“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.

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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‘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.

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Matthew.

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.

‘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.

 

 

 

 

Quinoa crisps are not the answer.

Leafing through the ‘Yoga Journal’ squatting on the throne a number of weeks ago – yes, I squat these days, it’s the only way – I was startled to how an ostensibly ‘spiritual’ magazine had been infiltrated by so much advertising and product placement. An array of everything from yoga ‘essentials’ to support your practice, to courses aimed at personal development, to the proper gear to make you all the rage in class. Granted, said ads were interspersed with a few principled and erudite reflections on the practice – but nevertheless the gloss was spattered with the kind of materialism and narcissism that seemed out of place back to back with the principles of Patanjali’s Sutras.

Of course, the counter to this argument might be of the regressive realist sort; that the fracturing of our principles is by default required in our market economy, to ensure audiences can be reached, expanded and supported in their own ‘spiritual development’. But I suspect more often than not, such space given over to commodity and materialism hardly raises an eyebrow – health consumerism is in a different league after all.

What is health consumerism if not an attempt to realize our human potential, physically, emotionally and spiritually?

A fair assessment of our readership might be the politically aware and ecologically conscious kind – with those values expressed in their choices as consumers. Quality food is probably a high priority for you and perhaps a portion of your budget is spent on ‘getting well’ or maintaining wellness – you have acupuncture, get a massage, buy herbs, supplements, have therapy etc.

In the context of consumerism, many of these choices are seen as ‘right choices’, or at least better ones – well meaning and informed by an eco-intelligence; with a desire to realize some potential, be the best we can be in our lives and tread lightly whilst we’re at it. It’s the poor, uninitiated and reckless that whittles away their dosh on pork scratchings and jaeger bombs anyway, isn’t it?

But how do we discern when our health consumerism is out of control? And to what ends does it serve? In fact, are we prepared to even consider ‘investing’ in our health as consumerism at all?

Waking up to health as just another market isn’t an easy thing – it elides detection as an avenue for zombie-like consumerism, because it seems to operate in a different realm. The health commodity is not always as substantial in the material sense, appearing to transcend such crudity via the romantic ecological or spiritual narratives that support their production. That, or their affinity with the impulse to seek ‘health and wellbeing’, which has become the holy grail of our contemporary society, renders them not only legitimate and worthwhile, but essential criteria of our modern lifestyles.

Most of our waking hours are spent wading the swamp of conflicting advice and information around health – with State guidelines merely reflecting the regurgitated tripe of shadowy corporate lobbyists, with an exasperating array of regimes, diets, interventions and products all claiming some essential truth of human health and vitality. We are pushed violently into a state of neurotic self-surveillance and continuous work on our bodies via a means of the different ‘technologies’, disciplines and compounds on offer. No sooner have we seen the bottom of our multi-vitamin and mineral bottle, we’re reaching for a new formula – in spray form, that self-initiates as vapour from the bedside table.

Yet, chomping on our stale kale crisps, will we let ourselves ask if it’s all worth it? Or indeed, whether it’s the right path? Reclined and pinned (literally) to the massage couch – is this where relief is? Is your vitamin-D deficiency real – or does the impulse to supplement come from a place you’re unwilling to explore?

Our modern lifestyles and concentrated urbanism are already a source of chronic anxiety – the call to health and its pursuance delivers us into a state of hyper-anxiety; wading through mounds of processed shit to source the ever-illusive ether for our ills.

Working with my ‘spiritual accountant’ recently (my definition, not theirs), we discussed the impulses behind my own health consumerism. Which tied in beautifully with some previous grappling (with the aid of another very wise guide) with my personal conception of healing.

It seems a neat trick of our neoliberal architecture, the biomedical worldview and perhaps the narcissism of our times, that healing can be so reduced to that which we can consume. Of course, in the context of the very real conditions and maladies induced by the toxicity of our environments and milieu, consumption can be a matter of life and death. But the impulse to consume for consumptions sake, to attain this advertisement of perfection rolled out to keep us rolling, is surely a distraction from the kind of fulfillment that is an authentic prerequisite to ‘feeling well’.

Like my intelligent guide said, in not so many words – true healing is a collective, not an individual endeavor. A sense of deep connection; to each other, our communities and our environment, primes the terrain of the body to the kind of equilibrium that makes us content, resilient and open to embracing the new ways of being and thinking that gives real basis to fulfillment and the individual and collective foundations for health.

Perhaps it’s time to step from behind the convenience of a ‘limited holism’, perpetuated by the market of ‘health and wellbeing’, to be brave enough to say – ‘no, I’m not okay, and a mountain of quinoa crisps and wheatgrass shots won’t make it any better’. And to encourage a healthy solidarity in demanding the kind of radical social change that means our communities and our environments become our general panacea.

Or perhaps it’s time for another green tea. I’ll put the kettle on.

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.