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Fermenting Communications: Fermentation Praxis as Interspecies Communication

Authors:
PUBLIC”
ART
|
CULTURE
|
IDEAS
INTERSPECIES
Communication
EDITED
BY
Meredith
Tromble
and
Patricia
Olynyk
MAYA
HEY
FERMENTING
COMMUNICATIONS
FERMENTATION
PRAXIS
AS
INTERSPECIES
COMMUNICATION
I
recently
had
to
save
Gigi
from
an
opportunistic
yeast
after
I
left
town
for
a
few
weeks.
Nothing
out
of
despite
or
neglect,
I
just
taken
for
granted
that
some
ferments
(like
the
beer
sitting
next
to
Gigi)
can
quietly
bubble
away,
while
others
needed
more
regular
tending.
You
see,
Gigi
is
the
last
living
iteration
of
their
human
form:
Gigi-the-human
is
no
longer
with
us,
but
Gigi-the-sourdough-starter
lives
on
in
kitchens
like
mine.
It
was
passed
down
from
Gigis
hands
through
mutual
friends,
and
subsequently
bequeathed
to
me.
Id
never
met
Gigi
in
person,
but
our
bodies
encounter
each
other
nevertheless.
t
Maya
Hey,
Saving
Gigi
(2017).
Montreal,
Canada.
Photo:
Maya
Hey.
ue
Gigi came
into
my
life
when
I
was
living
alone.
With
Gigi
around,
I
felt
cared
for
because
_
feeding
one
and
feeding
many
required
that
I
get
out
of
bed
just
the
same.
Besides,
we
both
needed
refreshing
and
nourishment.
But
now,
Gigi
was
covered
with a
grey,
stringy
mess.
Imbued
with
heightened
stakes
anda
grave
sense
of
responsibility,
I
was
keen
on
saving
Gigi.
Like
a
nurse
looking
after
a
patient,
I
continuously
monitored
Gigi
with
my
nose
and
neurotically
checked
for
any
mysterious
growths.
Just
this
morning,
I
spotted
another
bloom
of
mould
on
the
jar’
inside,
so
I
transferred
Gigi
to
yet
another
container,
re-fed
and
re-aerated.
Transfer,
feed,
aerate,
repeat.
Transfer,
feed,
aerate...
INTRODUCTION
The
material
practices
of
fermentation
connect
different
bodies—human
bodies,
microbial
bodies,
bodies
of
research,
and
regulatory
bodies—in
a
way
that
challenges
conventional
understandings
of
communications.
In
fermentation
praxis,
bodies
meet
despite
differences
in
time,
species,
and
scale.
With
this
in
mind,
this
article
asks:
How
could
fermentation
be
theorised
as a
mode
of
communication
across
these
differences?
The
encoding/decoding
model
put
forth
by
Stuart
Hall,
for
example,
assumes
that
there
are
two
constituents,
independent
of
each
other,
whose
autonomy
marks
them
as
“source”
and
“receiver”’
However,
human
bodies
and
microbial
bodies
share
an
entangled
history,’
with
the
latest
research
indicating
that
each
human
body
is
composed
of
as
many
microbial
cells
as
it
is
human
ones.*
Additionally,
increasing
evidence
shows
that
cravings
and
mood
are
impacted
by
our
microbiome
(that
is,
the
unique
profile
of
microbes
living
in
and
on
our
bodies),*
which
challenges
our
assumptions
about
how
desire
and
motivation
are
conveyed.
The
imbricated
nature
of
human
and
microbe
complicates
who
is
sender
and
receiver,
suggesting
that
communication
paradigms
must
be
updated.
Given
that
the
human-microbe
relationship
is
an
entangled
one,
how
do
we
relate
to,
communicate
with,
and
live
alongside
microbial
species?
How
might
we
reorient
our
understanding
of
selfhood
and
our
relations
with
others
we
cannot
easily
see,
sense,
or
understand?
This
article
contends
that
fermentation
engages
with
these
questions
in
productive
ways
because
it
is
a
process
that
requires
contact
with
microbial
life.
The
fact
that
microbes
have
lived,
and
will
continue
to
live,
without
human
presence
(when
the
reverse
is
not
true)
poses
an
uncanny
reality
in
the
contemporary
moment.
Our
mutual
thriving
is
at
stake,
which
urges
us
to
reconsider
the
ethics
of
interspecies
relationality.*
Fermentation
is
a
process
of
transformation
in
both
matter
and
meaning
due
to
the
work
of
microbes
like
bacteria,
moulds,
and
yeasts.
This
transformation
takes
place
both
materially
and
discursively.
For
example,
when
flour
ferments
into
sourdough,
the
process
encompasses
a
biochemical
change
(yeasts
convert
sugar
to
carbon
dioxide)
as
well
as
a
symbolic
shift
(e.g.
from
grain
to
signs
of
hospitality
or
religious
connotations),
Fermentation
engages
with
multiple
species,
across
multiple
senses,
and
on
multiple
scales
of
life,
allowing
for
complex
and
variable
realities
to
coexist.
In
other
words,
fermentation
is
multiplicitous:
what
is
true,
delicious,
and
safe
in
one
fermentation
context
may
not
necessarily
be
the
case
in
others.
:
Employing
a
performative
lens
enables
the
twin
focus
on
the
material
(things)
and
the
discursive
(how
we
discuss
those
things)
aspects
of
fermentation.
Long
associated
with
linguistic
150
PUBLIC
59
Hey
enunciations,
the
concept
of
performativity
links
together
the
form
and
the
force
of
a
phenomenon.‘
For
instance,
utterances
such
as
wedding
vows
are
both
a
form
of
speech
(“
;
;
Z
Ido”)
and
an
enactment
(marriage
poole
Hoe
speech-acts
“perform”
in
the
sense
that
they
enact
what
is
being
described.
Words
do
oe
bat
so
can
many
other
performatives.
As
Judith
Butler
argues,
gender
is
not
a
singular
identity
(or
binary
category)
that
is
established;
rather,
it
is
performative
through
an
ongoing
social
Sons
eee
of
language
(“It’s
a
boy!”)
and
nonverbal
symbols
(e.g.
the
colour
blue
as
masculine)
that
interpellates
and
constitutes
the
gendered
subject.
Gendering,
Butler
continues,
“emerges
only
within
and
as
the
matrix
of
gender
relations
themselves”
suggesting
that
performative
processes
are
emergent,
not
fixed.’
Feminist
philosopher
Karen
Barad
extends
Butler’s
argument,
shifting
“from
questions
of
correspondence”
between
two
(re)presentations
“to
matters
of
practices
or
doings
or
actions.”
According
to
Barad,
the
very
act
of
including
and
excluding
agentic
capacities
can
produce
different
realities,
which
requires
“taking
responsibility
and
being
accountable
forthe
constitutive
effects
of
these
exclusions.”®
Thus,
a
performative
approach
weaves
together
the
material,
the
discursive,
and
the
ethical
into
one
approach.
Food
is
also
performative,
as
seen
in
the
enactments
of
identity
(e.g.
nationalism,
veganism),
ritual
(e.g.
religion,
meal
times),
or
values
(e.g.
sustainability,
localism).
Anthropologist
Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
organizes
the
performative
aspects
of
food
into
three
possible
scenarios:
(1)
in
making/presenting
the
food;
(2)
in
how
behaviours
around
food
are
enacted
and
governed;
and
(3)
in
the
discernment
of
taste
in
both
the
human-act
of
sensory
evaluation
as
well
as
the
food-
act
of
performing
sensory
qualities
to
the
discerning
sense
organ."°
In
this
regard,
food
“acts”
in
a
way
that
confounds
our
ideas
about
agency:
foods
do
things
without
there
being
sentience,
volition,
or
motivation.
Food
scholar
David
Szanto
writes
that
food
must
not
be
understood
as
an
ontologically
fixed
object
but
should
instead
be
considered
as
lively,
complex,
and
intersubjective.
These
three
axes
render
a
more
nuanced
understanding
of
how
food
interacts:
“performativity
helps
reveal
the
dynamics
of
food
milieus
in
non-causal,
non-linear
ways—that
is,
as
complex
and
continuously
emergent
states
of
interaction.”
Other
analyses
on
the
performativity
of
food
consider
commodities
such
as
surimi,'*
raw-milk
cheeses,"*
wild/farmed
salmon,
and
scallops."
This
article
analyzes
fermentation
and
its
material
practices
as a
medium
for
interspecies
communication.
Unlike
linear
models
of
communication,
fermentation
acknowledges
the
imbricated
nature
of
human
and
microbe
in
and
through
everyday
performatives
such
as
foodmaking
and
eating.
Considering
fermentation
as a
form
of
communication
opens
up
possibilities
to
consider
the
ambient
context, to
prioritize
alternate
epistemologies
such
as
embodied
knowledge,
and
to
examine
the
ethics
of
interspecies
relationality.
Critically
attending
to
these
engagements
allows
us
to
question
human
primacy,
speculate
alternate
forms
of
power
relations,
and
encourage
ways
of
cultivating
a
relational
self.
By
examining
fermentation
as
an
encounter
with
microbial
life,
this
article
aims
to
account
for
the
invisible
communications
with
the
micro-species
we
often
take
for
granted.
FERMENTATION
AND
ITS
MATERIAL
PRACTICES
Fermentation
requires
a
hands-on,
embodied
praxis
because
it
entails
working
with
the
dynamic
and
the
unpredictable.
Living
substrates—that
is,
microorganisms—follow
their
own
life
cycles,
responding
to
ambient
factors
such
as
temperature,
humidity,
acidity,
and
salinity.
These
parameters
determine
the
viability
of
a
specific
species,
allowing
certain species
to
work
optimally
in
conditions
151
that
are
different
from
others.
In
yoghurt
production,
the
temperature
and
acidity
during
incubation
ultimately
impact
the
coagulation
of
milk
proteins,
which
determines
the
yoghurts’
final
thickness
and
texture,
For
example,
thermophilic
yoghurt
strains
operate
best
in
temperatures
between
43°C
and
46°C,
whereas
mesophilic
strains
prefer
20°C
to
30°C
and
die
past
40°C.
Both
yoghurt
strains
are
comprised
of
two
bacterial
groups,
Lactobacillus
and
Streptococcus,
whose
relationship
is
symbiotic.
Initially
the
species
Streptococcus
thermophilus
is
most
active
but,
during
incubation,
the
milk
becomes
more
acidic
from
the
breakdown
of
milk
sugars
(that
is,
from
lactose
to
lactic
acid),
When
the
acidity
levels
exceed
0.5%, the
Lactobacillus
species
take
their
cue
and
become
more
active,
bringing
the
final
acidity
of
yoghurt
up
to
1%.
As
if
taking
cues,
the
bacterial
species
respond
to
each
other's
by-products
within the
shared
environment.
Similar
cue-taking
can
be
observed
in
the
symbiotic
communities
of
bacteria
and
yeasts
(also
known
as
SCOBYs)
found
in
kombucha
and
sourdough
starters.
In
the
opening
vignette,
my
failure
to
regularly
feed
Gigi
meant
that
the
yeasts
were
not
given
enough
starches;
since the
starches
were
not
metabolized
into
smaller
fragments
(i.e.
maltose),
the
bacteria
could
not
produce
enough
acid
to
protect
the
sourdough
yeasts
(i.e.
Saccharomyces
cerevisiae)
from
an
opportunistic
microbe
(i.e.
Kahm
yeast).
It
is,
then,
the
human
who
takes
the
cue
to
continue
the
ferment.
In
the
vignette,
Gigi
is
transferred
to
another
container
to
remove
the
Kahm
yeast.
The
ambient
and
ever-changing
environment
privileges
certain
species
over
others,
which
changes
from
moment
to
moment.
In
turn,
the
successful
fermenter
constructs
an
environment
for
the
target
species
to
thrive,
instead of
the
opportunistic
microbes
that
might
hijack
the
fermentation
process.
Ferments
are
highly
variable
because
of
the
interactions
between
multiple
microbial
species,
their
by-products,
and
the
ambient
conditions
that
preferentially
assist
certain
species
over
others.
Not
only
do
ferments
differ
between
iterations,
ferments
can
vary
by
the
person
fermenting.
Since
microbes
are
everywhere,
strains
that
live
on
makers’
hands
can
inadvertently
enter
the
fermentation
mix,
barring
hyper-sanitation
protocols.
Sometimes
the
fermentation
process
yields
a
signature
trait
due
to
the
particular
combination
of
ambient
conditions
that
favour
certain
microbial
species.
For
instance,
San
Francisco
sourdough
develops
a
characteristic
tartness
because
of
the
acid-producing
bacteria
aptly
named
Lactobacillus
sanfranciscensis,
autochthonous
to
the
region.**
In
instances
like
artisanal
cheesemaking
and
natural
winemaking,
some
argue
that
the
makers
are
not
only
metaphorically
but
also
literally
in
their
food
products
due
to
their
hands-on
production
techniques.
With
the
high
variability
of
ambient
factors,
fermentation
privileges
the
physical
senses
to
navigate
through
dynamic
but
microscopic
changes.
Cookbooks
may
provide
the
objective,
quantitative
information
of
a
recipe,
but
they
cannot
easily
spell
out
what
a
successful
ferment
looks
like,
feels
like,
or
smells
like.
Words
can
approximate
what
a
sufficiently
kneaded
dough
looks
like
but
cannot
substitute
for
the
embodied
know-how
that
comes
with
immersing
one’s
senses
in
the
process
and
with
writing
those
sensations
onto
the
body.
Since
fermented
foods
are
constantly
in
a
state
of
becoming
and
transformation,
bodies
must
become
attuned
to
biochemical
changes
to
know
when/how
to
eat
a
ferment.
Such
knowledge
poses
epistemological
questions
around
how
ferment
is
read.
Food
philosopher
Lisa
Heldke
conceives
cooking
to
be
a
“mentally
manual
activity”
where
one’s
nose
and
one’s
hands
cand
as
DOE
to
the
“capital-I”
self
in
food
preparations.’”
Heldke
provides
the
example
of
baking,
in
which
one’s
nose
knows
when
the
bread
is
done,
and
one’s
ears
can
hear
if
the
bread
is
fully
baked
152
PUBLIC
59
HEY
fixed,
which
affects
how
they
are
treated
in
health
practices
and
safety
protocols.
While
microbes
are
named
as
the
causative
agent
of
disease
and
decay,
little
(if
any)
attribution
is
given
to
the
microbial
species
who
do
the
actual
work
of
transforming
and
metabolizing
food
ingredients.
Nonhuman
agents
such
as
foods
and
microbes
may
constitute
human
bodies
in
terms
of
nourishment
and
wellbeing,
but,
to
flip
the
perspective,
we
see
that
humans
constitute
their
landscapes.
Consider
how
prebiotic
cabbage
and
probiotic
bacteria
in
kimchi
or
sauerkraut
become
part
of
the
human
body
once
it
is
ingested,
digested,
and
absorbed, but consider
also
how
each
compartment
of
the
human
alimentary
canal
becomes
the
environment
for
foods/microbes
to
compose
and
decompose.
Each
of
these
micro-environments
varies
in
its
ambient
conditions,
including
differences
in
acidity
and
oxygen
availability
(e.g.
the
stomach
is
as
acidic
as
a
lime,
whereas
the
colon
is
slightly
alkaline
and
mostly
anaerobic).
From
the
perspective
of
foods/microbes,
the
material
affordances
of
these
body-compartments-as-landscape
can
shape
which
species
thrive
and
which
species
perish
(e.g.
consuming
lactoferments
like
kimchi
and
sauerkraut
may
inhibit
the
gastritis-producing
bacteria
Heliobacter
pylori).
Further,
consuming
these
foods/microbes
informs
historical
foodways
(e.g.
Korean,
German)
that
culturally
define
in-group
and
out-group
affiliations—
including
thoughts
such
as
“we
are
the
people
who
eat
these
fermented
foods”
or
“they
are the
people
who
eat
those
fermented
foods.’
These
material-discursive
food
practices
influence
ideas
about
what
makes
a
human,
from
microscopic
physiologies
to
macro-scale
social
identities.
That
is,
we
become
what
we
eat.
Problematizing
anthropocentric
narratives
requires
that
we
challenge
the
ontology
of
what
it
means
to
be
human,
including
what
kinds
of
matter
constitute
our
being.”
Karen
Barad
argues
that
defining
the
contours
of
“human”
and
“nonhuman”
is
inherently
of
both
political
and
ethical
concern:
“What
constitutes
the
‘human’
(and
the
‘nonhuman’)
is
not
a
fixed
or
pregiven
notion...
but
rather
a
material
dynamics
of
intra-activity:
material
apparatuses
produce
material
phenomena
through
specific
causal
intra-actions,
where
‘material’
is
always
already
material-discursive—that
is
what
it
means
to
matter.”
Taken
together,
the
material-discursive
elements
of
anthropocentrism
could
stand
to
be
challenged,
particularly
in
its
exclusively
human
vantage
point.
In
the
context
of
foodmaking,it
is
not
only
the
human
who
makes
the
ferment
but
a
result
of
working
with
microbes
and
attuning
to
the
shared
environment
that
fermentation
emerges
as
a
successful
(delicious)
venture.
That
is,
fermentation
does
not
take
place
along
a
linear
trajectory
set
forth
by
the
human
instigator;
it
does
not
progress
from
origin
to
destination
solely
because
of
human
intervention.
Rather,
it
is
emergent
and
context-
dependent
because
it
is
dialogic.
In
the
context
of
eating,
we
may
think
that
we
are
feeding
ourselves,
but
our
nested
orientation
suggests
that
we
may
be
feeding
the
microbes
that
comprise
us.
Thus,
ingestion
and
eating
may
not
be
linear
transmissions
of
foodstuffs
through
human
bodies;
instead,
embodiment
and
constitution
may
be
better
thought
of
as
being
co-embodied
and
co-constitutive
in
the
imbricated
arrangement
of
human-food-microbe.
When
we
embody
foods/microbes,
we
become
inculcated
in
the
ethical
conundrum
of
what
it
means
to
take,
to
take
on,
and
to
be
accountable
towards
an
other
life.
In
the opening
vignette,
taking
care
of
a
sourdough
starter
means
being
responsible
towards
an
other
form
of
life,
accounting
for
their
needs,
and
caring
for
our
shared
environment.
This kind
of
relationality
requires
a
decentering
of
the
human
self
in
which
one
can
respond
to,
and
correspond
with,
other
species
in
the
ambient
environment.
This
approach
is
consistent
with
Elizabeth
Wilson’s
call
for
a
“move
away
from
a
politics
primarily
informed
by
the
rhetoric
of
domination
(biology!)
and
rebellion
(culture!)
and
look
for
154
PUBLIC
59
HEY
theories
that
exploit
the
logic
of
imbrication”»
If
fermentation
praxis
engages
with
and
responds
to
microbial
life,
it
also
suggests
that
we
critically
reconsider
how
we
relate
to
others:
Who
are
we
and,
perhaps
more
importantly,
who
are
we
to
consume
(microbial)
others?
ENCOUNTERS
TO
CULTIVATE
A
RELATIONAL
SELF
The
practices
of
fermentation
include
the
literal
embodiment
of
microbial
foods
and
the
embodied
knowledge
that
comes
with
preparing
them.
Fermentation
as
a
form
of
embodiment,
then,
functions
as
a
connective
form
of
relationality
and
ethics
because
each
juncture
of
preparing,
inoculating,
and
eating
requires
an
ethical
adjustment
of
working
with—not
on—other
forms
of
life.
Each
of
these
steps
challenges
assumptions
about
control
(e.g.
who
or
what
exactly
is
leavening
a
sourdough
bread?)
and
epistemology
(e.g.
how
does
one
know
when
the
sourdough
has
finished
leavening?),
which
can
potentially
change
the
way
we
think
about
causality,
accountability,
and
commensality.
Indeed,
such
considerations
also
case
a
critical
light
on
responsibility:
“Responsibility
is
not
a
calculation
to
be
performed.
It
is
a
relation
always
already
integral
to
the
world’s ongoing
intra-active
becoming
and
not-becoming.
It
is
an
iterative
(re)opening
up
to,
an
enabling
of
responsiveness.”»}
The
ethical
question
of
how
to
live
with
other
species
has
been
theorized
in
the
areas
of
companion
species*
and,
more
broadly,
multispecies
engagements*
to
decenter
the
human
in
social
and
ecological
living.
In
the
context
of
microbial
life,
Anna
Tsing
offers
the
notion
of
“contamination
as
collaboration”
in
order
to
think
about
our
interactions
in
non-antagonistic
terms.
Here,
contamination
is
conceived
as a
neutral
term
of
exchange.
Given
the
positive
connotation
associated
with
terms
like
“collaboration,”
Tsing
is
quick
to
dispel
the
myth
of
mutual
benefit
by
explaining
fungus-plant
symbiosis
in
impartial
terms:
“Mutual
benefits
do
not
lead
to
perfect
harmony.
Sometimes
the
fungus
parasitizes
the
[plant]
root
in
one
phase
of
its
life
cycle.
Or,
if
the
plant
has
lots
of
nutrients,
it
may
reject
the
fungus.”* Extrapolated
to
human-microbe
interactions
writ
large,
exchanges
are
not
gains
and
losses—they
are
a
series
of
encounters
that
contribute
to
an
ecological
liveliness
that
is
greater
than
the
sum
ofits
parts.
In
the
dynamism
of
these
interactions,
organisms
thrive
through
exchanges
with
other
species.
Elsewhere,
Tsing
(and
many
others)”
use
the
Hawaiian
squid
species,
Euprymna
scolopes,
to
substantiate
the
need
for
neutral
encounters.
The
bob-tailed
squid
uses
its
light
organ
in
order
to
hide
from
predators.
Tsing
continues:
“But
juvenile
squid
do
not
develop
this
organ
unless
they
come
into
contact
with
one
particular
species
of
bacteria,
Vibrio
fischeri.
The
squid
are
not
born
with
these
bacteria;
they
must
encounter
them
in
seawater.”
Tsing
suggests
that
species
develop
as
a
result
of
coming
into
contact
with
others,
offering
insights
for
who
or
what
we
become
when
we
encounter
microbial
foods.
A
parallel
instance
occurs
when
a
human
infant
encounters
solid
foods
and
the
invisible
microbes
attached
to
it.
These
microbes
establish
the
initial
bacterial
colonies
in
the
infants’
intestines
that
later
synthesize
vitamin
K,
an
important
blood-clotting
compound,
Since
newborns
have
yet
to
encounter
foods
(and
much
of
microbial
life),
delivery
rooms
in
hospitals
administer
a
synthetic
vitamin
K
shot
as
a
provisional
course
of
action.
Like
the
bob-tailed
squid,
a
newborn
human
is
not
born
with
these
bacteria;
they
must
encounter
these
invisible
microbes
in
acts
of
literal
embodiment.
The
continual
encounters
with
microbes
through
fermentation
practice
can
serve
the
basis
ch
cultivating
what
philosophers
Deane
Curtin
and
Lisa
Heldke
term
a
participatory,
eons
self
This
form
of
relationality
builds
on
the
notion
of
co-responsibility,
of
engaging
and
participating
in
moral,
political,
and
epistemological
queries,
“with
the
understanding
that
humans
and
our
interests
are
155
neither
essentially
at
odds
with
others
(human
and
nonhuman),
nor
essentially
in
harmony
with
them?"*
Food,
in
particular,
acutely
highlights
the
relationality
of
different
life
forms
on
this
planet;
italso
exposes
those
relations
that
have
been
constructed
to
intentionally
benefit
a
limited
population
and
for
only
a
short
period
(e.g.
superfoods,
plastics).
A
relational
view
of
self
considers
the
longer,
broader
scales
of
life.
It
dismantles
the
hierarchical
separation
of
subject
and
object,
and
suggests
that
engagement
and
participation
are
opportunities
to
enter
relations
with
others:
If
we
begin
with
an
understanding
of
humans
as
participatorily
relational,
then
it
becomes
impossible
to
define
“selves”
as
substances
ontologically
prior
to
our
relations.
The
relational
view
of
self
goes
beyond
the
view
that
your
interests
can
be
shown
to
be
the
same
as
mine,
to
suggest
that
your
interests
and
mine
are
(often)
connected
to
each
other,
grow
out
of
each
other.°
As
Heldke
suggests,
cultivating
a
relational
self
allows
for a
view
of
selfhood
that
is
not
hierarchical
but
in
relation
with
others.
A
relational
self
operationalizes
a
connective
form
of
ethics
that
decenters
the
human
and
distributes
agency
across
webs
of
interaction.
In
terms
of
food
webs,
a
relational
self
can
frame
the
human
as
neither
the
sole
actor
nor
the
sole
eater
in
food
ecologies;
instead,
it
helps
us
to
reconceptualize
the
human
as
one
of
many
participants
in
larger
webs
of
relations.
CONCLUSION
Fermentation,
as
an
embodied
practice,
functions
as
a
form
of
relationality.
The
material
practices
of
fermentation
form
the
basis
of
continually
engaging
with
microbial
life,
and
the
discursive
considerations
of fermentation
challenge
anthropocentric
thought.
Taking
together
the
material
practices
of
fermentation
with
its
power
relations
enables
us
to
question
human
primacy
in
the
human-microbe
relationship.
Seen
as a
form
of
communication,
fermentation
positions
one
as
neither
entirely
separate
from
microbial
life
nor
entirely
exerting
power
over
it.
It
requires
a
kind
of
ethical
adjustment
that
is
committed
to
working
with
multiple
species
on
multiple
scales,
without
the
guise
of
mutual
benefit.
NOTES
1
Stuart
Hall,
“Encoding/Decoding)’
The
Cultural
Studies
Reader,
ed.
Simon
During
(New
York:
Routledge,
1993):
90-103.
See
also
Wilbur
Schramm,
The
Process
and
Effects
of
Communication
(Urbana,
IL:
University
of
Illinois
Press,
1954);
George
Gerbner,
“Toward
a
General
Model
of
Communication”
AV
Communications
Review
4
(1956):
171-199.
2
Lynn
Margulis,
Symbiotic
Planet
(New
York:
Basic
Books,
1998).
Ron
Sender,
Shai
Fuchs,
and
Ron
Milo,
“Revised
Estimates
for
the
Number
of
Human
and
Bacteria
Cells
in
the
Body?”
PLoS
Biology
14.8
(2016):
e1002533.
4
Hsin-Jung
Wu
and
Eric
Wu,
“The
role
of
gut
microbiota
in
immune
homeostasis
and
autoimmunity,’
Gut
Microbes
3.1
(2012):
4-14;
Joe
Alcock,
Carlo
C
Maley,
C
Athena
Aktipis,
“Is
eating
behavior
manipulated
by
the
gastrointestinal
microbiota?
Evolutionary
pressures
and
potential
mechanisms?”
Bioessays
36.10
(2014):
940-949.
Myra
J.
Hird,
Origins
of
Sociable
Life:
Evolution
After
Science
Studies
(London:
Palgrave
Macmillan,
2009),
22.
6
J.L.
Austin,
How
to
Do
Things
With
Words
(Oxford:
Clarendon
Press,
1962).
See
also
John
R.
Searle,
Speech
Acts:
An
Essay
in
the
Philosophy
of
Language
(Cambridge:
Cambridge
University
Press,
1969).
Judith
Butler,
Bodies
That
Matter:
On
the
Discursive
Limits
of
“Sex”
(New
York:
Routledge,
1993).
156
PUBLIC
59
HEY
10
11
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
Karen
Barad,
Meeting
the
Universe
Halfway:
Quantum
Physics
and
the
(Durham,
NC:
Duke
University
Press,
2007);
28.
Ibid.,
58.
Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett,
“Playing
to
the
Senses:
Food
as
a
Performance
Medium,”
Performance
Research
4.1
(1999):
1-30.
David
Szanto,
“Performing
Gastronomy:
An
Ecosophic
Engagement
with
the
Liveliness
of
Food,”
Doctoral
Dissertation,
Montreal,
Canada:
Concordia
University,
2015.
Becky
Mansfield,
“Fish,
Factory
Trawlers,
and
Imitation
Crab:
The
Nature
of
Quality
in
the
Seafood
Industry?’
Journal
of
Rural
Studies
19.1
(2003):
9-21.
Heather
Paxson,
“Post-Pasteurian
Cultures:
The
Microbiopolitics
of
Raw-Milk
Cheeses
in
the
United
States,”
Cultural
Anthropology
23
(2012):
15-47.
abeth
Lien
and
John
Law,
“Emergency
Aliens’:
On
Salmon,
Nature,
and
Their
Enactment;’
Ethnos
76.1
Marianne
E!
(2011):
65-87.
Michel
Callon,
“Some
Elements
of
Sociology
in
Transition,’
in
The
Science
Studies
Reader,
ed.,
Mario
Biagioli
(London:
Routledge,
1999),
67-83.
Ken
Albala,
“Bacterial
Fermentation
and
the
Missing
Terroir
Factor
in
Historic
Cookery,’
in
Cured,
Fermented
and
Smoked
Foods:
Proceedings
of
the
Oxford
Sympoium
on
Food
and
Cookery,
ed.,
Helen
Saberi
(Totnes,
England: Prospect
Books,
2011),
Google
E-book,
30-39.
Lisa
Heldke,
“Foodmaking
as
a
Thoughtful
Practice,’
in
Cooking,
Eating,
Thinking:
Transformative
Philosophies
of
Food,
eds.,
Deane
Curtin
and
Lisa
Heldke
(Bloomington:
Indiana
University
Press,
1992),
203.
Hird,
137.
Judith
Butler,
“Burning
Acts:
Injurious
Speech)”
The
University
of
Chicago
Law
School
Roundtable
3.1
(1996)
206,
emphasis
in
original
It
is
worth
noting
that
such
problematizations
must
also
consider
the
nuances
of
sub-
and
in-humanisms
in
nonhuman
discourse.
However,
these
discussions
are
beyond
the
scope
of
this
paper.
Karen
Barad,
“Posthumanist
Performativity:
Towards
an
Understanding
of
How
Matter
Comes
to
Matter,’
Signs:
Journal
of
Women
in
Culture
and
Society
28.3
(2003):
823,
parentheses
and
emphasis
in
original.
Elizabeth
Wilson,
Gut
Feminism
(Durham,
NC:
Duke
University
Press,
2015),
38.
Karen
Barad,
“Quantum
Entanglements
and
Hauntological
Relations
of
Inheritance:
Dis/continuities,
SpaceTime
Enfoldings,
and
Justice-to-Come,”
Derrida
Today
3.2
(2010):
265.
Donna
Haraway,
The
Companion
Species
Manifesto:
Dogs,
People,
and
Significant
Otherness
(Chicago:
University
of
Chicago
Press,
2003).
Vinciane
Despret,
What
Would
Animals
Say
If
We
Asked
the
Right
Questions
(Minneapolis:
University
of
Minnesota
Press,
2016);
Eben
Kirksey,
ed.,
The
Multispecies
Salon
(Durham:
Duke
University
Press,
2014).
Anna
Tsing,
Mushroom
at
the
End
of
the
World:
On
the
Possibility
of
Life in
Capitalist
Ruins
(Princeton,
NJ:
Princeton
University
Press,
2015),
139.
See
also
Hird
(2009),
as
well
as
Lynn
Margulis
and
Dorion
Sagan's
Acquiring
Genomes:
a
Theory
of
the
Origin
of
Species
(New
York:
Basic
Books,
2008).
Echoing
Margulis’
work,
Haraway
(2016)
also
uses
the
orchid
species
Ophrys
apifera
and
its
relation
with
extinct
bees.
Tsing,
141.
Lisa
Heldke,
“Food
Politics,
Political
Food,”
in
Cooking,
Eating,
Thinking:
Transformative
Philosophies
of Food,
eds.,
Deane
Curtin
and
Lisa
Heldke
(Bloomington:
Indiana
University
Press,
1992),
313,
parentheses
in
original.
Ibid.,
312,
parentheses
and
emphasis
in
original.
... Humans are relationally bound to microbes, and human well-being is interconnected with microbes (The Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021). Therefore, the 'border' between humans and nonhumans is not predefined, and dismantling this border has political, ecological, and ethical dimensions (Barad, 2003;Hey, 2019). ...
... Hey (2019) defines fermentation as interspecies communication, which is based on embodied knowledge, relational ethics, and everyday performatives. Fermentation decenters the human by becoming a ground to reflect on the questions of power, ethics, and relationality (Hey, 2019). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Kombucha fermentation is a multispecies activity guided by human-microbe interactions. This study investigates kombucha fermentation practices as a platform to recognize relationality with nonhuman microbes. For this, relational theories enable reframing human-microbe relations by focusing on reciprocity and interconnectedness within multispecies relations. The empirical research consists of interviews, a design probing task, and a collective reflection workshop with kombucha brewers. The empirical research delivers insights into the agency of microbes, sensory experiences, and embodied knowledge in kombucha fermentation practices. Findings investigate how humans attune to the needs of microbes, and the role of embeddedness in ethical doings. In this way, the study explores alternative ways of relating to nonhumans beyond prevalent human exceptionalist mindsets in design and sustainability. By interpreting the research findings, the research proposes methodological and theoretical implications for designers to enable recognition of relationality with nonhumans.
... In responding to recent calls that anthropologists in particular "capture transforming intimacies and changing discourses of human-microbial life during and after COVID-19 both in the home and in other environments" (14), I hypothesize that microbes are "good to teach with" for their potential to underscore the interrelatedness of all life and, concomitantly, because of the need for cultivating greater intraand interspecies awareness (15). More than a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in the western United States and in the Mediterranean had led me to contemplate the structural dimensions of uneven microbial exposure and distribution, theorizing microbiopolitics, and engaging with fermentation, especially in my teaching, for its political potential as a site of transformation (12,16). ...
... Similarly, "fermentation does not take place along a linear trajectory set forth by the human instigator; it does not progress from origin to destination solely because of human intervention. Rather, it is emergent and context-dependent because it is dialogic" (15). As such, our pedagogical logics might benefit by taking cues from fermentation logics. ...
Article
Full-text available
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic introduced unique challenges to teaching at the university level, while also heightening awareness of existing social and health disparities as these shaped interactions and influenced learning outcomes in class settings. Based on ethnographic and autoethnographic data, this article reflects on teaching about human-microbial relations in the context of the course "Anthropology of Food" and specifically at the start of the pandemic. Data demonstrate how students shifted from demystifying microbes to distrusting microbes to reacquainting with microbes through a hands-on experiment with fermentation. The article introduces a microbiopolitical perspective in interpreting students' learning trajectories and ultimate course outcomes. IMPORTANCE As evidenced by classroom experiences in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, microbes are "good to teach with" not only within microbiology and related fields but across a variety of academic disciplines. Thinking with microbes is not a neutral process but one shaped by social, political, and economic processes. Imploring students to contemplate how power dynamics and patterns of inequality are detectable at the microbial level may offer a unique opportunity for transforming one's view of the world and our relatedness with both humans and nonhumans.
... With the help of relational approaches and creative narratives that conceptualize multispecies entanglement (see Hey, 2019b;Katz, 2012;Fournier, 2020), I navigated the human-nonhuman entanglements through my thesis. As kombucha fermentation is a multispecies activity, it reconnects the bodies in the close proximity of consumption and production. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Design for sustainability aims to improve conditions within social, ecological, and technical domains by reconsidering how these domains relate to each other. However, the disciplinary conventions of design lack a practical framework for studying entangled relations between humans and nonhuman entities. For addressing this gap, the thesis explores the concept of relationality that emphasizes the interconnected wellbeing of human and nonhuman entities through kombucha fermentation practices. Due to touted health benefits of fermented kombucha tea, the practice of brewing kombucha has been shared among people and becoming more popular in recent decades. Within the thesis framework, the symbiotic relations among microbial and human bodies during kombucha fermentation served as a stage for recognizing the interconnectedness of human and non-human wellbeing. Interviews with kombucha brewers, a remote collective fermentation workshop, and a design probing activity provided insights into the relations between humans and microbes in the fermentation practices. The concept of relationality and the acquired insights about kombucha fermentation practices informed alternative ways of relating to nonhuman beings. Recognizing relationality opened a reflexive space for reconsidering everyday activities and understanding the 'interconnectedness between humans and others.' The sensory experience and embodied knowledge informed the emergence of relational ethics within human-microbe relations in kombucha fermentation practices. The learnings on human-nonhuman relationality aimed to enrich the discussions in design for sustainability by providing concepts and intuitive tools for exploring social-ecological entanglements.<