I was very excited to hear that Sandor Katz was coming to Melbourne, and bought tickets to hear him talk as soon as I heard about it, months in advance. For those of you that don't know, Sandor is a fermentation revivalist who loves bacteria - and is a long term AIDS survivor. You might notice a similarity with the facial hair... yes, I was influenced by Sandor, along with the stories of Charles Dickens. The Dicken's era, mid 1800s - is a fascinating contrast to our times. I love seeing BBC videos of the stories and how people lived without abundant fossil fuel energy.
|Sandor Katz with Richard Telford (2014). Photo: Adam Grubb|
A little story about how my interest in fermenting came to beInitially, it came from making home-brew beer in the late 80's, mainly because it was cheap. I soon came to realise that, if you did it well, it tastes sooo much better than commercial beers. I became famed for my brewing, parties and arriving to houses with crates of beer as a young adult.
When I hit the road in my Kombi in the mid 90's the brewing stopped. During my 2 year stint at Carters Road Community in WA 1998-2000 (now Fair Harvest), at the age of 28, I contracted a blood infection. A detox that I was undertaking probably overwhelmed my body with toxins that weakened my immune system sufficiently for Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria commonly found on the skin, to take hold. This manifested in extremely painful boils erupting in different parts of my body, mainly at joints, but also later on my legs and face. After attempts with colloidal silver, comfrey leaves and sweat lodges failed and realising how serious this infection could become I began treatment with antibiotics, putting my trust in the medical system that I usually avoided.
Staph infections have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics since the 50's - as they mutate to more exotic forms during the modern world's war on bacteria. I had three courses of antibiotics of varies kinds, with temporary success. Each course was stronger than the last. I ended up in hospital on intravenous antibiotics, weighing just 50kg. The intravenous antibiotics were really painful, like burning the inside of my veins, and needed to be moved regularly. I got better not long after and was put on even stronger oral antibiotics. I was warned that there was only a couple of other antibiotic options available.
Three weeks later the boils were back. This time I refused to take another course of antibiotics. When I asked my doctor what happened to people before antibiotics, he told me that they probably died. I hadn't heard of anyone recovering from staph infections by treating themselves. I'd put my faith in the medical system and it failed me. I realised that the medical approach was to 'kill the baddies', rather than 'feed the goodies'. It was a fear based, and if I kept it up then my body would have no defenses left.
Surrender and trustI focused on building up my immune system and spoke to Margie, a local cancer survivor. She gave some great advice and support, telling me that I was on the right track. She told me to love myself, every part of it, even the yucky bits (especially the staph itself). We discussed past issues and the underlying psychological problems / reasons. Identifying my fear around loosing control.
She gave me a positive affirmation to repeat "surrender and trust", which I still use, and some different natural approaches to try out. I saw them as a love based, rather than fear based approach. I believed that I would recover, and that I could set an example for others - funny it's taken me 14 years to write publicly about it...
I tried a whole bunch of methods, blood cleansing salts, Swedish bitters, oxygen therapy, Bowen therapy, Reiki, Numerology, Herbal tonics, herbal creams, fresh juices, along with a new awareness and affirmations. I couldn't say which of those, if any in particular, worked. But all of those things were about feeding goodies, not killing baddies.
During the renewed infection the pain became unbearable. I decided against the pain killers, my 'higher self' telling me that I needed to feel the pain. It was outside of my control (my great fear). I was saying to myself "It's alright, it's okay to feel this pain, it's okay to scream in pain - let it out, let it go". I remember a total break down. My deep, heavy, evil sounding breathing and screaming helped ride me through the pain - it reminds me now of the birth of our sons. I wrote at the time "the only way to loose fear is to confront it". I did, and eventually got better - without antibiotics or chemical drugs.
I made some great insights at that time.I realised things, things that I may have heard before, but realising them myself was quite different. Like when you try to force something to happen, and it's not ready to, you get resistance. When it's ready to happen of it's own accord there is very little resistance. Something I learned with my experience of the life-cycle of boils. I use the 'path of least resistance' approach in raising our kids, our home based learning (home schooling) and in my activism. I learnt to surrender and trust, and try my best to use an approach of love rather than fear in everything that I do.
And now for fermentingHow does all this relate to fermenting? It's all about bacteria! Feed the goodies, and the baddies will be overwhelmed.
The first I heard of Sandor Katz was when he spent time at Su and David Holmgren's place in Hepburn while researching his first book, Wild Fermentation (published in 2003). I first tasted extraordinary earth buried fermented delights prepared by Adam Grubb at Melliodora when I first met him at around that time. I purchased the book not long after and was inspired by the empowering nature of Sandor's message, the health benefits and the ability to preserve and enhance foods. I was keen to meet him and get a sense of where he was coming from, glad we finally did.
Kunie and I have been experimenting with fermenting since moving into Abdallah House in 2007 and love Sandor's Art of Fermentation book released in 2012.
|Permie collaborators: Nick Ritar, Kirsten Bradley, Adam Grubb and Richard Telford at Sandor Katz's Melbourne talk. Photo: Kunie Yoshimoto|
End note:Building a healthy immune system is the greatest asset that you can have, and having a diverse community of healthy bacteria in your system is one of the best ways, in my eyes, to do that. I'll write some more about what we ferment in the near future, so stay tuned. In the mean time, check out this presentation from Sandor, a small taste, similar to the talk that we saw in Melbourne put on by colleagues Nick and Kirsten at Milkwood Permaculture.
Update: 19th March 2014While at the talk I had a chat with Nick Ritar from Milkwood about my sickness. In our chat he mentioned 'faecal microbiota transplantation' (FMT) - a procedure whereby poo from a healthy person is introduced to the colon of a sick person. The idea being that it reintroduces a large range of healthy bacteria to the sick person that can recolonise their colon improve their health.
There are some fantastic claims of the effectiveness of this procedure and clinical trials are now underway to prove (or not) it's effectiveness. See this link for more information. I'm excited by this 'new' approach, but I'm sure the big pharmaceutical companies are not.
If we look at the reasons of the occurrence of these debilitating diseases is on the increase, which I believe is because of our 'war on bacteria', then eating raw organic along with live fermented foods would certainly help increase bacteria in the gut that would help build a stronger immune system.