Fermentation for Health & Social Change.

Earlier this summer, Octopus Alchemy was asked to participate in a program of talks and seminars, held for the community by the Brighton Natural Health Centre (BNHC). The centre kindly recorded the presentation to make it accessible to the wider community. It makes for a great resource for my project and represents the politics and understanding that drive my work around health and food in the community.

In what follows, I try to bring together current research and insights into food, health and healing to show how the simple act of fermenting in the home kitchen can not only benefit ourselves personally but reverberate into wider social, political and environmental realms.

You can click here or on the logo below (soon to be our permanent brand) to be redirected to the presentation🙂




Addenda and clarification to the video:

  • Somehow I manage to state in the talk that global food waste amounts to 2BN tonnes per annum – I think a better figure is probably around 1.3BN tonnes.
  • When discussing the role of biomedicine to blindsight us to how social factors; particularly war, poverty and oppression impinge on our health and human potential, the research I have in mind is by: File, D. (2004). The medical text: between biomedicine and hegemony. Social Science & Medicine 59 (1275-1285).
  • When discussing the origins of biomedicine, I don’t fully do justice to Biomedicine’s genesis as part of the colonialist project of the West and which has ‘a long history of appropriation and assimilation of Indigenous knowledges.’ Specific reference to: Hollenberg, D. & Muzzin. L (2010). Epistemological Challenges to Integrative Medicine: An Anti-Colonial Perspective on the Combination of Complementary/alternative Medicine with Biomedicine. The Journal of Health Section of the Australian Association 19:(1) 34-56





Activating communities: Fermentation fever in Hastings.

In 2015, Octopus Alchemy held a fermentation workshop at a vegan cafe in St Leonard’s – A year on, we catch up with Scott Garrett to talk about his workshop experience and the impact it’s had on his own practice and local community.

What is your name?

Scott Garrett of Hastings Fermentory

Scott Garrett of Hastings Fermentory

Scott Garrett.

What attracted you to the workshop with Octopus Alchemy?

I had been reading more and more about lacto-fermention on a few blogs I read like Root Simple (an urban homesteading blog) and had just discovered Sandor Katz. I had an old book on preserving but it looked like a long and laborious process of brine and skimming etc, but these new posts seemed like it was much simpler. The workshop popped up and i thought it would be great to actually prove that it was and just to make sure i wasn’t missing anything!

Did the workshop play out as you expected it to?

It did all that and more, giving me a much more rounded understanding and practical grounding in fermented foods, bacteria and their health benefits. Most importantly it gave me the confidence to just get on with it!

How do you feel that the workshop experience changed your perspective on health and nutrition?

I had been struggling with a condition for several years, diagnosed as Fibromyalgia (which I’m still not sure about, but it seemed close enough!) with chronic fatigue and depression. I hoped maybe it might magically restore me (it hasn’t yet, sadly). It was also at a time that we were assessing our eating habits and had also decided to go wheat free. A lot of things were being looked at food wise and the workshop definitely helped focus me on this. With dropping wheat and eating lots of ferments I lost 2 stones in a year. It wasn’t my aim at all, but it proved to me that something crucial was changing. My gut was noticeably changed – without going into detail, i knew!

'Hastings Fermentory' held their first workshop just last week :)

‘Hastings Fermentory’ held their first workshop just last week🙂

In a sentence, could you sum up the social value of the work of Octopus Alchemy?

The social value of these workshops is invaluable – they show how fermenting is as much about social change and a new politics of looking after and nourishing each other, as it is thinking about where food comes from and what we are putting into our bodies

What were the tangible effects of your workshop experience? Are you doing anything differently now? Any exciting projects underway?

Not only am I now making ferments, as part of a regular routine, I’m also sharing them with friends and encouraging them to start their own. This lead me to eventually start a Facebook group, Hastings Fermentory, for local fermenting in and around Hastings. I’m now about to do my first workshop, hopefully i can start someone else on the path to a lifetime of fermenting and better health!

You can read other testimonials about OA Workshops here and here.

If you’d like to support our work – check out our schedule of future workshops in Brighton and beyond here.

Or – skip directly over to eventbrite to book onto our next workshop in Brighton on September 18th.


Credit to Tzakol - A Separate Reality.

Out of the pubs and into the mud – a call from the land.

What will it take for you to believe? When observable ‘facts’ serve discrete interests – what is truth and what does it say? As a legion, disembodied from the earth, we have created a material-imaginary; tinkering with the surface elements of reality, we revel in our own mastery. Gloat over our bounty. What have we achieved? Everyday bloodshed. Heartache. Paranoia. Barricades of walls and hearts. Pollution. So much pollution of the land, of the air and seas – of the heart. Some days I can barely look another in the eye. So much shame. So much judgement. So much distrust. So much fear.

What will it take for you to turn away from the current paradigm in disgust – to curl your lip and sink your toes into the earth in full knowing? To recognise that the race to the bottom; the narrowing of our lens, the search for answers in numbers and data yields only a glimpse of a snowflake in a storm. That you are a snowflake. But that you are also the storm.

What will it take for you to believe the earth is alive? That it has its own interests – that you are part of those interests? But so far removed from her soils, her water and her breath – so indoctrinated you are in plastics and screens and sugar and coin that you have forgotten. Can you remember? Are you prepared to?

Who is closest to the earth? Where are they and what do they have to say? What are their rituals? How do they dance and what do they sing? How do they heal and what is healing to them? How do they serve and who are they serving? Out of the pubs and into the mud – are you prepared to listen? Are you brave enough to let go of your ideas and identity forged in a world prepared to oversee its own demise and ready to reawaken to the ‘primitive’, to the primal? Can you bear to open your heart and live in trust of the land and one another? I’ll help you if you’ll help me.

Blue deer. Aho. Pamparios.


Oxytocin is the messenger. Touch is the healer.

Is there a biological and scientific premise to the importance of touch in our lives and communities? Yes.

Those human communities that still live as tribe might have a giggle at our need to have explained and justified what is such an obvious joy and pleasure. But nevertheless, the biology of touch is a complex and beautiful one and if it can illuminate how touch is such a critical factor in how we bond and relate to one another – so be it.

Oxytocin seems so sterile and sharp a name to describe the particular hormone who’s task it is to lay the foundation for human bonds and connection. It is a hormone set to work and signaled via touch – a complex and miniature stimuli that encourages an opening of one being to another, so that deep bonds and connection can be forged.

It is the hormone prevalent at the time of birth – when in that intense period of eye gazing and closeness between Mother and child just moments after delivery, Oxytocin saturates both parties to create a sense of soothing, deep connection that will be the premise of their relationship for the rest of their lives. This is why it is vital that touch and eye gazing between Mother and child in those early moments should go undisturbed.

But beyond that very early facility – Oxytocin goes on to help us feel connected to one another every day. Appropriate touch received gladly and without fear initiates a release of Oxytocin that encourages a sense of calm and connection that is pivotal to optimal functioning of the body. It creates a safe breathing space for our being – a place where we feel accepted, seen and loved enough that our bodies heal in the supportive environment they deserve. Beyond touch, just creating a loving, supportive environment for one another can be enough to promote the release of Oxytocin.

The more we learn about Oxytocin, we see that it impacts positively on well being in so many ways – from pain relief, to lowering blood pressure, aiding digestion, balancing body temperature, speeding up the healing of wounds and positively effecting the amount of cortisol (an inflammatory hormone) in the body.

But let’s not get distracted – as fascinating as Oxytocin is, it is just the messenger. The real healer is touch. Share it widely.


“There’s a monster lurking in my gut.”

Trailing through the reams of research and stuffy articles on digestive health and autoimmune conditions, the human story can sometimes get a bit lost. For instance, there’s a great deal of focus on symptom complaints and potential remedies but little on the significance and meaning of the struggle and the way it shapes our lives. Join me in this three part conversation with kindred spirit Jonny, as we explore the history and experience of our own gut problems and the change it brought to our lives.

Darren: Hey Jonny! The reason why I was so moved by your story, much like my own, is that we haven’t been passive to the experience of being sick. In fact, it seems to have been very transformational for us in terms of our own research and the different life choices we have had to make in order to heal; essentially changing the way we live and relate to others. I’d like to invite people into that perspective through our conversation – looking at the experience of two people that have become active in social change around health and their story as it relates to healing the gut.

Jonny: Yeah – let’s do it!

Darren: So – tell me a bit about your story? I would like to hear about where you are now? What’s your perspective on the history of your illness and recovery?

Jonny: There were a number of significant events leading up to my getting ill – it’s only recently become clear that they contributed in a big way to my illness. For instance, when I first got ill, I had no need to question my lifestyle. I just thought that it was a dose of antibiotics that destroyed my gut.

When I was younger everything was so easy for me. I was an Olympic athlete, I went to grammar school and I had perfect results in everything; I was very popular and played every sport under the sun. I went to America on a scholarship to play sport – but unfortunately things didn’t work out. I returned to the UK after that to work in a corporate bank. I earned a lot of money and lived the 9-5 lifestyle, spending a lot of money on drugs at the time.

I think the antibiotics that fucked up my gut were the straw that broke the camels back in a way. You know, there are people that stay on antibiotics for years and yes they have health problems, but they don’t enter the virtually psychotic states that I entered into after an initial six month treatment.

When I first embarked upon the holistic path to healing I focused solely on healing my gut and I found that I did make a lot of progress through diet; doing the candida protocol; doing the iodine protocol, having my mercury amalgams removed, going on a heavy metal detox, juicing etc – I did a lot of meditation too.

But it wasn’t until I went down the route of self-reflection through psychotherapy… I would say my actual gut health, ironically, seems to have improved more after looking at why I got to that point of complete overload. Why did the antibiotics tip me over? It was that whole prelude of looking at my life up until that point that became very significant to my healing.GUTEMOTIONS

Now I can see that in the time leading up to when I got ill I had turned off from the world – every year I was becoming more and more self absorbed in my bubble of what was becoming patterns of terrible behaviour – mindless consumerism, a poor relationship, living in a house which was a terrible environment for me. So yes, there’s a lot of things that have gone wrong in my gut, but my gut is very much connected to so many aspects of who I am, who I am as a person, my psyche – trauma, anger, regret, passion, love.

Darren: Resonates completely.

Jonny: Personally, I’ve had a few experiences with DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) in previous years. Every time I use DMT I get this incredible surge of pain in my stomach and I feel like there is a monster lurking there. I enter a bit of a battle when I do DMT. When I see friends on it they’re transfixed by colours and beauty – but I’m writhing about in pain? It’s only through self-reflection and psychotherapy that I’ve started to explore this ‘monster’ in my gut; It’s related to things that have happened to me in the past, things that I’ve internalised over the years and things that have been passed down the line from my parents and my family.LURKING

Such intense pains are a bit strange as I don’t tend to get digestive pains anymore. They’ve subsided – they come back a little if I drink milk, eat gluten or have some yeast. My gut is generally quite stable compared to where it was, which is why I believe I have done an incredible amount of healing on the physical level but I have much deeper psycho-spiritual levels to delve into.

Darren: I think you raise two important points. This notion that you inherit the pain and suffering of your parents – there is certainly some residue of that at both the cognitive and somatic level for all of us. In regards to the psychedelic and entheogenic experience as a way of tuning in and understanding what’s being held in the body, my own experience is also of very intense sensations and feelings whilst being in that state of consciousness. My experience is of some kind of blockage, of there not being adequate ‘flow’ or movement energetically within the body. Essentially I think this relates to some early trauma and is what underpins to some extent the digestive issues I have. The health of my gut is linked completely to the way I relate to the world, the emotions I carry – the fear, anxiety, anger and so on. I think this is borne out by work in the field of psychotherapeutic bodywork. For example, Welhelm Reich’s work around character structure and armor is a good place to start.

HolismI think healing the gut demands a truly holistic approach and demands that we stretch the limits of what we currently understand and practice as ‘holistic’. There clearly isn’t one way into healing the gut – and even colleagues in alternative health circles need to be challenged on this point sometimes, not just biomedical practitioners who work through a very narrow lens. There’s obviously so much more going on than what happens at the level of biology.

What I’d like to hear though – is a little bit more about the actual experience of when your gut became compromised post antibiotic use and a little bit more on the awakening to a more holistic perspective on health and healing?

Jonny: Cool. Back to when I was working in a bank and consuming mindlessly – things that I would class as escapism – I was spending a lot of money on stimulants and partying. When I was about 21 I suddenly developed acne which was very surprising – as there was no history of it in my family and I had perfect skin as a child and a teenager. It was really unusual to get really deep sebaceous cysts which were like horns on my head. Very painful. The doctor at the the time took one look and didn’t seem very interested. He prescribed me antibiotics and said that would get rid of it. I trusted the doctor at that time – I had no reason to question medical science as I’d had very little engagement with the field. I had a very healthy childhood. The acne disappeared within three weeks – however, after about four months, I began displaying various symptoms whenever I ate cereal, which at the time was apparently a healthy diet as far as I was concerned – you know, low fat, don’t eat butter, wholegrains and all that stuff!

Darren: haha! It’s terrifying isn’t it! The mainstream advice on what correct nutrition is! Especially when you contrast it with what is appropriate nutrition – where the main precepts completely challenge mainstream dietary advice.

Jonny: Yeah, anyway – my normal breakfast of oats, honey and milk would start to cause me bloating, terrible wind and pain on the way to work. There was also a real change in my energy too. This developed to where I would get sweats after having cereal and milk in the morning. I’d basically feel like shit. After a month of this I went out for some beers with friends and woke up the next day with the most horrendous diarrhea compounded by an awful panic attack. The only way I can describe it is as if my brain was on a treadmill – my thoughts were racing at a speed I’d never experienced before. I had a Researchterribly hot core but my limbs were freezing. The panic attacks continued and I had to take time off work; my appetite declined and my mental health spiraled. I finally went to the doctors who said I had a virus and to stay on the antibiotics that I was on. I started to loose lots of weight in the following weeks, my mood dropped and all my social activities stopped too. I ended up going to my Dads for a weekend of rest and recuperation – it was when I was with him that I started to have suicidal thoughts for the first time. I’d never had any mental health problems up until this point. It really threw me. My mental health continued to decline until I became completely delusional – I’d lost the plot. I didn’t know what was happening, I struggled to talk – my parents had to take me to the doctors as I was incapable of driving. He put me on antidepressants.

It was my parents who did the initial bit of research online and said that there were lots of testimonies from people who had taken antibiotics and ended up with stomach problems, IBS and depression.Antibiotics

Darren: Which antibiotic were you on at the time?

Jonny: Lymecycline. Part of the tetracycline class of antibiotics. Total broad spectrum nuclear bomb – it’s like putting a nuclear bomb in a fish pond to kill a bit of algae overgrowth.

I was on SSRI’s too – you know, they usually say that you get worse before you get better on SSRI’s. Well at this point I was very sick, I lost so much weight I looked liked a holocaust victim. I was totally cut off from the world – it was like being in an acid trip that was the most horrendous trip you could imagine. I slept for twelve hours a day and couldn’t get out of bed. I struggled to be in a room without my mum because my anxiety was so bad. After six months of this – after having to do CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) just to leave the house and see friends again, my digestion improved slightly and I went back to work but still left with residual anxiety and also OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I couldn’t handle any stress though and began to experience real fatigue and exhaustion. I slowly realised that my job wasn’t fulfilling me – I started to ask what I was doing with my life.

Darren: Before we get onto that… I wanted to pick up on the parallel. My own experience was very similar. I spent four months on antiobiotics as prophylaxis when I went travelling in the East four years ago. The specific antibiotic was Doxycycline I think. My mental health immediately suffered after returning from the trip. I’d had mental health problems in the past – I’d also had a lot of other courses of antibiotics in the past too. But not to the severity after returning from the trip. The first insight of my medical doctor at the time was to prescribe SSRI’s, much like you – totally missing the point that the mechanism that was causing the distress – the depression, the OCD and related anxiety was a disturbance in gut ecology.

SerotoninJonny: Yeah, I mean the concept of serotonin – that in itself is flawed in many ways. Two things come to mind with serotonin – you can measure serotonin levels in the body via a blood test. That’s no indication of what is actually going on in terms of the brain and then the gut and then the serotonin neurotransmitters that are throughout the body.

As far as I am aware you can’t measure what the efficiency or the use or the level of serotonin is in the synapses of the axons – you can measure what the levels of serotonin are in the blood, which the NHS don’t do anyway – but if they did do it, it doesn’t relate to the levels of serotonin that are in the brain or in the gut. Secondly, the SSRI works as a selective re-uptake inhibitor. It allows the serotonin to cross over into the synapse of the axons but stops the re uptake; the theory being that within the synapse the serotonin is allowed to stay there and somehow that improves our mood because the re-uptake of it is stopped. Again, this seems flawed. Why wouldn’t you concentrate on increasing the serotonin through nutrition, which you can do by encouraging more tryptophan in the diet which is an amino acid that converts to serotonin. You can find huge amounts of tryptophan in bananas, chicken…

Darren: There’s also 5HTP..

Jonny: Yeah! That’s the pre-cursor, proven to cross the blood brain barrier..

Darren: I guess, remarkable effects of 5HTP on conditions like IBS too?

Jonny: Yeah, there’s been some really interesting published research on 5HTP too – a lot of it compiled into a great book called 5HTP: the natural way to overcome depression, obesity and insomnia by Michael murray. I think the serotonin theory is massively debatable – there’s a complete disparity of correlation in levels of serotonin in the blood and peoples quality of life or mental health. For example, some people have very low levels of serotonin levels and may be absolutely fine but someone who has depression may have normal levels of serotonin – one of the first studies to show this disparity was published in in 1976 by Asbert (1). Serotonin levels are just part of the picture, a very small aspect – there’s an incredible amount of things going on, whether that’s toxicity in the body, energetic imbalances due to trauma, nutritional deficiencies, other neurotransmitter deficiencies – you know serotonin is just one aspect.. you have dopamine, gabareceptors…

Darren: Which all perform and act synergistically I guess. The body it seems is an ecological system – you can’t look at one unit of the body and try to map from that exactly what is going on?

Jonny: You’ll find in orthodox medicine a lot of the drugs are obviously patented – but they are for conditions they will make money on. You can’t patent 5HTP, it’s an amino acid and it’s made for peanuts. You can buy 100 pills for between £10-15 and it will last you a couple of months. Compare that to Zoloft and Prozac / Sertraline – they were really expensive when they first came out. They are still riding out on the fact that people don’t have access to this information. I had to deal with the side effects of all of those drugs. I remember having terrible insomnia for example after going on SSRI’s. I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep and it completely disturbed my energy system – like a sensation of electricity running thought the body. When I did get to sleep I wouldn’t wake refreshed. They also effected my erections – when I got an erection, I couldn’t orgasm.

Darren: That’s really interesting – the point about orgasm. Would you say that your overall sensitivity was reduced too?

Jonny: It’s a very common side effect of SSRI’s actually. Even after coming off the SSRI’s my sex drive has returned – but my sensitivity has been compromised still definitely. There seems to be some lasting damage in that area in terms of decreased sensitivity. I found when I did some research years ago and found out about quite a number of law suits that had been taken out by a number of males that were experiencing lack of sensitivity and also impotence. A good book out at the moment is the ‘Emperors New Drugs’ by Irving Kirsch – it’s basically about the SSRI ‘hoax’; basically the terrible hypothesis and flawed research that they are founded on. When you look at the media support for products like this, you can usually trace anything supportive back to someone who has an invested interest.BIAS

Darren: Yeah – I mean if you look more broadly at clinical trials – the much vaunted ‘randomised control trial’ that is seen as the gold standard of scientific ‘proof’ – they are nearly always backed by pharmaceutical companies that have a vested interest in them, with the outcome usually being in their favour. I mean this is pop research – easily findable. I think Ben Goldacre mentions it in one of his books.

Okay Jonny – let’s catch up soon in the next segment!

  1. Asbert, M. (1976). Serotonin depression: A biochemical subgroup with the affective disorders?Science,191, 478-80; Asberg, M., (1976). 5-HIAA in the cerebrospinal fluid.Archives of General Psychiatry33, 1193-97.
OA Workshop - 15.11.15-34

The Lab – Experiments in Culinary Dissidence.

Since November 15th, Octopus Alchemy has been crowdfunding. To date, we’ve raised a staggering 55% of our overall target (about £2100) and the donations keep coming thick and fast. I’m completely overwhelmed by the generosity and interest in the project and it’s turned out to be a cracking experience in networking with other like minded folk and businesses. Special mention to Viridian Nutrition who pledged a whopping £500 to the campaign. But also, to the 68 other backers who have been inspired to take part.

So all being well, the crowdfunder looks to yield a brilliant start up fund to propel Octopus Alchemy to new and exciting heights next year. A significant portion of our crowdfunder was to secure some traditional tools and kitchen bling to improve our workshop experiences, but to also make viable a project to turn the city’s surplus veg into a superfood product for sale.

The interesting part of that process will be the actual production. Our current twice monthly workshops at Silo (and our fledgling workshops in Sheffield too) are well known for their fusion of food-politics, health education and food-skills – engaging and equipping people with radical knowledge and pragmatic skills in a fun and interactive environment.

Next year we want to take it further, creating a radical laboratory for the community; a co-created space where we can play with ideas, perspectives and most importantly, our food! Each workshop will be prefixed with a good natter about the politics of our health and food – with special guests from different ventures and projects that are actively challenging the status quo. Of course there will always be some focus on fermentation, with a whole range of new and innovative demonstrations to help you get fizzy with your food –  but we’ll have a wonder through other approaches and practices in food and medicine too; broadening our knowledge and therefore our resistance!


Beyond that, the practical part of our workshop is where it will get even more interesting. At any given workshop, we hope to be working with ingredients intercepted on their way to landfill – an array of different ingredients to get creative with that would otherwise have ended up in the bin. This is where we’ll come together in utilizing our new fermentin’ toolkit in producing a distinct and quirky product for distribution and potentially, sale!

So come to ‘The Lab’ next year and let’s foment the next food revolution.

Our first workshop takes place on the 10th January – get your tickets now.

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OA Workshop - 15.11.15-22

‘The whole web of life is somehow woven into the experience’.

Over the next month of our crowdfunding, we’ll be checking in with people who have been to one of our workshops and drawing on some of their experiences to help illustrate the benefits of supporting our work. Below we speak to Matthew who came to one of our workshops in November.

OA Workshop - 15.11.15-18


What is your name?

Matthew Painton

What attracted you to the workshop with Octopus Alchemy?

The chance to learn how to make Kimchi, which I adore.

Did the workshop play out as you expected it to?

It was much better than I expected. It was informative, lively and fun as well as provocative and a bit political.

How do you feel that the workshop experience changed your perspective on health and nutrition?

The information about bacteria in our guts was really, really, interesting – and made me think about the immune system and diet in quite a different way. What I learned is directly affecting my decisions about snack foods when I’m out and about.



In a sentence, could you sum up the social value of the work of Octopus Alchemy?

Whilst focusing on how to make nutritious superfood – the whole web of life is somehow woven in to the experience!

Why should people support Octopus Alchemy’s crowdfunding campaign?

Octopus alchemy are right on the button with their message about health empowerment, slow food, food waste , and nutrition. People come together to learn how to make simple fermented foodstuffs, and get informed and inspired as well – without being preached at.

You can read another testimonial about OA workshops here.

Octopus Alchemy:

Activating communities. Reducing Waste. Creating superfood.

We believe that to ferment is a radical political act, the effects of which reverberate beyond the kitchen. Back our fermentation-based, waste-reducing project in Brighton & Hove of ‘Transforming Food Waste into Superfood’ and support us in continuing to have a creative impact on our local food culture and beyond.

Check out our wicked incentives. No donation to small. If you can’t spend, then please share.