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Fermenting country caring for the ecology of our guts Dr Patrick Jones with Meg Ulman

Keynote for the 2016 International Indigenous Allied Health Conference Cairns Queensland Australia, 1st - 3rd December 2016

We wish to acknowledge the elders and communities of the Yirrganydji people whose land we come to present and meet upon, and pay respect to the ancestors of this land who continue to show us the way to live well and in peace.

I am going to talk today about the benefits of fermented foods, particularly in relation to reclaiming the kind of gut health our ancestors had, and outline why I think the relationship between gut health, community health and land health are contiguous. I am not a medical doctor. My doctoral work sits within the ecological arts, and my work draws on a range of fields including ethnobotany, sociology, cultural studies, history, ecology, biology, anthropology, politics, ethnology, philosophy, food sciences, indigenous knowledges, and permaculture. I’m no expert in any of them, rather my expertise resides in the amalgam of these varied fields and, of course, experience itself. Permaculturists insist on broad knowledges and question the limits of specialisation in thinking through our greatest challenges. Permies admire the broad knowledges people had in Australia pre-1788, when children were raised to understand how the land works, their relationship to it, where their food, medicine and energy comes from, and through initiation, the sacredness of this knowledge in making people well and making more life possible, collectively, generation after generation. My own ancestry begins as indigene then pagan peasant of Europe before becoming Christianised, land dispossessed, working class, boat person, land dispossessing alien, then (via crude-oil-induced-wealth) middle-class in the past two generations. While I recognise the privileges and comforts of my parents’ and my own generation, and what this privilege stands upon, I feel closer to the lifeways of my indigenous and peasant ancestors, and the lifeways of the Dja Dja Wurrung people, whose country, in central Victoria, I call home. And I’ve felt this kinship with my own indigeneity and indigenous peoples since as early as I can remember. Like Aboriginal people throughout Australia my European ancestors were fermenters. They recognised fermented foods and drinks were key to preserving food and preventing illness by keeping alive and vital foods that would otherwise spoil. Fermentation stalls the decaying process, or rather uses decay in a remarkable way to enhance life. My early ancestors sun-fermented hawthorn berries in the autumn and preserved them as fruit leathers to get them through the long harsh winters.1 This was their heart medicine that also offered modest amounts of vitamin C. 1

Gordon Hillman is a British professor of ethnobotany who suggested this use on Ray Mear’s Wild Food Britain series, BBC 2007

Later they learned to ferment vegetables and fruits, flowers and grains. These foods contributed to the health of the various communities of microbes living in their bodies, and by association contributed to their own well being. The modern western diet has increasingly become a liability to human health. Full of refined sugars, low in fibre, over-processed and stored for long periods draining any vitality from it. Western food’s foremost imperative is no longer nutrition, but money. And much like what extractive industrialised agriculture has done to the ecologies of the world, western food and its required medicine has more or less created ecological crises in the various microbiomes of our bodies’ organs. The typical western diet that is low in complex fibre and high in fructose sugar reduces the diversity of essential microbes in our gut. In extreme cases it is akin to a super dozer dragging a giant chain through scrubland. Antibiotics are ecology clearers too. While modern drugs can perform miracles in times of crisis, pharmaceutical medicine is a multibillion dollar industry that preys on those with a poor diet, which is almost everyone today. Antibiotics have been seen up until recently as a great triumph of western masterliness, but money’s influence on science is corrupting, and one of the results of this is that antibiotic medicine is now a serious health threat due to over-prescribing. Australian infectious diseases researcher, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, claims “[o]veruse of antibiotics, in the home and agriculturally, has created a global health crisis... with bacterial resistance to current treatments predicted to claim 10 million lives yearly by 2050”.2 Tellingly the word antibiotic literally means ‘against life’. We create a better environment for harmful pathogens when our diet is low in complex fibres. Complex or fermentable fibres such as legumes, fruit, vegetables and whole grains, can be considered prebiotic material that helps to generate a healthy microbiota. What has become clear in recent years is that maintaining a healthy microbiome is one of the keys to human health, especially in mitigating inflammation or metabolic disorders caused by western food and pollutants. If an orange is stripped of its fibre and is offered up as juice it effectively becomes a food of pure refined sugar, of fructose. Refined sugars, which are secreted into almost all processed foods today, increase your risk 2

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, as quoted in the article Antibiotic Resistance by Kemal Atlay, The Saturday Paper, Melbourne, October 22, 2016

of disease in a similar way to alcohol. What is extraordinary is that it’s become acceptable to pepper food, especially food targeted at children, with sweet addictive substances that cause a plethora of health problems. Parents and carers think if a product is sold and advertised then governments have approved it, therefore it must be safe. Sadly, this is not the case. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of California, there are three similarities between the effects of alcohol and fructose sugar: 1. Your liver metabolizes alcohol the same way as sugar, as both serve as substrates for converting dietary carbohydrate into fat. This promotes insulin resistance, fatty liver, and abnormal fat levels in your blood. 2. Fructose undergoes the Maillard reaction with proteins. This causes superoxide free radicals to form, resulting in inflammation. 3. Fructose can directly and indirectly stimulate the brain’s ‘hedonic pathway,’ creating habituation and dependence, the same way that ethanol does.3 In giving our kids refined sugars, which have absolutely no nutritional content, we are effectively setting them up for their first addiction. In our community, as everywhere, sugar sweetened drinks are endemic. Like highly profitable antibiotics there is an over prescribing of highly profitable sugar. The results are liver dysfunction, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation and metabolic syndrome. Gut dysbiosis is another outcome. Gut dysbiosis occurs when beneficial microbes in the gastrointestinal organs diminish enabling harmful microbes (pathogens) to increase in 3

Robert H. Lustig, MD. Fructose: Metabolic, Hedonic, and Societal Parallels with Ethanol, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, September 2010, Volume 110, Issue 9 Pages 1307-1321

number. Dr Jeff Brownscombe, a public health physician who has worked in remote communities as a doctor and alongside the Royal Flying Doctor Service, says “increased intestinal permeability resulting from gut dysbiosis increases exposure to toxins, (pesticides, pollutants, etc.), impairs the body’s ability to eliminate toxins, and has an association with allergies.”4 Fruit juices are barely healthier alternatives to sweetened sugar drinks. While they have a little more nutrition and less additives, they have a comparable glycemic load and glycemic index.5 If we eat a whole orange we feel satisfied, but a glass of orange juice may consist of fructose from several oranges, which we wouldn’t ordinarily consume in one go. The fibre of the orange not only acts as a medium to promote beneficial gut microbes, it stops us over consuming what effectively becomes refined sugar when juiced. We are amid the sixth great extinction period in the world’s history, the only one caused by human beings. But the extinctions don’t only include organisms of land, ocean and air, they include certain microbes in our gut that were more suited to our fibre-eating ancestors. Evolutionary biologist Andrew Moeller’s research indicates that the general reduction in gut microbiome diversity, observed in people in industrialised societies, is most likely linked to changes in diet and the use of


from a conversation with Dr Jeff Brownscombe 28 November 2016


from a conversation with Dr Jeff Brownscombe 28 November 2016

antibiotics.6 Western food and medicine are complementary sciences used or coerced to grow markets aligned with neoliberal fanaticism. Under the control of such cynical ideology, preventative health isn’t profitable, let alone desirable. There’s too much money to be made in keeping people unhealthy. Making food and medicine divisible and no longer related to one another has been a triumph for industry. Large-scale marketing of saccharin began in the UK in 1887, and the emergence of ulcerative colitis cases began in 1888.7 Nearly 130 years later bowel disorders, including colitis and Crohn’s disease, are endemic around the world. Among a long list of ill effects, sugar sweetened beverages increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes8 . Pharmaceutical drugs give and take, sometimes in equal measure. Metformin, for example, is a popular Type 2 diabetes drug. Its side effects include, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting9. Like antibiotics the drug may cause inflammation in the gut. Some researchers have found that half of people who take Metformin experience diarrhoea.10 Modernity’s food and medicine are not speaking to each other, and our guts are suffering because of it. Sugar sweetened drinks are among the most addictive food products sold. Energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster Energy contain approximately 10 teaspoons (60g) of sugar per cup (240ml), and Coke contains around 7-8 teaspoons (45g) of sugar per cup. The sugar-caffeine combination interferes with immune function, promotes mood 6

Ann Gibbons, Microbes in our guts have been with us for millions of years, Science (online), July 21, 2016 2016/07/microbes-our-guts-have-been-us-millions-years (accessed 20 November 2016) 7

Xiaofa Qin. Etiology of inflammatory bowel disease: A unified hypothesis. World Journal of Gastroenterology (online) 2012. https:// (accessed 20 November 2016) 8

Vasanti S. Malik, Barry M. Popkin, George A. Bray, Jean-Pierre Després, Walter C. Willett and Frank B. Hu. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes, American Diabetes Association (online), November 2010. 33/11/2477.short (accessed 20 November 2016) 9

Metformin side effects as described on (accessed 20 November 2016)


Dr Erica Sonnenburg speaking on the podcast, Episode 5: Diet and its impact on our microbiota and health with Drs. Erica and Justin Sonnenburg (Stanford School of Medicine), The American Microbiome Institute, presented by David McKeon and William Bonificio, 2015

swings and increases risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Caffeine can cause headaches, stomach aches, diarrhoea and sleeping problems and increases the amount of sugary beverages people consume. Salt, another significant ingredient in these drinks, raises the amount of sodium in your bloodstream which reduces the kidney’s ability to remove the water, causing high blood pressure because of the added strain on the delicate blood vessels leading to the kidneys.11 Where the sugar level is zero, the product is most likely sweetened with an artificial sweetener such as aspartame or Splenda, which are also triggers for irritable bowel syndrome.12 Crude oil is also a significant part of the story of western diet and medicine. Without petrochemicals western food and medicine would not exist. Monocultures, such as sugarcane, couldn’t exist, at least not on the scale they currently do. With an absence of petrochemicals we would be once more eating seasonally, locally and hand to mouth. Teachers, mentors and elders would be teaching children about ecology in relation to food and energy resources, and we would be preserving more foods, including by fermentation, thus producing localised probiotic-rich foods to nourish our young peoples’ guts. Probiotic simply means ‘for life’. 11 12 (accessed: 27 November 2016)

Xiaofa Qin. What caused the recent worldwide increase of inflammatory bowel disease: should sucralose be added as a suspect? Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2011;17:E139. PubMed: (accessed: 26 November 2016)

According to the Harvard Medical School, “[a]n estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms which constitute the microbiota, generally don’t make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.”13 Microbial cells in our body outnumber human cells 10:1. Uncovered over several decades, Dr Beth Gott’s work details how optimal Aboriginal diets were pre-colonisation, which went quickly downhill once the economic models of the First Nations, which were so embedded in land sacredness and applying broad knowledges, were forcibly and violently replaced with landlessness and the paying for food and medicine. Conversations about diverse economies are key to reestablishing culturally appropriate health approaches around the world. I strongly believe that while money is the only economy that holds any status we will continue to eat food that poisons us. Yam daisies, Vanilla lilies and milkmaid tubers are just three root vegetables Dja Dja Wurrung people ate as part of their sacred economics. Yams or murnongs were farmed on terraces, soil was soft and spongey and food knowledges were extensive and owned by all. These foods are coming back. Gott talks about these complex carbohydrates as being key to Indigenous health because they “undergo

13 (accessed: 27 November 2016)

digestion by bacteria in [the] colon, producing short-chain fatty acids, [and] no rise in blood glucose.”14 They were in fact prebiotic or fermentable foods that would have enabled the gut to sing with vitality. Gott’s research shows that the nutrition of yams compared to potatoes is far greater, and she refers to early European accounts of Aboriginal teeth, an important indicator of human health, as being exemplary. The only sugars available were contained in nectars, sap, ants, fruit, leaf scale (lerp), honey and sugarbag. It is evident that this amount of sugar in a diet enables optimal human health. The greatest assault on people and the land by western culture was putting food “under lock and key,”15 to quote author Daniel Quinn. People could now be controlled by landowners, capitalists and industry. According to writer Yasha Levine reviewing The Invention of Capitalism, the book’s author, economic historian Michael Perelmen, “outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of socalled Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book,” he continues, “are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.”16 English writer George Monbiot contests “the oddest insult in the English language [is] when you call someone a peasant, [because] you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive.” The attack on indigenous and peasant community-reliant and -resilient economies signalled, to my mind, the radical transformation from diverse bioregional ecological economics to a one-world imperialist, extractive, polluting economy. Money always belongs to an economy that must grow, it must keep writing IOUs, and because of this it belongs to an economy rooted in the fallacy of permanent growth, which is completely out of step with the limits of 14

Dr Beth Gott. Aboriginal Medicine Plants (Powerpoint presentation), Monash University, Victorian Herbalists Association, Fitzroy Library, Thursday, 15 August, 2013 15 16

Daniel Quinn. Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure, Harmony Books, New York City 2000

Yasha Levine. Recovered Economic History: “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” The Exiled (online) April 5 2012. (accessed: 22 November 2016)

the earth’s actual resources and ability to recharge and heal. Human health is always an economic imperative. Today, those who have control of the one-world economy have control of our health. This is why, I believe, it is crucial to reduce our dependency on the supermarkets, pharmaceuticals and petrol stations of such one-world fanaticism. This is our great challenge if we are to regain our health and grow again diverse communities embedded in the health and sanctity of the land. According to writer Bruce Pascoe, a descendant of the Yuin and Bunurong peoples, Indigenous Australians farmed the many worlds of Australia in diverse ways.17 His research draws on point-of-contact journals and the latest archeological findings demonstrating that Aboriginal people have been farming grain and making bread for at least 32,000 years. This figure astonishingly precedes the Egyptians, who are always referred to as the first bread makers, by at least 15,000 years. Explorers across Australia such as Charles Sturt and Thomas Mitchell came across settled villages and hectares upon hectares of stooked grains. This best-practice agrarianism was quickly eradicated in part by hoofed animals, fences, smallpox, guns, refined sugar and flour. In part to suit the English legal agenda of Terra Nullius. And in part because Aboriginal communities were so quickly displaced the records soon reported only hunting and gathering, which are of course important and complementary skills and knowledges to any ecological economy, but not the whole picture. As the first bread makers Aboriginal people would have understood fermentation well before anyone else. Airborne yeasts or ‘microbial clouds’ exist around us at all times; we are in fact hosts to countless microorganisms 17

Bruce Pascoe. Dark Emu: Black Seeds (Agriculture Or Accident?), Magabala Books, Broome, WA 2014

inside and outside our bodies. Wild yeasts would have also grown on the husks of cracked grain. Autonomous microbes would have contributed to the world’s first breads rising. In Dark Emu, Pascoe cites Sturt writing in his journal that on near starvation the explorer was given roast duck and the lightest and sweetest cake by Aboriginal people living in what is now called Sturt’s Stony Desert.18 To me, as a baker of wild fermented breads, the describing of ‘light cakes’ indicate a rising agent and a knowledge of how fermentation works. Dense cakes or breads, like damper, are cooked quickly without time for microbes to start breaking down sugars and thus kickstart the fermentation process. These might have been more common after Aboriginal people were displaced. It would be equally surprising to learn that Aboriginal people were not the first brewers; the first fermenters. Dr Maggie Brady has “found strong evidence of Aboriginal people making their own fermented drinks before any contact with outsiders.”19 Aboriginal people farmed Australia, in Pascoe’s words, “like it was Australia.”20 The explorers found haystacks of cut grass and boundless fields of the stubble21 of perennial grasses. Pascoe writes in Dark Emu that “as I read these early journals, I came across repeated references to people building dams and wells, planting, irrigating and harvesting seed, preserving the surplus and storing it in houses, sheds or secure vessels… and manipulating the landscape.”22 Bread, he tells us, was made with native millet (in language cooly or parpar; in Latin Panicum decompositum), wild oats, pepper grass (Panicum laevinode), kangaroo grass and many other grains and seeds. These grains derived from grasses that required little water, no ploughing and therefore little disturbance to the microbiology of the soil. Hence their suitability to farming Australia as though it were Australia.


ibid. Pascoe 2014. p


Maggie Brady, Indigenous Drinking Myths Dispelled, interview ABC Radio (Brisbane), 19 September 2008


Bruce Pascoe, from the title of his keynote speech at the conference, Futurelands2 in Kandos, NSW, November 2016


ibid. Pascoe 2014. p31


ibid. Pascoe 2014. p12

Cider, others are now discovering, was made from the sweet sap of cider gums in Tasmania and meads from nectarheavy banksia flowers in other parts of the country. These light alcoholic ferments were more than likely the world’s first probiotic drinks, and complimentary to gut health in Aboriginal communities pre-1788. So how do we recreate our ancestors’ approach to alcohol and sugar, which in this country as elsewhere did not cause the sorts of problems we are experiencing with monetised and highly addictive alcohol and sugar today? In his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, Stephen Harrod Buhner writes about the complementarity of fermentation and the sacred. In an article on the subject he writes that “[p]erhaps one of the most powerful and sacred of plants in Europe was mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Mugwort, one of the commonest plants used for brewing in the middle-ages (the literal meaning is ‘beer-plant’) was also considered one of the nine sacred herbs of the ancient Europeans,”23 my ancestors. The ritualised use of inebriates and sugars is a long and wonderful history around the world. Despite being unaware of the ancient tradition in Australia, Buhner writes that “[t]he earliest fermentations took place with ‘easy’ sugars: tree saps (such as maple and palm), fruits (grapes and elderberry), and honey. All of them were considered sacred.”24 Food journalist Max Allen has written a little on Tasmania’s Miena cider gums. He says the “honey-like sap of this tree [was] tapped, collected, and allowed to ferment naturally to form a kind of light beer-strength gum “mead” drunk during corroboree.”25 Social anthropologist Maggie Brady has also researched fermented Aboriginal drinks in 23

Stephen Harrod Buhner. Paradise Lost: Of Healing, the Sacred, and Beer, The Foundation for Gaian Studies (online), 2003. http:// (accessed: 23 November 2016) 24 25

ibid. Buhner (2003)

Max Allen, A truly local brew to slake our patriotism, The Australian newspaper, 2015:

Australia.26 Mangaitch, she tells us, comes from southern temperate Western Australia and is made from banksia nectar and water. Kambuda is another fermented beverage from the Northern Territory, made from roasting, crushing and then soaking pandanus fruits. As the evidence grows and the knowledge returns I believe the flower, fruit, sap and honey-fermented drinks Aboriginal people made in Australia will be understood as the oldest fermented probiotic medicines ever consumed. At the numerous events I’ve heard Bruce Pascoe speak over the last two years he is always referring to Aboriginal people’s regard for the mother. The mother is the land that feeds and nurtures the communities of life. The mother is sacred. This ideal of the mother as centre to culture, not war, is found in Indigenous and pagan cosmology around the world. It is not surprising then that fermented probiotic-rich drinks, drinks that nurture and nourish, foremost require a mother. A mother in fermented drink terms is a pellicle, also called a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast. Kombu was a Chinese Tsing dynasty (17th century) doctor who supposedly developed the fermented tea medicine known as kombucha27 , (cha simply means tea). Kombucha feeds on sugar and is made using black tea. The origin of jun, which is a honey tea cousin of kombucha, is less clear. The main ingredients in jun are green tea and honey, but you can add other flowers and herbs too. My partner Meg is holding a fermented beverage workshop straight after this session demonstrating how to make jun. With both kombucha and jun the satisfaction of the sugar and caffeine remains as a natural lift, but the effects are not harmful. They are actually beneficial to our gut’s microbiome. Kombucha contains various acids and enzymes that aid 26 27

Maggie Brady. First taste: How Indigenous Australians learned about grog, Alcohol Education & Rehabilitation Foundation Ltd, Deakin ACT, 2008

It is interesting to note the closeness of the words kombucha and kambuda; whether this is coincidence or a trading in language may be worth investigating. The trading of alcohol existed with fishermen from Asia to the Torres Strait and mainland Australia well before the British.

digestion and detoxify the body’s organs and blood. I believe these ferments, and culturally adapted versions of them, are a powerful way of weaning ourselves off sugar sweetened drinks and sugar addiction generally. It is a myth that the fermenting process of caffeinated teas removes all the caffeine.28 But the good news is that you can also make kombucha from decaffeinated tea. And it is a myth that all the sugar is used up in the fermenting process. If the brewing process goes for longer than two weeks the sugar content starts to diminish from approx. 4 teaspoons per cup (240ml). After 15 days there is roughly 3.3 teaspoons per cup and after 30 days there is very little sugar, though the drink has become sour.29 However, the important thing to consider is that the sugar in Kombucha differs from sugar in standard soft and fruit drinks. Through the fermentation process it is put into a more easily digestible form and therefore less harsh on the gut and the immune system. A friend of mine who has Type 1 diabetes and is therefore extremely watchful of her sugar consumption can happily drink jun, with no negative effects or spikes in her blood sugar level. Why these sweet fermented drinks differ from sugary soft drinks is a science yet to be fully understood. But just like the growing intolerance to gluten is due in part because we do not slow-ferment our grains and stretch out the gluten over 10 hours, putting the gluten into an easily digestible form, sweet sugary drinks are also not brewed or fermented slowly for digestion.

28 (accessed: November 27 2016)

29 (accessed: November 27 2016)

The reported health effects of kombucha, from both tea drinkers’ testimony and scientific researchers (Dufresne and Farnworth 2000)30 include: Detoxify the blood Reduce cholesterol Reduce blood pressure Reduce inflammatory problems Alleviate arthritis, rheumatism, and gout symptoms Promote liver functions Normalise intestinal activity, balance intestinal flora, cure haemorrhoids Reduce obesity and regulate appetite Prevent/heal bladder infection and reduce kidney calcification Stimulate glandular systems Protect against diabetes Increase body resistance to cancer Enhance the immune system Relieve bronchitis and asthma Reduce menstrual disorders and menopausal hot flashes Improve hair, skin, and nail health Reduce an alcoholic’s craving for alcohol Reduce stress and nervous disturbances, and insomnia Relieve headaches Improve eyesight 30

C. Dufresne, E. Farnworth. Tea, Kombucha, and health: a review Food Research International, Volume 33, Issue 6, 2000. pp 409-421

Let’s imagine the return of fermented drinks to our communities. Instead of our kids walking around their neighbourhoods with 1 litre bottles of Coke, what becomes cool are culturally-specific fermented beverages, brewed at the local health clinic, or youth hub, or at aunty or uncle such and such’s place, and our kids get around drinking sweet drinks that actually give them health and cost them little, if nothing. The cool factor begins because their mentors are informed about what greedy corporations are doing to their guts, and they rise up to send the exterminators of our microbiomes bankrupt. With generations of predator advertising campaigns targeting young people, health workers, mentors and elders have a considerable challenge on our hands to overcome the noxious influence of such products. Community posters or community ads saying things like: “No more dirty water31 ” beside an image of a Coke can might become brief interventions into public space, but it is our modelling, our stories, that are key to change. Fermented food and drinks are simple sciences that can be applied in our homes. While there are risks with any food preparations, the risks of fermenting foods incorrectly and producing dangerous substances are low. The internet is a treasure trove of information relating to fermentation. It’s all free. There are free forums and fermie groups springing up everywhere. While it is expensive to buy fermented foods and drinks, they are cheap to produce if we do it ourselves. Sandor Katz is an American author who describes the health, history and diverse recipes of wild fermented foods around the world, and who is generally a good place to start. In our community my partner Meg organises a monthly 31

Song written and performed by the author, Dirty Water (Coca Cola), with fellow Bunch of Bandits (Meg Ulman, Fiona Porter and Anthony Petrucci) at Horvats in Daylesford, January 31 2012. (accessed: November 26 2016)

fermentation group called Culture Club for fermenters of all passions and experience. People come together to learn and/or teach what they have discovered about fermenting grains, fruits, milks and vegetables and freely pass this knowledge on. Standard milk, for example, which has much of the beneficial culture eradicated from it through pasteurisation, can be rebooted with health-giving microbes by fermenting it with kefir grains. The same goes with old vegetables. Our community’s Culture Club is a share economy aimed at distributing old world knowledges about food and medicine that we have lost. This sharing around food complements my work as the facilitator of five community gardens in our town. When food and medicine isn’t under lock and key we can begin to perform again the old lifeways of our ancestors. We can transform culture and begin to return it to the embrace of the mother, and turn away from permanent war on the land and on others. As the first farmers and no doubt first fermenters, and organisers of long-term, socially fair, non-monetised ecological economies, Aboriginal peoples of Australia have much to teach the rest of the world about health and social systems. The great tragedy has been the loss of knowledge, the smashing of it by successive waves of imperialism that still exist in intransigent sets today. But knowledge is there and it is returning, and even if the forms are changing, there is enough knowledge to put the pieces back together. Agency is key. In the words of Aboriginal health worker Raelene Ward, a descendant of the Kunja and Kooma peoples of south-west Queensland, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe that when they have control over their health and other aspects of their lives, their communities will become healthy… On the whole,” she writes, “health and mental health is addressed within a mainstream context.”32 The results of this have been catastrophic for Aboriginal people. “Traditionally,” she continues, “wellbeing was socially determined through the organisation of relationships with the land and with people within frameworks of law and ceremony, family origin and systems of belief known as The Dreaming.”33


Raelene Ward. Chapter 8: Health and wellbeing, from Knowledge of Life: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia, edited by Kaye Price, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne. 2015. pp146-147 33

ibid. Ward. p148

It is not difficult to understand how people whose cosmology is undeniably tied to the sacredness of the land and whose lifeways are performed as innovative co-collaborators with the communities of the living, can create diverse bioregional forms of health that not only care for the biome of their country but the microbiome of their guts. Individual and community health is holistic health, based on such reciprocity and nurturing. As Ward writes, health is culture and culture is health.34 It is in the household and community economies where culture is made and where health derives. Once we attend to these diverse economies, in partnership with, but not owned by money and its imperatives, we will become part of the flowering world—the mother—again, irregardless of colour, creed or country. To reconnect with our ancestral guts is to reconnect with our ancestral stories that taught us how to live and how health is made on country.


ibid. Ward. p148

Dr Patrick Jones 2016 Creative Commons; microbiome commons; medicine commons. Written in Daylesford on Dja Dja Wurrung (Jaara) country for the 2016 International Indigenous Allied Health Conference, Cairns Queensland Australia, 1st - 3rd December. This paper complements a workshop of jun making conducted by Meg Ulman, demonstrating the art of fermenting probiotic drinks. We wish to acknowledge the elders and communities of the Yirrganydji people whose land we come to present and meet upon, and pay respect to the ancestors of this land who continue to show us the way to live well and in peace.

Related links of Jones’ research: Walking for food: reclaiming permapoesis (Doctoral thesis, 2014) Future food, future health: remodelling traditional Indigenous food and lifeways (paper, 2014) Land Cultures: Aboriginal economies and permaculture futures (feature film by Patrick Jones and Anthony Petrucci, 2016)

Jun workshop Introduction (following Patrick’s paper) — Meg Ulman

I wish to acknowledge the Irukandji people as the custodians of this land. I pay my respects to the elders past, present and future, and to the land itself, the mother. I wanted to start by asking what are some fermented foods and drinks that you know of? [Yoghurt, beer, wine, mead, beer, chocolate, coffee, bread, pickles, olives, sauerkraut, kimchi, salami, miso paste and soy sauce.] Does anybody here regularly have fermented foods or drinks? My interest in all things fermented began about 6 years ago when I read an article in a magazine about Sandor Katz, an American writer who fermented his excess home garden produce as a way of preserving it and adding nutrients. I had never heard that before. I only really knew about preserving food through dehydrating, freezing and canning especially canning, where you have to pasteurise the food, which basically kills all the bacteria that could potentially spoil the food, but also so many of the nutrients. The flavours are kept intact but not the vitality. By fermenting food on the other hand, you’re adding nutrients back into the food that would otherwise be lost as the food decays. Our 14 year-old son, Zephyr, said to me once, so what exactly is fermented food? Well, I explained, there’s life and there’s death, and when you ferment food you try to create the perfect environment somewhere on the spectrum between those two states so the good bacteria thrive and the harmful bacteria are kept at bay. It’s half way between living and decayed. So basically, he said, it’s zombie food. Sandor Katz’s story also interested me because he is HIV positive and for the last three decades he has remained free from AIDS-related illnesses by building his immunity and keeping his gut flora happy by eating a diverse range of fermented foods.

In our house more than 50% of the food we eat every day is fermented. As Patrick said, I run Culture Club, as a way of encouraging people to ferment the foods they grow either in their home garden or one of our town’s community gardens. I try to encourage people to experiment at home and then to bring along what they’ve made to one of our Show + Share days so others can learn. People talk about herd immunity when they talk about immunisation and I like to talk about community immunity by encouraging people to eat health-giving food as a preventative. Preserving through fermentation builds food security as we aren’t relying on supermarkets for our food and eating it helps build health security as we aren’t solely relying on pharmaceutical companies. Fermenting food is also low cost, which suits us. We’re a low income family who practice frugality to be time rich and cash poor, so we would rather not hand over what little cash we have to any multinational. Our 14 year-old on the other hand… Well… I feel we’ve lost him for the moment to the imperatives of big business. Like most communities, ours is powered by Coke and chips. He loves his junk food and sugar-filled energy drinks. Our four year-old son, Woody, on the other hand loves to help make and eat the fermented foods that fill our kitchen. He has never eaten anything with processed sugar. Not out of choice, but because as parents we have been and have to be on a daily basis acutely vigilant of what he eats. We told him that when he turns five he can start to occasionally eat foods with sugar in them, which he thinks is fair and so self-monitors when we’re at other people’s homes and birthday parties. He’ll reach for the fruit platter not the chocolate crackles, a choice we’re hoping will see him develop healthy positive eating habits later on in life. We’re all familiar with the food pyramid or food chart and yesterday we saw some of the great posters that Alana Loo and Jo Norfolk use in their work. We know that to keep the ecologies of our guts healthy we need to eat a diverse range of foods. Eating carrots is great. But nobody wants to eat only carrots. It’s the same with fermented foods and drinks, the more diversity, the happier our gut microbes are. But having said that, it’s better to consume just one fermented thing than nothing at all. Today I’m going to be showing you how to make a fermented drink called jun. As Patrick said, kombucha is a probiotic-rich drink made by fermenting black tea and sugar. Jun is in the same family as kombucha and is made by

fermenting green tea and honey. As Patrick also mentioned, the caffeine and sugar are still present in the end product, but the predigestion of the sugars and caffeine don’t cause your blood sugar levels to spike after drinking it. Now onto the practical side of the workshop, If everyone could please gather around, come closer so you can see and bring your water glasses with you so you can have a taste of some jun I brought along.

Image: Meg demonstrates the art of jun making to 60 exhibitors, speakers and delegates at the 2016 International Indigenous Allied Health Conference in Cairns on 2 December 2016. She is holding ‘Beverly’, her SCOBY or jun mother, which she separated 16 daughter SCOBYs from to give to conference participants to take home to their communities.

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