Wild Fermentation – why it’s healthy and how to do it.

This blog post on fermentation is an excerpt from the Octopus Alchemy handbook on fermentation – you can access the full text here.

Fermentation:
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Traditional sauerkraut – salt n’ cabbage.

Fermentation is the transformation of food by various bacteria, fungi and the enzymes and acids that they produce. The power of fermentation has been harnessed throughout the ages to preserve foods. The other amazing offshoot being that fermentation also creates vibrant, living food that can be used as a powerful healing modality too, whilst reconnecting us with the ecology at large.

Before there were cans, refrigerators and freezers, fermentation was the main way people avoided spoiling food. The earliest forms of fermentation took place in pits, lined with leaves and packed full of all kinds of food: vegetables, meat, fish, grains, tubers and fruit. The practice of fermentation is pre-history. It is difficult to ascertain how and where it began. Louis Pasteur is given credit for identifying and pioneering the science of microbiology in 1857. Before that, early cultures were experimenting with and enjoying the benefits of different ferments, without the intricate knowledge we have today.

The health benefits of fermented foods:
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Wonderful attendees of our workshops!

Ultimately, fermenting foods makes them more nutritious. In some cases, there arise entirely new and unique nutrients during the fermentation process. Fermentation is essentially a form of pre-digestion, it breaks food down into simpler, safer and more manageable forms that the body can handle. Long protein chains, fats and carbohydrates difficult for the body to absorb are broken down by the resident lactic acid bacteria: carbohydrates are converted into lactic acid and proteins are broken down into amino acids. Minerals are thus better absorbed. Eating fermented foods also encourages healthy acid production in the stomach, which in turn encourages better performance of the pancreas and liver and therefore secretion of essential digestive enzymes and bile. Further, most of the lactic acid ferments are acidic, but have a significant alkalizing effect in the body.

Fermentation also degrades toxic or undesirable substances in food – two prominent examples are cyanide in cassava and phytic acid, a particularly insidious anti-nutrient found in most grains (inhibiting the uptake of various essential minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron). Oxalic acid, prevalent in leafy green vegetables also hinders the absorption of nutrients and is rendered partly innocuous through fermentation.

The Vitamin C content is also preserved in fermented vegetables, not to mention creating a whole http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/121-a276/host of B vitamins (folic acid, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and biotin). The process of fermentation also brings forth an abundance of unique micronutrients: Sauerkraut for example contains micronutrients suspected to fight cancer, including isothiocyanates and sulforaphane. Not to mention the master detoxifying glutathione found in the liver. Slimy, strong smelly Natto for instance, a ferment of soy-beans from Japan, produces a unique beneficial enzyme called nattokinase of which the medical applications abound. But even more! Superoxide Dismutase, GTF chromium, phospholipids, digestive enzymes and beta 1,3 glucans – in short, fermented foods are small powerhouses of nutrition which promote a cascade of healing effects in the body that we’re just beginning to chart out and understand.

Wild Fermentation:
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Carrot, chilli, horesradish and garlic.

“Wild fermentation” is the technique of using and manipulating the bacteria already present in foods, to preserve and transform food into more readily digestible and therapeutic forms. Most fermentation processes rely on the complementary relationship and interaction between different forms of bacteria, yeasts and sometimes molds to bring about the desired effect / product. The most important and desirable bacteria in our ferments are the lactobacillaceae, which have the ability to produce lactic acid from carbohydrates. Other important bacteria, especially in the fermentation of fruits and vegetables, are the acetic acid producing acetobacter species[1].

Away from wild fermentation, other forms of fermentation may use a started culture, such as from whey, a product of raw milk. The practice of fermentation is widespread, and exists in every culture. It is one of the most important methods to process food. Today, no less than a third of what is eaten in the world is made via a process of fermentation. Many of these foods and beverages are extremely popular, although few people will consciously realize that fermentation processes are involved. But coffee, chocolate, vanilla, bread, cheese, wine, mean and beer, yoghurt, ketchup and most other condiments; vinegar, soy sauce, miso, certain teas, corned beef and pastrami, ham and salami are all dependent on fermentation.

Here are some examples of different fermented foods:

Products of lactic acid fermentation include: Sauerkraut, olives, pickled vegetables, kimchi, Russian kefir, Indian dahi, yoghurt, spice from the Middle East, Western cheeses and sausages, Egyptian laban and kishk, Greek and Turkish trahana, Mexican pozole, sourdough bread, Indian idle, dohkla and Khaman, Ethiopian teffinjera and Thai fish sauce.

Products of alkaline fermentation are less known. In alkaline-fermented foods, “the protein of the raw materials is broken down into amino acids and peptides; ammonia is released during the fermentation, raising the pH of the final products and giving the food a strong ammoniacal smell.

Most alkaline fermentations are achieved spontaneously by mixed bacteria cultures, principally dominated by Bacillus subtilis. Although in some cases, pure cultures can be used.

Products of alkaline fermentation include: African iru and ogiri, dawadawa, pidan and kenima; Japanese natto, Thai thua nao and pidan.

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Lovely, simple book on fermentation – buy it!

Wild fermentation is a very simple technique. Using good quality vegetables (preferably organic), salt and water, it doesn’t take an expert to produce the incredibly tasty and healing foods discussed above. By submerging the chopped vegetables in salty brine, you create an environment in which fungi and other oxygen-dependent organisms cannot survive. The saline environment also ensures that the lactic acid bacteria are given priority and develop. The bacteria that spur on the fermentation process are already present in the vegetables, lying dormant until the conditions are appropriate: moist, oxygen-free, saline and with easy access to nutrients in the plant material that have been sufficiently prepared and bruised.

Leuconostoc-mesenteroides-

L. Mesenteroides

The bacteria responsible for fermentation are wild strains of lactic acid bacteria that are already present on raw vegetables, including Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus plantarum. These are halophilic (salt loving) anaerobic organisms, so they thrive in the oxygen-free saline environment that the fermenter has created. They immediately begin to feed on the sugars in the vegetables or fruit, and multiply. Emitting large amounts of lactic acid, which poisons and inhibits the growth of their competitors. L. mesenteroides flourish under all kinds of circumstances, such as salty, sweet, partly aerobic, low acidic conditions typical of the environment at the beginning of a fermentation. Like most other lactobacilli, L. mesenteroides convert these types of sugars into lactic acid, acetic acid and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide dispels any remaining oxygen from the ecosystem, so that the conditions are appropriate for the strict anaerobes, which prevent the plant material from loosing its color and decaying.

The ecosystem inside your fermentation vessel is where one type of bacteria succeeds another, and each species adapts to the environment in such a way that appropriate conditions are prepared for the next. Each successive species has a better resistance to the acid environment, until L. Plantarum eventually comes to dominate. The sheer amount of lactic acid in the resulting ferment gives the product a sharp sour taste. Essentially, L. Plantarum creates a very stable bacteriological regime, which has a very low pH and which means few other bacteria or pathogens can survive, therefore preventing spoilage and creating a very durable product.

Process and supplies.
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Basi earthenware fermentation jars.

Hygiene:

Some advanced ferments require sterilization of utensils to remove any probability of contamination or failure. But generally, don’t sweat it! Just make sure your work surfaces and utensils are cleaned with a mild (preferably natural) disinfectant. Remember, fermentation is an ages old technique, carried out in less than sterile conditions. The lactobacilli are a hardy bunch that will overcome many a bit of grime.

Water:

Most fermentation methods ask for water and salt. Modern day, urban water supplies are often contaminated with chlorine, which can inhibit the fermentation process. If you do not have a modern filtering system, or want to use bottled water, you can purify the water by bringing it to the boil so that the chlorine evaporates and then letting it cool.

Himalayan Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt

 

Salt and brine:

Salt is a key ingredient in fermentation and care should be taken to acquire a good, wholesome product. Refined salt contains artificially elevated levels of iodine and may be stripped of its natural and abundant mineral content. Use a good salt like Himalayan pink rock salt for optimum effect, but any unrefined sea salt will do.

Leafy vegetables like cabbage, due to their high water content, can ferment in their own juice. However it is sometimes more appropriate to ferment other, tougher vegetables in a pre-made brine.

Below is a useful guide for salting quantities and ratios:

Dry-salt method (as used in Sauerkraut for example): 1.5-2% weight of veggies, or roughly 1.5 – 2 teaspoons per pound (15-20Grams per 1KG of vegetables).

Brine method – 5% to weight of water, or roughly 3 tablespoons per quarter of a gallon (1.13ltrs). (5% = 50 grams of salt in 1 liter of water).

Grains – 1.5-2% weight of dry grains, or roughly 1.5-2 teaspoons/pound.

As you progress in fermentation, you will learn that many recipes just require salt to taste. But the above is a good guideline to get you started. Although, after a few mistakes of our own, Octopus Alchemy advises that you weigh out the salt quantities to avoid disappointment! Of course some ferments take place without salt, however salt helps the process enormously (Some Indian ferments for example rely on oil to inhibit unfriendly bacteria), providing additional preservation, flavor and texture. To encourage a slower fermentation process, always use more salt, compared for instance, to a ferment you want to be ready in a short time. A brine can also be flavored with spices, with some having their own anti-fungal properties and bringing their own beneficial strains of bacteria to the mix.

Some salty facts:

  • By means of osmosis, salt extracts water from the vegetables. This helps create the watery environment for anaerobic bacteria to flourish.
  • Salt makes the vegetables crisper because it strengthens pectin (a structural polysaccharide in plants) and pectin-degrading enzymes are inhibited.
  • Salt reduces the environment in which different bacteria can survive and give salt-tolerant lactic acid bacteria an advantage.

Measures:

1 teaspoon = 5 ml = 5 grams of salt

1 tablespoon = 15 ml = 15 grams of salt

 A simple fermentation process.
  1. Cut, scrape or grate the vegetables.
  2. Choose appropriate salting method: either salt to taste, dry-salt or brine the vegetables.
  3. Place vegetables in your chosen fermentation vessel (buckets, jars and crocks are widely used – but get creative!) and compress firmly until they are submerged beneath the brine and ensure that all oxygen bubbles are removed. Tap the vessel lightly on the table a few times to facilitate this process, or use a few chopsticks to enable bubbles to escape. If there is not enough brine in the vessel, top up with a brine solution at the appropriate ratio (see brine method above). In smaller vessels, like jars, you can use folded up vegetable leaves to act as a plug to keep the ferment underneath the brine. You can also use a boiled stone or glass weights to hold the vegetables down. In bigger vessels, you can use a wooden plug or plate. For anyone lucky enough to have their own traditional fermenting crock, these come with their own fittings to keep the ferment safe under the brine. Check that there is in each vessel a 2 and 4 cm gap between the juice and the rim (fermentation needs space).
  4. Place in an appropriate place at ambient room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
  5. Wait, test, observe and enjoy!
Lacto-fermented mayonnaise.

Lacto-fermented mayonnaise.

*Bruising and cutting the vegetables for more salting will ensure that the plant nutrients are rapidly available for resident bacteria to begin fermentation. Of course, brining methods sometimes involve merely submerging whole vegetables and then leaving them to their own devices – this is fine too! But may take a longer time to ferment.

*There will be a significant build up of CO2 in the fermentation vessel and it is wise to “burp” your vessel to release built up gas for the first few days at least. Take care when eventually opening your ferment to eat for this very reason.

 

Duration.

Fermentation is a cultural practice that developed fundamentally to preserve foods and ensure adequate nutrition for communities the year round. To that end, ferments can be left to fuse and bubble for the length of a season or more. However, most vegetable ferments can be eaten at 7-9 days and are wonderful at 20 days. Taste your evolving ferment with regularity to monitor its progress.

The process of fermentation is dependent on temperature. To warm an environment and the process will occur to quickly – and the ferment will have an inferior quality to one where the temperature is managed properly. Eventually, fermentation vessels will need to be moved to cool storage to slow down the process completely, and to preserve your vegetables for long periods. Knowing when it’s time to do that is all about investigation.

Leave your vessel in a place with an even temperature between 18 and 22° C for up to three of four days. After three of four days, consider moving the vessel to a cooler environment at around 15 – 18°C.

Purple kraut: cabbage, horseradish, ginger and carrot.

Purple kraut: cabbage, horseradish, ginger and carrot.

The fermenting vegetables will become lively and gaseous with CO2 bubbles easy to see in a vessel like a jar, or exploding onto the surface in a crock or container. The smell of the vegetables will also become pleasingly sour. After around 10 – 14 days, check the ferment for activity and smell – at this stage you might consider moving it into a cooler environment still, to slow down the process (under 15°C).

After three to four weeks – chances are the ferment will be reaching optimum acidity, and can be moved into cold storage (a refrigerator or larder below 10°C).

Alternatively, ferments can just be left to bubble for around 20 days at a stable room temperature, and will have reached a good acidity by 20 days and be either ready for consumption, or to be put in the fridge to keep for long periods. Whilst fermented vegetables can be eaten and enjoyed a week and even 20 days into the process, after 5 – 6 and even 12 weeks you will be left with a delicious product.

See what works for you!

Some people want to know when best to eat their ferments depending on when the bacteria content is at it’s highest. Lactic acid bacteria in fermented vegetables tend to follow a bell curve: “populations grow after vegetables are submerged, build to a peak, then decline at high levels of acidity”. The dominant species of bacteria also shifts as time goes on. The best approach in terms of consumption might be to tuck in to your ferment at different intervals to “diversify your bacterial exposure”.

Some basic guidelines and requirements for a lactic acid fermentation:

– A salt concentration of 0.8-2.5%

– A sealable fermentation vessel to restrict oxygen.

– A uniform starting temperature of 20-22 ° C for about 2 days for small glass jars and bottles and up to 10 days for large earthenware jars.

– A cooler temperature (15-18 ° C) for 10-14 days

– A storage temperature preferably below 10 ° C (frost)

Fungi and yeasts

Oxygen is counter-productive to the process of fermentation. To much oxygen in the fermentation vessel may mean that fungi appears on the surface of your ferment – this happens especially along the edges of open bowls or where vegetables come to the surface. Surface growth of fungi is common and normal – it is normally just fine to scoop the layer of fungi or mold from the surface to reveal a perfectly fine ferment underneath. Removing the layer of fungi will prevent it’s tentacles extending deep into the vegetables, and releasing it’s pectin and cellulose destroying enzymes, which may cause the ferment to perish. Preventing this from happening is all about being attentive to your ferments, using your senses and your common sense.

What can be fermented?

Fermenting vegetables does not end with Sauerkraut! Practically anything can be fermented, but of course there is some variation in taste and some things withstand the process better than others. The underlying principle to fermenting all vegetables is to create an appropriate environment for the process, which has already been discussed. Away from that, there is an incredible amount of variation. As Sandor Katz explains: “Some traditions wilt vegetables, either in saltwater brine or in the sun; others pound or bruise fresh vegetables. Some people ferment a single vegetable, while others mix a dozen different vegetables together, perhaps along with spices, fruit, fish, rice, mashed potatoes, or other additions”. This variation is not just limited to process but also to combination: a fascinating array of interpretations on taste and flavor stem from different cultural cuisines. The “Art of Fermentation” is a revival of different recipes from around the world, and an essential book for the kitchen – go get it! Incidentally, Wikipedia also do a fantastic list of fermented foods from around the world.

Mass Kimchi making!

Mass Kimchi making!

Ultimately, there really isn’t a vegetable that cannot be fermented but all will have different results. Cucumbers for example can go soft and soggy, as can summer squash – so it’s important to ferment them in small quantities / make them a minor addition to a combination of other vegetables. Chlorophyll rich plants (kale, collards etc) develop a strong characteristic taste, which will suit some people and not others. The most popular vegetables for fermentation are the tough and hardy kind harvested in the autumn.

Fermentation vegetable index.

Maybe try some of the vegetables below in your ferments and concoctions! And don’t limit yourself to what is available in the supermarket, or what is a product of agriculture. Get creative and forage some wild ingredients, which will bring great flavor and of course their own ecologies of wild bacteria to the mix. Even seaweed may be considered! But please be respectful when Foodforaging, don’t decimate the crop and tread gently on the land. Fermentation is also a great strategy for gleaners, dumpster divers, freegans and the like – pick over vegetables that have been cast out, cut out any mold and process them. Be careful with vegetables that come from establishments known for questionable food ethics, the pesticide / preservative content of vegetables may not bode well for a good ferment.

 Vegetables you can experiment with:

  • Root vegetables: sweet potato, daikon, celeriac, parsnips, radishes, turnips, beetroot, salsify, Jerusalem artichoke (The inulin content of artichokes, which can cause a lot of wind, is broken down very well by fermentation), carrot, parsley root, burdock root.

* Note that beetroot being so sugary can encourage a very yeasty ferment, and therefore quite a syrupy brine.

  • Flower-fruit vegetables: aubergine (fermentation gets rid of the bitterness), pickles, artichoke hearts, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, okra, sweet and crisp peppers / chillies, pumpkin, green and red tomatoes (tomatoes fermented can become very acidic and are considered a Jewish delicacy), cut and green beans.
  • Leaf-stalk vegetables: Kohlrabi, bamboo shoots, prickly pear, onion, cauliflower, chard, leeks, ramsons, fennel, chard steal.
  • Fungi ferment well too! Shiitake or any other mushroom can be added to a ferment with other vegetables for an interesting texture.

+ Fruits can be added to vegetable ferments too. Try adding applies, raisins, cranberries, wild berries, plums, quinces or dried fruit to sauerkraut for example. Even watermelon rind can be used.

For an extra crunch – throw some nuts in!

  • Condiments and spices: garlic, ginger and various spices such as juniper inlay, coriander, dill (fresh leaves and flowers, flower heads, dried seed), mustard and caraway seeds, star anise (with beets!), turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom (with cauliflower and carrots!), black pepper and sea salt; lemongrass and lime leaves.

* Some spices have an antifungal effect, and have their own healing properties. Get creative with your brining.

*Garlic is a popular seasoning; often it turns blue during fermentation, which is a reaction of the anthocyanin’s present, which reacts with the traces of copper in drinking water. Garlic is known not to preserve very well under oil because it may contain spores of the botulism bacterium. However, when garlic is under brine, there is no danger of botulism.

  • Fresh vegetables can be combined with bean sprouts or other sprouted legumes or with cooked products such as rice, other cereals, boiled or baked potatoes and purees, and even hard-boiled eggs.

Get creative, get excited and get fermenting!

 

To access this booklet in full click here – or just to see the next section of recipes, click here.

Milk No Sugar – Pho-licious.

I’m not a fan of cringeworthy double barreled words – but for ‘Milk No Sugar’, the quirky little Viet-styled cafe on Trafalgar Street, I’ll put up with the discomfort. Pho-licious is the word.

After lamenting only a few weeks ago about how ‘Pho’, the chain of Vietnamese street food restaurants, had the monopoly on Viet-cuisine in Brighton – on my way to the train station I noticed a sign outside of ‘Milk No Sugar’ (which has a pretty unassuming shop front) declaring their sale of Pho – how had I missed this? I ventured in a few days later and have since eaten there four times and thought it was time to put a few words to their operation.

If you’ve eaten at ‘Pho’ on Black Lion Street, you’ll know how consistent their taste is and how uniform their dishes (and don’t get me wrong, that’s not always such a bad thing at the level of taste and expectation), as is the nature of any chain where only homogenisation will do. You’ll also probably notice the tired character of their staff. Put it one way, I wouldn’t venture into that kitchen uninvited.

But at Milk No Sugar there’s a different vibe and that’s all through the smiles of Hugo, who I’m assuming is the cafe’s proprietor. He’s bouncy, chatty, says awesome a lot and falls over himself to tell you about their food.

The first time I dined there, just recovering from a few days of feeling under the weather, I demolished two bowls of their Pho: large, meat stock but with tofu (£5.50 a piece). I also sat for Milk No Sugar, Brighton.a few hours writing, soaking it all up: the little cafe has a wicked style – quirky signage hangs from a ceiling that resembles a chalky upside down ice-cube tray, like the interior of some cafeteria chiseled into a starship hangar on some hollowed out moon somewhere. Plumen light-bulbs float over the counter and low-lying sun-scorched metal chairs, characteristic of the smoggy road side tuck-shops in the East, host bums from every walk of life. The eyes glance over the curious beverages and treats on sale – like the ‘nutella-latte’ for instance: sure to make your teeth ache.

My Pho brings all the boys to the yard.. Okay, I'll stop it now.

My Pho brings all the boys to the yard.. Okay, I’ll stop it now.

But the grub is pleasing. The stock of the Pho is well rounded and warm, with tones of cinnamon, roasted ginger and star anise brought out from a well tended stove. Garnished simply, but maybe with not quite enough fresh roughage, it’s nevertheless a dish you’ll return for and a taste you’ll want to share with friends. Hugo took great pride in boasting about the vigour of his vegetarian stock next to the meat and after trying both I agree, they’ve put some thought into getting the tastes right.

Pho @ Milk No Sugar

The rice paper rolls are everything a rice paper roll should be: sticky and crisp for all the right reasons, and shot through with fresh mint and fresh leaves – and not served in bloody cellophane, which is nice. The accompanying condiment, a syrup of heat and tang to drench the dinky rolls in is a treat and Hugo’s obvious pride and joy, as he stood encouraging us to dunk, saying ‘yes, homemade – awesome, yeah?’.

At the end of my meal I turned to my other half and speculated about the ingredients and their quality – for a food-politico, good food means food with Rice Paper Rolls @ Milk No Sugarintegrity at every level, not just in the mouth. But I have to say I don’t think I could bear a reveal of some MSG additive, or some questionable supply chain – which undoubtedly exists: it’s a high street munchery trading at killer prices after all. On leaving, one of my friends muttered along the lines of: well, there’s a lot of love there innit – that makes the food okay, even at the molecular level. He’s woo. I was wooed.

I think for now it’s got to be my guilty little pleasure, my little starship hangar of smiles – coz if it’s sci-fi, it’s okay isn’t it?

Don’t answer that.

We need to talk about depression (and the redunancy of the biomedical approach).

Rock up at your Doctor’s with a mental health condition and you’re likely to receive a pretty detached and reductive assessment of your condition – your GP will probably translate your symptoms into a series of numbers and feeding them into the computer, locate you on a scale of 1-10: the total score indicating your suitability for pharmaceutical intervention.

The SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) is a preferred weapon of the biomedical arsenal against depression, and one you may welcome in the depths of an unrelenting despair. The training of the biomedical practitioner is usually to understand depression, or mental health problems in general as the result of a biological pathology, and something that can be fixed through an intervention at that level: i.e. with drugs. Holistic Drugs for depression. considerations about the nature of depression and in turn, appropriate holistic interventions are in most cases not on the biomedical menu. If you’ve experienced drugs meant to alleviate depression, such as SSRI’s, perhaps the first apparent concern upon undergoing treatment was the overwhelming list of side effects that accompany the prescription: sexual dysfunction, digestive disturbance, cognitive disorders, mania, bruxism, tremors (to name a few) – and if you come off the drug to quickly, discontinuation syndrome (pretty rank).

Of course some people experience a lift in mood on SSRI’s – many report being given a ‘baseline’, that balances them out and whatnot. And fair play – we shouldn’t quarrel with peoples subjective experiences, they should be honored. But then, there are important questions to be raised about how ‘anti’, anti-depressants actually are: people suffering from the condition can take them for up to twenty years, being so neurologically dependent on the chemical-fix to wobble without them, but essentially still depressed. Indeed, incidence of depression and mental illness continues to surge in the West, despite the trigger-happy prescription of pharmaceuticals to remedy the condition.

So what is the crack with anti-depressants, really? How effective are they?

Well, seemingly not that effective. A meta-review of published studies on the efficacy of antidepressant drugs for instance, reveals that SSRI’s, which are the most commonly prescribed drugs to treat depression: ‘have no clinically The biomedical approach.meaningful advantage over placebo’. Under these circumstances, the fact that they are doled out so unconsciously in the West should give cause for concern. But when you consider the hegemony of biomedicine and its political economy (its insidious relationship with big pharmaceutical companies for example), the picture becomes clearer. Anti depressants won’t cure your depression, they’re a gimmick peddled for profit, based on unsound science and debased principles.

The application of anti-depressants to a complex phenomena such as depression, mirrors the reductive approach of biomedicine. If we’re ever going to find relief for those suffering, depression and mental illness in general demands a holistic approach on a case-by-case basis, and perhaps more radically, a critical stance on and transformation of the way life is structured in contemporary society.

The roots of mental illness lie in our embodied experience of the world: dependent on our immediate social, political and cultural context. From the pain of our histories too. The body also requires particular nourishment so as to not feel depressed, anxious or neurotic – and it’s important that our metabolism is working effectively for us to benefit from that nourishment. More and more research also points to the importance of a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut for optimum mental health, challenging narrow conceptions of health and disease, and opening up a notion of the human as an ecology, the health of which depends on an internal biodiversity and a harmonious interrelatedness with nature.

For health, I invite you to approach the body as exactly that: an ecology in and of itself. A vibrant system where all parts are interdependent. An ecology situated within a larger ecology, which is our environment, the planet and its lifeforms. All symptom patterns, rather than being isolated events, stem from underlying dysfunction in the body, which in turn may also stem from a rupture or impropriety in the way we relate, biologically or consciously, to our environment at large. This is a perspective biomedicine seems to neglect, adopting an approach to human health that mechanistically focuses on dysfunction at the biological level and within individual systems, neglecting to encompass the functioning of the whole body-ecology, or how health is dependent on wider context.

A sound basis for mental health in particular, is undoubtedly nutrition. Which, whilst not a panacea for health is a solid foundation. In that, proper respect, practice and intrigue around Foodwholesome food, traditional food knowledge and preparatory techniques serve as a gateway for real nourishment of the body, an awakening to the redundancy of current conceptions of health and disease and the unnecessary suffering perpetuated by the current system.

In the West, we have fundamentally lost touch with such basic foundational principles in our lives – and as the East cartwheels to catch up with our carnival of consumption, so too do their cultures suffer the same impoverishment. Food preparation is fast becoming a nuisance, one that many of us cannot afford to concern ourselves with. Whereas food for centuries has been the hub of community and family, modern life demands that we concern ourselves with the rat race above our own nourishment. Increasingly in the West we eat unprepared grains that are toxic to our system. We eat meats from animals farmed like objects in concentration camps. Consume dairy products stripped of their nutritional essence and gorge on confectionary loaded with refined sugars and an insidious host of immune inhibiting toxins. Mainstream advice on diet and nutrition is increasingly at odds with the body’s requirements, instead is-your-bread-cereal-bars-water-contaminated-with-toxic-glyphosate-healthcomplementing the marketing line of giant food corporations and retailers – The NHS in the UK for example promotes consumption of grains without proper preparation, pasteurised dairy products and openly disputes the claims the GM foods are linked to degenerative disease. Unbelievably, even where we make ‘healthy choices’ we run the risk of being exposed to compounds like glysophates (fallout of Monsanto’s enforced prescription of pesticide for our global agricultural system), the cognitive consequences of which are real cause for alarm.

The exposure to a denatured slurry of corporate fare is killing us. It is having a particularly insidious effect on the integrity of our guts. And the more we learn, the more we understand that mental health is contingent on the optimum health of the gut. Essentially, if your diet is bad, your mental health is bad. If the integrity of your gut has been hampered with in anyway by a bad diet, or environmental toxins, then the harmonious synergy between the gut and mind is thrown into conflict. Indeed, you might say, a wobble in the belly results in an even bigger wobble in the mind.

One strategy towards better mental health is an emphasis on the gut as centre. The gut in eastern philosophy is understood as a store of great power and potential. Zen Monk’s will always reference the gut when you ask, ‘from where do you think’? This shouldn’t be any surprise, given that we know the gut, or ‘second brain’, boasts around 100 million neurons, uses more than 30 neurotransmitters (the same amount found in the brain), and harbours around 95% of the body’s serotonin (serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of learning, mood, sleep and other essential regulatory processes). It enjoys a unique communicative relationship with the brain and is a primary interface with our external environment. It is also home to the largest colony of microbes in our bodies, totaling some 500-600 different species and weighing in at around 1.5-2KG.

Looking after the gut in the promotion of mental health is paramount. Whether that’s limiting the amount of damaging foods you’re exposing yourself too, or attempting to support or re-establish a good flora via fermented foods or probiotic supplements. Indeed, taking care of the gut and the ecology of bacteria that resides there is a true recognition and practice of holism: it requires that we have a proper relationship with the external, with the ability to nourish our gut in particular ways – to bring that reality into alignment has ramifications beyond the individual, into wider social, political, environmental realms. A change in the way we relate to external structures, effectively impacts and transforms those structures in terms of what they do and are able to provide.

A good starting point to explore the ‘gut-brain’ axis might be McBride’s ‘gut and psychology syndrome’: which, whilst her prescription for better mental health is based on an ecologically unsound diet (excessive consumption of animal products), her analysis of the problem is sound and is one contributing opinion to the fledgling discipline of Nutritional Psychiatry.

The old guard of biomedical assumptions and prescriptions for mental health is at an end. It’s time for a new perspective, we hope this helps.

Good luck.

Glysophates and the microbiome – a recipe for disaster.

Monsanto Bully

Organic food is shrugged off by many people as the new ‘in thing’, amounting to some kind of fad for the health crazies.

It’s not – it’s just real food, produced without lot’s of chemical inputs and / or genetic modification. As close as possible to the way it should be.

‘Organic’ is not a perfect system by any means but it tends to produce a cleaner and better quality product. The fact that all of us don’t have access to safe, nutritious food in abundance is entirely political – it has nothing to do with scarcity, lack of resources or population and everything to do with the way our economy and society is managed.

Tinkering at any level of the food chain seems to have a cascade of detrimental effects for all involved. Talk of Monsanto and pesticides can feel like a far away threat to us in the UK – but there isn’t an environment, or individual for that matter that isn’t effected by glysophates: a major compound in Monsanto’s ’roundup’.

New research is emerging that shows how glysophate’s are impacting negatively on the human microbiome (the ecology of bacteria that resides in your gut) – with untold effects on the immune system, on cognition and on digestion in general.

You can’t stop this stuff getting inside you anymore, because it’s everywhere. But you can limit it by making better food choices. And where people can’t make those choices because of barriers like poverty, racism etc – well then, it’s time for us to get angry, and organize.