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 🙂

Enjoy!

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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

 

 

 

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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!

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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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‘More than a workshop on kimchi – it speaks to the politics of food, access & inequalities too.’

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 Aidan who came to one of our workshops in July.

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Aidan 🙂

What is your name?

Aidan McGarry.

What attracted you to the workshop with Octopus Alchemy?

I wanted to learn more about the politics of food. I am into cooking and enjoy knowing about different aspects of taste and production. I knew the workshop would educate me on a topic I knew little about.

Did the workshop play out as you expected it to?

Yes the workshop played out as I had hoped and expected. I appreciated the theoretical background to fermentation: ‘the science part’. If we didn’t have this underpinning it would feel as though something was missing.

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Octopus Alchemy at the Coniston Institute.

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

What I really enjoyed about the workshop was how it changed my knowledge and understanding of health and nutrition. I think everyone should understand about the health benefits of fermentation. But more than that there is a clear social value to it too. As issues around food waste and inequalities become more pronounced workshops like this make people aware of what they are eating and why. The fact that it tastes good is a bonus.

Why should people support Octopus Alchemy’s crowdfunding campaign?

People should support Octopus Alchemy’s crowd funding because it is an excellent idea created by someone who is extremely passionate and knowledgeable of a topic which concerns us all. It is more than how to make kimchi (although that is a great reason to run a workshop!) as it speaks to the politics of food, access and inequalities.

 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.

 

 

Let us tempt you to our ‘kraut-funder’ – check out our wares :)

Octopus Alchemy are crowdfunding ‘kraut-funding’.
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Fermented ‘Night-Shade Free’ Salsa.

We launched on November 15th and are running the campaign right through until December 13th. The drive is to support an exciting new collaborative project between Octopus Alchemy, Silo and The Real Junk Food Project, Brighton – as well as to boost our workshop experiences with some new kitchen bling and to fund the development of a new online portal for awareness raising and resources.  We want to raise around 4K.

The project is to ‘Transform the City’s Food Waste into Superfood’ for sale. We’re basically going to hoover up surplus veg in the city and engage the community through our current workshops on food / health politics and fermentation in turning it into a lovely fermented product for sale. The proceeds of which will help nourish our mutual projects to continue making an impact on the local food and health culture of Brighton – and beyond.

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Darren fermentin’ up a storm at Silo with a lovely bunch of supporters.

This blog post will be a platform for the developments of the campaign and a one-stop shop to find out about our supporters, sponsors and incentives to help get you in the mood for supporting us in getting this project off the ground.

You can get directly to our crowdfunding page here.

Otherwise, check out this video where I tell you all about the project before you have a gander at the incentives on offer.

Sponsors and incentives:

Drop in. Let go. Regain flow. Gift vouchers for thai-massage with Octopus Alchemy, to treat a loved one (of yourself!) this Christmas. You can get vouchers for 1, 2 or 4 treatments and £35, £60 and £100 consecutively – click on the individual prices to be redirected to the pledge page.

001Thanks to Sandor Katz and his publisher Chelsea Green for donating a copy of ‘The Art of Fermentation’ and ‘Wild Fermentation’ to the crowdfunding drive. All life is in these books! They are foundational texts for anyone interested in fermentation. Get ‘The Art of Fermentation’ here and ‘Wild Fermentation’ here.

 

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Octopus Alchemy are very pleased to be supported in our crowdfunding campaign by Wild Nutrition who have donated a super-rich, nutrient-dense hamper of their Food-Grown® supplements to the drive.

Wild Nutrition are a local company (Lewes), producing pioneering supplements: which through some biochemical wizadry, binds extra minerals and nutrients to food-stuff by harnessing the power of the glycoprotein.

Introducing the glycoprotein to an already nutrient dense substrate encourages it to metabolize and re-naturalise the extra vitamins and minerals – and then, give it a blow and voila! – a super nourishing and bioavailable product.

Wild Nutrition have gifted us their Food-Grown® Magnesium, Food-Grown® B Complex Plus and Food-Grown® Immune Support. And we’re passing them on for a very healthy £25.

The Marlborough Theatre, Brighton have donated two tickets to their incredible ‘Camp as Christmas’, to take place on the 8th December. Just £15 here.

The delightful Egg & Spoon in Kemptown have donated one of their delectable breakfasts and a cuppa (or any other drink) as an incentive to the crowdfunder. Two of these babies on offer. Get ’em quickly for a tenner here.

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About Balance, Brighton gave us one of their ‘Karma Cards’ to give away – this entitles you to a reduction on all classes and treatments at the centre for one month. They also threw in a free yoga class with Effie of Hannah. Click here to claim for £20.

Big Cat Bodywork aka Tom Cowan who has a profile on our site here in the bodywork section – has donated SIX one to one yoga classes in the Vajrasati style to the cause. This guy is a phenomenal teacher – prepare to blissed out by his wise and heartfelt tutorship. Stretch out and grab a ticket to some hot, sweaty contentedness here. And for £20, this is a steal.

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Temple Chocolate.

Temple Chocolate, Brighton have donated some of their super sensual chocolate to the drive. This stuff is crazy good folks – so support us with a fiver and grab one whilst you can here.

Octopus Alchemy is putting up five vouchers for a free entrance to one of workshops ‘An Archaic Revival Food’ in the near future. A whopping / OA Workshop - 15.11.15-12mind expanding Christmas gift if ever there was one. Grab them here, whilst you can for £20.

Numan from The Body Shop has donated two of their Christmas hampers; one ‘Strawberry Festive Picks’ and the other, ‘Shea Butter Festive Picks’. Click on each individual hamper to pamper yourself or a loved one for Christmas. Both are just £15.

Small Batch Coffee, Brighton have donated ten cups of their darkest brew to keep you perky this winter. Claim one here.

Winner of the 2013 BP portait award, Susanne Du Toit, has donated a copy of a book containing a wonderful selection of her portfolio. Get this and a bar of raw choc from Brighton’s Temple Chocolate for £20.

HummingbirdHawkmoth, a local craft worker who makes stunning jewellery has contributed one of her exquisite brass or copper bangles to the campaign. Mesmerize with this lovely little gift-box by following the link here. Just £25. Worth £35!

Thanks also to:

Infinity Food’s Cooperative, who were kind enough to donate £60 of vouchers to the drive – they were snapped up quickly. Obviously.

The UK’s first zero-waste eatery, Silo, who donated a slap up lunch with drinks to the drive. Of which some lucky supporter will be enjoying very soon. And who contribute so much to our work besides.61njIZBJpqL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

‘Fermentistas’ L & C Shockey who donated a signed copy of their beautiful and innovative book ‘Fermented Vegetables’ to the drive – someone is in for a wonderful education in the fermentation arts.

Curry Leaf Cafe of Ship St, Brighton who pledged a £50 voucher to the campaign for a night of some authentic Indian nosh.

Christian De Sousa – who donated a copy of ‘Postcards from Babylon’. A high-octane trip through the worlds most intense urban environments via the medium of story telling, autobiography and photo-documentary. It’s a signed copy and will make someone very happy.

The dedicated fermentivist Amanda Feifer, who donated a copy of her 51F1T4v7j0L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_hot-off-the-press ‘Ferment Your Vegetables’ – set to make waves in the fermentation community.

Thanks to Bend Fit Mend, Brighton who donated one of their Aroma30 bespoke bodywork sessions as an incentive to the campaign.

Thanks to Sarah at Pure People, Brighton who donated 30mins of biofeedback testing as an incentive to the campaign.

Thanks to Barra Organics in Sheffield who donated a beechwood muddler (aka ‘kraut-pounder’) and a cabbage slicer to the drive.

Thanks to Eat Naked who donated a stunning free raw-food lunch at their eatery in East Street Arcade, Brighton.

 

 

 

 

OA Update.

Hello friends,

It’s rare we indulge in an ‘update post’, but there are so many developments and opportunities on the horizon over the coming months that we wanted to shine a light on them.

Yesterday (October 21st), we hosted yet another cracking little workshop at Silo in Brighton, with special guests Old Tree Co-op participating to showcase their radical little micro-brewery that keeps the restaurant furnished with a diverse range of wholesome fermented drinks.

We have a very special month ahead for October, with our first appearance being at the College of Global Studies in London, lecturing for a course on Environment, Community & the Arts.

Afterward, we travel to the north where we are holding workshops on the 14th, 17th & 19th of October on political nutrition and fermentation with The Real Junk Food Project Manchester, The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield and Real Junk Food Project Wigan- Fur Clemt cafe consecutively.

Then, week beginning 20th October, we will be off to Coniston and Lawson Park for the ‘House of Ferment’ with Grizedale Arts – talking an ‘Archaic Revival of Food’ and the significance of fermentation as a political act.

We are still waiting to hear about a potential appearance at the Food Sovereignty gathering on the weekend of the 23rd October but look to be back for another workshop on the 26th October at our home and hub of radical food politics, Silo.

We will also be running a workshop on behalf of the ‘Feed the 5K’ event in Brighton, date to be confirmed later this month.

Thanks to everyone that makes this work possible. Proper gratitude! Check out some of our recent workshop photos below 🙂

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Old Tree Coop discuss the politics of their micro-brewery and the drinks kefir and kombucha.

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Thread cut like a pro – participants get to grips with sauerkraut.

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Investigating kefir.

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Sweet Tatty’s ready for some spice.

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The famous seabuckthorn kefir – with a seabuckthorn champagne in the wings. Only at Silo, Brighton.

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Packing a punch: Fermented Salsa.

An archaic revival of food; introduction to sourdough and other techniques. Workshop at Silo, Brighton 9TH August.

On Sunday, August 9th @ 6.30pm, Silo, Octopus Alchemy and Infinity Foods Bakery are teaming up to deliver a food-fermentation workshop. Come along and seize your chance to gain loads of great practical knowledge on fermentation and the incredible healing properties of live food, and also learn some about the history and politics of fermentation.

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Sauerkraut making with Octopus Alchemy @ The Foodshed, Brighton.

You’ll get the opportunity to do some creative hands-on fermenting at the restaurant, with ingredients sourced by us depending on their season and availability. You get to take home a batch of whatever is made too, with the rest being served up at Silo once it’s fizzing suitably some weeks later.

This month, we are hosting Infinity Foods Bakery for an introduction to sourdough! Come and see Simon Parker demonstrate the art of sourdough baking and talk some about his philosophy around fermentation and his passion for this ancient art.

In other demonstrations, we’ll be looking at sauerkraut and fermented nut cheese – with a specific focus on an authentic recipe for kimchi: the potent Korean staple that has become a global fascination (check out an amazing introduction to kimchi, here). True to the principles of localism and sustainability, we’ll also look at adapting the recipe to fit what ingredients are in season and more readily available to us. Away from fermentation, but still very much in the vein of traditional foods, we’ll also have a short introduction and demonstration of how to make ‘ghee’ or clarified butter – a real tonic for your gut and overall immunity and metabolism. 

Kombucha & Kefir Interactive

Kombucha & Kefir Interactive

The event runs for approximately three hours and is priced at £25 which should be paid in advance. There are some concessions available. The workshop is limited to twenty people, so please remember to book.

To book, please email octopusalchemy@gmail.com

Confirm your attendance via facebook, here.

If you have any spare jars knocking around at home, bring them in and make sure you get to take some of your creation home with you (small jars please)! Otherwise, any spare jars knocking around at home will be very welcome by the restaurant.

What to expect:

  • 40min introduction to the politics of fermented foods and their health benefits.
  • A short introduction and demonstration of sourdough baking by Simon Parker from Infinity Foods Bakery.
  • Demonstration of three different ferments.
  • Introduction and demonstration of ‘ghee’ or clarified butter.
  • A chance to experiment with different versions of sauerkraut and kimchi in a practical exercise.
  • Take a portion home with you!
  • A chance to taste and buy some pre-made kimchi.
  • A bloody good time.

VERS2OAA little bit about your host: Octopus Alchemy is a social venture in Brighton that talks food-politics and traditional foods. It is run by Darren Ollerton: a food-activist, blogger and bodyworker living in Brighton. You can see testimonials about OA workshops here.

‘Vessels of Dissent’ – Fermentation as politics from below.

It’s easy to misinterpret fermentation as some unremarkable practice, carried out by fuzzy old ladies in farmhouse kitchens in the back of beyond – and of course it is, but that’s not all of it. In fact, the potency of those few fizzing mason jars and cobwebbed crocks hanging out in your nan’s cupboard goes far beyond taste and an old wives remedy: they symbolise a kind of politics from below; a lively critique of the way we live our lives and how we understand our bodies and their place in nature.

It’s no secret that fermentation is making a comeback in the West or that knowledge(s) about the importance of the microbiome are resurfacing again (contrary to the arrogance and imperialism of biomedicine, this is not a new discovery or even particular to the West). Katz’s revivalist efforts are now complimented by a landslide of interest in the techniques of wild fermentation, of culturing and preserving. Every other week, peculiar and inventive little projects crop up in urban centres and beyond, preaching the lacto-gospel: fermentation on wheels, fermentation installations, fermentation festivals, blogs, podcasts and potlucks. In my home town of Brighton, fermented products now appear on swanky restaurant menus, with gourmet chef’s the world over crafting taste-experiences from this age old tradition. Sourdough bread, a novelty only years ago in the face of its cheap, white and easily processed rival, is (for the reasonably well heeled) becoming a staple once again.

An ‘archaic revival’ in food is occurring; less of us now blink uncritically at the waves of corporate propaganda of ‘tasty’ and ‘convenient’ food. A generation of medical refugees, sick and fatigued by denatured and contaminated food and the biased and mechanical prescriptions of their biomedical Doctors, are reaching into the past to reclaim life affirming knowledge and skills. Fermentation is one of those skills, with each dry-salt or brine having a cascade of effects beyond its container – they are ‘vessels of dissent’, the web of relations and effects extending from them into cultural, environmental and political realms.

Challenging contemporary food culture:

There are now endless texts rallying against our contemporary food culture, all with the same underpinning message, which is that the commodification of our food and the profit motive in food production has run amok and the system that prevails undermines the well being of our animals, the health of our people and communities and ultimately, the ecological balance of our planet too.

Every so often, (usually) independent media gives us a glimpse of the horrors of the industrialised method applied to food production: animals are treated like objects, workers no better and the 41k+yYzyf4L._UY250_food itself is engineered and adapted to predictable outcomes (usually lucrative ones) with no thought for the human, animal and environmental costs and consequences.

Curiously, just as globalisation encourages the spread of different cuisines and our experiential access of different cultures and their foodways, the homogenisation of our food: its taste, texture, appearance and content in Pollan’s words: rolls out like a ‘great undifferentiated lawn across the globe’.

Food has become a ‘private transnational commodity’, subjected to the whims and fancies of our market economy. The communities once built up around food have dissolved as ‘buyers’ interact with ‘producers’ and alienated ‘consumers’ attend brightly lit and sanitary halls, stocked with food-commodities – their origins, histories and stories of human / nature co-creation muffled and obscured by cellophane packaging and garish labeling; designed to say as little about the product as possible and c990dd4941eabdb4d49e7a2ec0f9f745everything about the dream of sunshine, clucking hens and the ‘good life’ that most of us rarely get to experience, never mind the food.

This violent separation of the urban consumer from food production and producers, means that (massively exploited) producers, no longer tied or responsible to their communities, shell out denatured food using all manner of toxic inputs and processes to please ever more stringent targets set by buyers. And consumers, distracted from the ‘non-economic attributes’ of food, approach it in the most objectifying way as to be almost apathetic about it beyond its superficial qualities.

Perhaps it is this disconnection from and appreciation of our food in its totality (as beyond just food; embodying a sacred web of relations and connections) that makes for such depression in our Foodcommunities, such listlessness and dissatisfaction at what should be a simple joy. The commodification of our food has created an artificial scarcity and exclusive hierarchy, where only the privileged eat and eat well – ‘routine hunger, malnutrition, premature deaths, famine’ and noxious amounts of waste are the byproducts of this system.

Fermentation then, is an ‘eloquent protest’ in the face of these circumstances, a reconnection with food-as-nutrition, which in turn encourages a respect for the nature of food itself and the people, animals and land that make it possible. The complexity of any one ferment, its inherent ecology of bacteria and enzymes, their innumerable interactions and bubbling byproducts puts us in touch with the wonder of food again. There’s nothing plastic, artificial or detached about sourdough, kefir, miso or kimchi – they are literally frothing with life and overflowing with life-force; ecologies of such spectacular diversity that our previous food-programming perishes under a radical remembering of the life and magic of our food.

The experimentation and play that accompanies fermentation represents a rejection of the predictable, affected and meaningless products churned out by the market – it is a celebration of distinctiveness, the peculiar, of artisanship and taste. The communities that thrive around Commodity-Tradingfermentation, mirroring the excitement of the ferment itself, branch out and swell – spreading knowledge, practices, skills and wisdom. Old food-economies are transformed by new energy and insights and new and alternative economies are born; where small producers and hobbyists deliver innovations and operate on different principles, such as the pioneers of the ‘sacred’ or ‘gift’ economies. Time and energy is reclaimed from the current ecocidal economy and trajectory to stage a revolution from our kitchens – ultimately, food is de-commodified and becomes meaningful again.

The biomedical monopoly and the mechanistic worldview.

Chronic disease have become a remarkably persistent feature of our contemporary medical landscape. Indeed, over 60% of deaths worldwide are now reported as resulting from a variety of chronic conditions. This phenomena goes someway to framing the explosion of interest in fermentation, as more and more people engage with the health benefits of these sour and whiffy creations.

Beyond their alleviation of various ailments and maladies, this popular engagement with fermentation as a healing modality shifts the way we relate to our bodies and how we perceive The biomedical approach.their place in nature, challenges the current biomedical orthodoxy on what illness is and how health can be attained and asks serious questions about what legitimate knowledge is when it comes to health and disease.

‘Biomedicine’ is another way, in anthropological parlance, of talking about the kind of clinical medicine, grounded in the scientific worldview, that has been the dominant mainstay of our medical landscape since the scientific revolution of the 19th century. Early on, biomedicine’s legitimacy was derived from its handle on bacteriology and the control of serious infections (no joke in the squalor of the sprawling and insanitary urbanism of the time). Its dominant position in the field of health the world over is in most cases underwritten by the State.

Biomedicine is founded on certain principles, which defines health by the absence of symptoms and which focuses chiefly on the biological and physiological causes of illness and disease – to the detriment of social / cultural / political and environmental factors which are themselves significant determinants of health and which, notably, are considered in the more holistic modalities that biomedicine has spent most of its career trying to repress, humiliate and appropriate. In many ways, medicine should be one of the most robust forms of social critique we have – after all, where inequality, oppression, deprivation, isolation or a lack of social cohesion or personal fulfillment fester, disease will too.

In essence, the biomedical worldview is reductive as opposed to expansive – medical problems are observed as stemming from some biological pathology and treatment is usually oriented at particular malfunctioning cells or systems in isolation, via surgery or pharmacology – and more holistic interpretations of illness and disease are discounted as ‘quackery’.

Popular dissatisfaction with biomedicine is not a new phenomenon, the wave of lay disillusionment with the discipline began in the 1970’s with the rise of a medical counter-culture in San Francisco that saw a surge of interest in new magical and holistic approaches to health, as well as in ancient systems of health care from the East such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda.

Apart from biomedicine’s obvious biological determinism, people were and are fatigued at the iatrogenic effects of its interventions and medicines, its excessive medicalisation of all areas of life, the invasive nature of its procedures, its bureaucratic and high tech nature and its complete failure in the realm of chronic disease.  Nevertheless, its formidable material base, its legal / political protections and affinity with the capitalist outlook have allowed it to sweep any dissent under the carpet and appropriate any useful aspects of alternative medical models or systems.

Credit: Stephen Jeffrey.

The antibiotic has been one of the main modes of pharmaceutical intervention in the biomedical arsenal over the last 70 years. In 1940, antibiotics were heralded as a revolution in medicine and they have no doubt helped us to bring some very serious infections under control. But their abuse, both in human and in animals, has led to aggressive and drug resistant pathogens becoming a persistent feature of our microbial landscape. The consequence of this biomedical worldview is a cultural paranoia around microbes which equates to what Sandor Katz calls ‘the war on bacteria’; from ‘pseudo-medical’ practices like antibacterial hand washing to chlorine in our water supply, we have become almost neurotic about nuking these vital unseen ecologies.

Away from the proliferation of drug-resistant pathogens, no longer kept in check via the natural competitive environment of healthy microbial ecologies, there are even more sinister and pernicious consequences. The biodiversity and integrity of our internal microbiome (our resident ecologies of bacteria and microbes which ‘interact to form complex webs of mutual support’ and which promote optimum metabolic, immune and cognitive function) suffers irrevocably, with the consequences of this destabilisation only now becoming apparent. As Martin Blaser describes in his book “Missing Microbes’, the disappearance or extinction of a ‘keystone species’ of bacteria in the human microbiome means the overall ‘ecology suffers and can even collapse’.

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Check out: ‘Your microbiome may hold keys to cancer treatment’.

This is the context to the ‘modern plagues’ that are now a common feature of everyday life – obesity, diabetes, asthma, oesophageal reflux, hayfever, eczema and other skin conditions; inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Chrohn’s as well as various types of cancer have all been linked in some way to disturbances in the microbiome. Heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis and chronic fatigue have too become persistent features of the modern medical landscape – many no doubt accompanied by conditions of the gut, usually denied or at least rarely investigated by biomedical doctors, such as ‘leaky gut syndrome’, ‘gut dysbiosis’ or ‘small intestinal bacterial overgrowth’. Not to mention the increased frequency of all kinds of cognitive ailments such as anxiety, depression, dyslexia and autism – the book Gut & Psychology Syndrome by Natasha McBride will be a revealing read for anyone interested in the gut/brain axis here. Finally, food allergies, almost undetectable in indigenous communities engaged in pre-modern lifestyles, are at epidemic levels. It’s clear that something has gone badly wrong.

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Check out Blaser’s book!

The research on probiotic therapy is encouraging and many of the conditions above are indicated as improving and sometimes being wholly resolved by bolstering and enhancing our internal flora with particular focused strains. However, ideas about the appropriate composition of the human microbiome is yet more biomedical conjecture, with studies borne out in indigenous communities turning up strains of bacteria identified as potentially harmful in Western hosts. Reliance on commercial probiotics for healing, whilst definitely appropriate in some instances, also support the very same system and corporations that have a chequered history as regards to human health and the environment; Monsanto, Nestle, Pepsico and General Mills have all funded studies on the gut and the microbiome and the probiotic industry is set to become a $45BN market by 2018.

Fermentation and the new medical paradigm.

Fermentation then, comes into its own here too – of course, little official research has been done on nanna’s crocks in terms of their therapeutic application and effects: testing is a tightly controlled industry (with big pharma the usual benefactors) and no one is likely to earn money from age old techniques we can all have a bash at! But there is no reason why bacteria growing in home ferments cannot be as beneficial and resilient as commercially produced strains. Indeed, indexwhat is more important is ‘variety, diversity and incorporating the bacteria native to different raw ingredients’ and I would add, the local environment. In a world where the ‘randomised control trial’ has become the oracle of truth and legitimacy, through fermentation, subjective knowledge and experiences of healing becomes important once again. Nanna’s arthritic knee eased by her daily kombucha stays eased, irrespective of whether the result has been validated by a biased trial or not.

Fundamentally, dabbling in the fermentation arts is to challenge the biomedical monopoly. Whereas biomedicine prefers itself as the sole arbiter of medical knowledge, our fermentivist communities know differently – our lacto-adventures encourage new understandings of the body, of health and disease and ultimately our relation to nature.

When we consider that the reality of our bodies is that we are just 10% human (bacteria outweigh human cells in the body 10 to 1), it dawns on us that we are not so much mechanical, individuated microbiome-title-890x395and self-contained as ecological, expansive and interdependent. We begin to approach the body as 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. We begin to realise that our symptoms are not genetically dictated but are epigenetic phenomena, which mirrors to some extent a rupture or impropriety in the way we relate, biologically or consciously, to our environment at large.

To take a case in point: recently a bit of research was released that showed how social anxiety in adults was relieved through regular consumption of fermented foods. What are the consequences for understanding social anxiety here? Is social anxiety purely a relational phenomenon between humans, born of some personal and internal imbalance or neurosis? Or does social anxiety have a more holistic foundation – does it stem also from a disruption in our unseen connection to nature: dependent on our internal mirroring of the microbial biodiversity external to us?

Fermentation and replenishing the microbiome is of course not a panacea – health involves a truly holistic perspective (social, political, environmental, biological, emotional and spiritual), not a limited one. But its practice and enjoyment raise important questions about humanity, culture, biopsychsocial-modelecology and healing. The revival of this ancient practice has significant consequences for the biomedical worldview, as it does for our economy and culture at large – lay interest in alternative approaches and systems of health creates a critical mass difficult to ignore by biomedicine, which in an attempt to diffuse the revolt is necessarily changed itself through its natural impulse to monitor, marginalize, control and appropriate. The emergence of the biopsychosocial approach to health from within biomedicine, or pyschoneuroimmunology is a product of this very same process.

The ‘gut as centre’ and beyond.

By now, I hope we’ve established that our fizzy concoctions are potent beyond their basic utility. Each forkful of our tangy treats is a kindly gesture of homage toward the unseen ecology and lifeforms with whom we live so interdependently. The recognition of this symbiosis does not just reverberate change into our food economy and conceptions of health, disease and approaches to healing – the circle expands to effect our politics, environment and communities too.

The art of fermentation is in many ways a way of placing the ‘gut as centre’ to our philosophy to life and healing – which may hold great transformational potential for our societies. The gut in eastern philosophy is understood as a store of great power and potential. Zen Monk’s will always motion at IMG_4794the gut if one asks, ‘from where do you think’? And this makes perfect sense, 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 (and incredibly sensitive) 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 – the harmonious balance and biodiversity of which is our best line of defence to the onset of the many ‘modern plagues’ that now ail us.

Looking after the gut as a source of vitality, health and well-being 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. Indeed, nurturing your microbiome is a true recognition and practice of holism: it requires that we have a proper relationship with the external, germswith the ability to nourish our gut in particular ways – to bring that reality into alignment has ramifications beyond the individual, into wider social, political and 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.

Ultimately then, along with other traditional forms of food prep and knowledge, fermentation is one of our key tools in honouring the gut as centre – and in this respect is a radical act: a form of activism on the margins, a DIY warfare of the unseen against the life-inimical forces of our ecocidal economy. Our cupboards don’t contain innocuous jars of mere pickled veg, they contain ‘vessels of dissent’, which symbolise a re-awakening to an ecological consciousness counter to the mechanical and toxic drudgery of the pharma-military-industrial complex.

Octopus Alchemy RJFP - Source Thom Novi-2

Octopus Alchemy in action.

Through the art of fermentation, the body is disassembled conceptually and we become infinitely complex and profoundly connected to nature; we rely less on biomedicine or biomedical knowledge, seeking to improve and nurture microbial ecologies rather than decimate them; pharmaceutical use declines; our individual relationship to food changes and so does the organisation of our communities around food, their connection to producers are changed and monopolies are shaken; alternative economies flourish and communities too; food waste declines and organic produce is sought; better land management occurs and biodiversity improves; soils enrich and carbon is captured; we enjoy better connection with each other and the land, more meaning and more truth; stress declines, happiness increases, cognition, immunity and health improve overall.

After an afternoon of scribbling out the web of relations that extend from the art of fermentation, I can say there seems hardly an area left untouched. If there’s ever been a more persuasive reason to get alchemical, surely this is it.