to stick some of these vegetables in saltwater, let them sit until they looked kind of funny and disgusting, and then decided to eat them. What are the odds?

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