Tuesday, September 9, 2014

21-Day Sugar Detox Day 21: The Number One Gift, and What I'm "Going Back To."


It's day 21 of the 21-Day Sugar Detox. Technically, I could "break" it tonight, since I started it, Jewish-style, the evening before day 1. But I'm in no hurry to break it! In fact, I'm loath to disturb the goodness. 
Cravings?
Which is interesting, considering that going into it (I wrote about the "why" here) I was worried enough about cravings and habitual non-caloric "crutches" like chewable vitamin C and xylitol mints that I made an "insteads" chart to put up in the kitchen...
...as well as a long list of my "big whys" for doing the detox prominent on my bulletin board in the bedroom that I see while I'm rebounding in the morning. 
I thought I'd miss those things. I thought I'd miss stevia/xylitol/erythritol in my teas and smoothies. I thought I'd miss fruit.
But the cravings I was experiencing on a daily basis, before I went on the detox, were far worse!
As it turned out, I was fine with no stevia in my teas and I was surprised by how good my smoothies, even without fruit, could taste with no stevia or erythritol. I'm a spice-ist, though, and cinnamon and its friends were my friends.
I didn't miss the xylitol mints, etc., because I wasn't hungry all the time--I didn't need them to distract the hunger. This, even though I was eating even fewer calories.
And I didn't miss the fruit. The detox allows for one per day: grapefruit, green apple, or green-tipped banana. I can't do bananas (and thought it a very strange inclusion), but I was fine with green apples and grapefruit--both are detoxing to the liver, which seemed appropriate. I had grapefruit for the first half and green apples for the second half, but I still have half the bag of apples--I didn't even have fruit every day! And I did limit my beloved carrots also.
The one thing I did crave, calling myself out here, was the last item mentioned on my "insteads" list; a food item I really had no business ever eating in the first place. It's a chocolate-covered soy protein bar with sea salt. God knows why I bought it one day a few months ago: nothing about it would appeal to me in my right mind (I don't tolerate soy well, it has way too much sugar, and chocolate+sugar is a terrible idea for me). But in those couple months of alternate-day fasting, sometimes I'd break a longish fast with a piece of fruit, stressed, out running errands, and my blood sugar and hunger and anxiety would go through the roof and I'd end up eating something normally beyond the pale. This isn't an uncommon phenomenon, but in my life it's pretty unique. Even knowing that this happens to other people, I'm still boggled by my craving for that stupid bar. On day 4 of the detox, it was almost overwhelming, but day 4 was also the day it came clear just how much better my digestive issues were already, so I had some pretty darn good motivation to battle the craving.
The Number One Gift From the Detox
So yes, by day 4 --just Four Short Days! -- my gut issues were mostly better. They're not 100% "fixed," which makes total sense, but the transit-time/motility issues are basically resolved at this point (and were basically fine from day 4 on); I'm sleeping better, without the intense nausea and bloating. I still have more gas than I'd like, but it's actually moving through now rather than just doubling me over.
Other positive things, too, but the overall gift of the process I can sum up in a single word:
Clarity -- in so many respects. Going into this intentional process allowed me to acknowledge things I already knew but was in denial about, which liberated me to choose what works for me rather than cling to ideals. 
-- No more Garden of Eden. I was able to let go of my idealistic adoration of fruit and acknowledge that, bizarre as it may sound, fruit has always tended to constipate me, even in my fruitarian days! And if fruit does that, surely sugar would do so even worse.
-- Much more conscious eating, none of the crazy breaking-long-fast-while-running-errands scenario described above.
-- Clarity of skin. In my fruitarian days my skin was broken out about half the time. It's been consistently quite broken out for the past several months. But these past 21 days, it's cleared right up (although just today, the final day, I suddenly have one or two zits). I might have expected my skin to be worse during a detox. Once again, the clarity to acknowledge that it seems probable that in my leaky-gutted body all kinds of sugar (yes, including fruit) break out my skin.
-- Clarity to experiment. I'd always gone by the rule of "eat fruit first." But my obsessive blood sugar checking started from the observation that I'd break my fast with some fruit and feel hungrier, not satiated. And yet "eat fruit first" was an article of faith. But during the detox, I experimented with the other recommendation floating around, that if you're going to eat fruit (or a bunch of carbs in general), it's a better match for circadian hormone fluctuation if you eat it in the evening. I found that worked well for me, and meshed well with:
-- Clarity to make changes--with all the fasting, I was tending to eat more late in the evening. Having my fruit in the evening went along with noticing that an earlier, lighter dinner helped with my sleep and general level of comfort in my body.
-- Clarity: Hello! I'd noticed a while ago that fruit makes me hungrier. So then I go eat more fruit, and eat it first? And my m.o. is to eat as little as possible? (I do torture myself sometimes.) Yes, instead I got to be so much more satiated, on less food, without all those cravings I was having, without lots of chewable vitamin C that probably has questionable ingredients to hold it together.
-- Clarity: what a waste of money to buy foods that make me sick and then spend more money buying the most expensive enzymes, which helped just a little bit if I took them by the handful. Isn't that stupid? Don't eat the food, you don't need so many expensive enzymes, doh! 

What I'm "Going Back To" and What I'm Keeping
As I said at the top, I'm a little cautious about changing anything much. And since the only thing I really missed was what I described as a "completely inappropriate object of craving"--something I know is not good for me and never truly want to put in my body, I don't feel compelled to rush back to anything.
-- I probably will add back in pure stevia, erythritol, xylitol, and small amounts of raw honey because my honest experience is that they all work in my body, although I understand the rationale of leaving them out for the detox to reset tastebuds. But I'll use them a lot less. Where my smoothies used to have both stevia and erythritol and fruit (and, honestly, some pretty bitter ingredients too), I imagine I'll use a little of just one of those sweeteners, if any.
-- My Sunwarrior pea protein powder will come back into the mix (it was out because it contains some stevia) because it feels good in my body and it's convenient.
-- I imagine there will be room for the odd xylitol mint and chewable vitamin C and zevia soda. But if I continue to feel so satiated and free of cravings, there won't be much need for them
-- Oh, I'll be glad to put berries in my smoothies again--probably in the evenings, though. And I'll be happy to enjoy some of the local fruit. My favorite farmers at the farmers' market have many kinds of organic heirloom melon, some of which are new to me (and I'm a huge fruit nerd, remember, so that's saying something), and there's other farmers with local peaches and apples (we're at that magical cusp of summer and fall with both peaches and apples). But I expect I'll be cautious and strategic about the fruit. I'm no longer in a phase of life where it's normal to eat the whole melon.
Here's what it is: I'm not "Going Back To" -- I'm "Going Forward To"! 
ONWARD!!

Note: I'd be remiss not to review the detox itself. I will do so, but I'll give that its own space--this post has already gotten quite long. I hope it's helpful to anyone contemplating this detox.

Monday, September 8, 2014

21-Day Sugar Detox -- My First Ever Restricted Diet Done For "The Right Reasons"


My friends tend to freak out at the idea of me doing any sort of restricted diet, since my normal diet tends to involve much restriction and I'm not, let's say, in a condition of excess. But I believe this is the first time I've undertaken a diet for self-care reasons rather than straight deprivation. Why??
Try this on for size: If I'm (1) attached to the familiarity of an old pattern and (2) eating inappropriate foods, I get cut off from my body's innate wisdom. And therefore: My body does have innate wisdom, she knows what is good for her. (Oh how amazing if that could be true!)

I have so many positive associations around fruit. Eating lots of it helped me out of the very lowest point of my anorexia--eating it, but also getting involved in growing, harvesting, and sharing it. I was so much the fruit girl, that's how everyone knew me. And despite all that I came to know and understand about how unnatural fruit is today, I still find myself harboring a Garden of Eden fantasy; I still hold a belief somewhere within me that it's the "perfect"/"highest"/"most righteous/correct" food. And so even after I ate no fruit for a year as I cleansed the worst case of candida my naturopath had ever seen, I gravitated back toward it. And again last year, despite a year of mostly coconut cream which was one of my best years digestion-wise. What's more, the years of fruitarianism mean that my estimation of a serving size for fruit is still potentially inflated.

Back on the fruit this year, I was in trouble. Intense sugar cravings, blood sugar swings. I never used to think of food as a comfort source, and how that evolved in me is for another post, but fruit+sugar cravings was sending me into even sweeter foods; foods that I knew were terrible for me, that made me feel terrible. It's no secret that part of my m.o. is pretty serious calorie restriction. But eating so much sugar when I did eat, I was hungry all the time. So I relied on chewable vitamin C, drink mixes, fasting every other day, and the fasting+lots of fruit sent me into the horrifying unfamiliar territory of binge-purge.
Meanwhile, I couldn't digest anything, couldn't sleep for the stomach pains and nausea, and had such severe bloating, the gas often wouldn't even come out in a colonic session! I was walking around 80-some pounds with a balloon belly. I would read/hear about people who'd gone gluten free, cut out dairy, and were feeling like a million bucks, and I felt like such a victim! Here I was, no gluten or dairy ever, absolutely wretched in my body. And yet at the same time there was a dive into gluten-free cookies here, an energy bar (aka sugary soy) there; even brightly colored sucralose candy one time, to my own disbelief--things I knew made me feel worse and yet somehow felt either entitled to or compelled to. Yes, straight-up sugar, as well as some white grains. In some twisted way I was able to give the cane sugar portion a pass because I haven't historically had a problem with sugar, but cookies made of rice flour? Sometimes with omega-6 oils like sunflower and canola??? My system can barely handle any kind of whole grain, so what's a bunch of finely starchified poison-powder going to do in there?
Even as I felt sorry for myself, part of me had the "sucker" lights lit up. Part of me was calling bullshit. At the MFA program residency, where I had a little less control over food availability and timings, I brought protein powder and gave myself the informal limit of two servings of fruit per day. Two things: I felt much better, and I had godawful sugar cravings, resolving into a couple breakouts into the fruit.
Perfect, then! I knew what I needed to do, and I knew for myself that in order to circumvent self-sabotage, I needed a framework where I'd committed to doing it. Even though I felt completely like myself with the crave and intermittent binge/purge , I knew myself well enough to know that if I laid down a framework, I would comply.

And so, when I heard an interview with Diane Sanfilippo about her 21-Day Sugar Detox a day or two after returning from the MFA residency, I decided it was time.
Stay tuned for my reflections on the twenty-one days!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Post-MFA Writing: Doubt, and Exhilaration


During the MFA program, right around now is when people are starting to pull together their first "packet" to send off to their mentor. An agreed-upon amount of creative work (so many poems; a chapter; so many pages of prose; an essay or three); three responses to books read during the "packet period."
So, what about now?
A good friend of mine, and one of my inspirations, has continued the "packet" structure by herself since she graduated a couple years ago, and she's so inspiring both because of her commitment to art, literature, and poetry and because of her commitment to herself as the wonderful poet she is. At least a couple of my fellow graduates this year said they were planning the same.

Just as when I was a serious oboist in my teens, I realized upon passing with distinction the top "grade" that this was just a beginning, not the be-all end-all it had seemed before its achievement, so graduating the MFA seems much more the beginning of a writer's life than any sort of acme or culmination. Which is great, right? Because it means we get to continue, leaning, making mistakes, interacting with others...And yet, it's a whole new challenge. Most of us entered the MFA in the first place seeking the structure and validation it provided, the "official stamp." I could justify to myself that I was "working," on a very expensive degree, where without that I might have felt I was just playing around when I could be racking up hours of editing/translating time.

So what about now, student loan payments and all? One thing that differentiates post-MFA from MFA life is that we now have a carefully curated body of work--the thesis--which is an entity in its own right, separate from ourselves, birthed. This is true, even granted that by the nature of the MFA theses themselves are often works in progress--part one of a novel; a poetry collection that is still growing--or, in my case, an interweaving of poems and essays that begs the question whether it should go out into the world so conjoined or if in fact it contains the central nervous systems of two collections, one in each genre.
I feel that sense of obligation deeply. People have responded to my work, and more people should have the opportunity to do so, both for the people's sake and the work's sake.

Nonetheless, I feel like I've mostly been "playing around" so far, and mostly that's seemed appropriate--pressure off, and in the context of making revisions, open mind, openhearted listening all over again to what the piece wants to be. 

Then this afternoon a new poem started to come. And it was just like the first time ever. Sh**ty first draft coming out onto the page, focus, love, delight...and then doubt. What if I can't do line breaks? What if the material is either hopelessly trite or impossible obscure? Is this telling too much about me, under the surface? Etc. etc. etc. 
Worse yet, I'm one of the rare birds who actually enjoys writing critiques and has published book reviews, and has been encouraged by mentors to continue to write them (another habit I need to pick back up). I'm supposed to be a serious critic of other people's poetry. But I don't have a clue how to evaluate even this shi**ty first draft. What if everything I thought I knew is wrong or forgotten?

And my other self answers, CELEBRATE! Be in the unknowing! Being a critic [cognate with "discern," "discriminate," "crisis," (yes, and "crime")] means being very openly observant and being willing to draw distinctions based on that observation, which is far different than being an arbiter who determines how others should think/judge.

So, as a real live post-MFA writer, I'm a bit scared. But I'm also really excited. Will you join me for this dance?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Parasites Poop Too


So! Time to talk about parasites! We've had symbiotes and commensals already. Once again, I find myself hesitating on the threshold of this writing. I was sticking on commensality because I'm not sure I believe in it: I can't fathom a relationship benefiting one party without having any impact on the other. It's more natural to conceive of a relationship as either symbiotic--ultimately a win-win--or parasitic, where one party benefits to the detriment of the other.
I hesitate now for a different reason, and it's not just that some parasites are beautiful to look at, or that mistletoe, emblem of Christmas-time love, is also a parasite.
Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/30000/velka/goldgelber-zitterling.jpg
Instead, my problem is that Parasites and Parasitism comprise such a big, hot topic that if I pick it up I'm afraid I might drop it! Several influential thinkers in the health universe believe that parasites are the #1 cause of just about all human ailments, and that they are lurking everywhere and in everything. And these are highly qualified, legitimate people, like Dr Ann Louise Gittleman and Dr Hulda Regehr Clark. Check out Parasite Rex and the books Amazon clusters with it for some high-jink facts and scary images. I've heard several authorities say that cancer is always associated with parasitic candida. Donna Gates, whose work I admire greatly, asserts that in over two decades of working with autistic children, she has found every one of them to have candida overgrowth.

Let's zoom out just for a moment. Mushrooms and mistletoe aside, most people think of microscopic microbes when they think of parasites. But--diverting as always to my beloved etymology--"parasite" originally referred to a human being. 
Whereas a sus-sitos (the Greek for commensal, remember) is a mess-mate, who sits at table together with the others,  a para-sitos is a gatecrasher, or a dingleberry--a flattering, rather tiresome guest who shows up, hangs around, and stays uninvited to dinner. Sitos means "food" and (as I mentioned before) specifically means "grain," and where "syn/co/com" means "with," "para" means "beside, to the side of," (think "paralegal"), and also "beyond," "contrary to" (think "paranormal"). If you were an alpha male in the ancient world that coined this word, a parasite was your pet toadyish best mate who always said what you wanted to hear, whom your true friends couldn't stand because he turned you against them, and because he fed your denial, sometimes to the loss of your kingdom. So there's something even a bit nastier about this original parasite. Not only does he dine at the host's expense; he clouds the host's vision and obstructs him from doing his job properly while at the same time making the host feel good about himself!
Agh agh ahem... This sounds a lot like a sugar addiction! Dare I say it? Sugar sure can make you feel good while actually strengthening yeast colonies and blocking absorption of minerals and nutrients. I actually started writing about this a couple months ago, when I undenied my own fruitarian sugar addiction, wondered who I was feeding when I fed that, and when I finish my 21-day sugar detox at the beginning of next week I'll share more about the big differences I've been experiencing as a result of feeding different "guests."
Whoa! It was dizzyingly easy to zoom in from the macro level of interpersonal relationships to the micro level of yeast colonies promising sweet comfort if you feed them more sugar. When metaphors transfer from macro to micro this easily I feel delight at the magical, fractal, geometric, sympathetic unity of this mad whirligig of a universe.
Realize this, too: the alpha male's parasite and the yeast colony both don't only feed at their host's expense: they excrete too, and their poop and gas stink! There were no flush toilets in the ancient world, so the parasite pooping in the latrine was an extra strain on resources too, no doubt. And then I think of all the nights this year when I was back on fruit and sometimes even tipping over into more sugary sugar, lying unable to sleep at night with indigestion pains, being one big tortured latrine for my wayward guests. We end up not only not having the proper benefit of the food, but having to get rid of what is in fact toxic waste. (Here's a quick read on acetaldehyde, one of the main toxic wastes excreted by yeasts in the body.)

The fact that parasites poop too has probably been my biggest epiphany recently in understanding why they can be such a problem. But looking on the bright side, our universe is dynamic, relationship dynamics can change, and balance may not look like you expect it to. If humans had no yeast in their bodies, we could get real sick real quick, especially in our present ocean of sugar. In normal amounts, a yeast colony is actually symbiotic--they're part of the cleanup crew. They get to eat, they mop up what our systems can't handle, whatever they poop out goes easily down the drain with the rest. And the dingleberry friend? Our alpha male will indulge his uninvited visits once in a while, especially if he wants to get rid of other visitors, but he'll think twice and twice more about listening to the guy's advice, will pay more attention to his true friends, and some days he'll say "Sorry buddy, dinner tonight's invited guests only. See you later."

This dynamism is what gives me pause with the stricter "parasite as cause of all evils" line. There's increasing evidence (e.g. here) that parasites performed a useful role in pre-cleansed and sterilized humanity. Obsession with cleaning out any and all parasites from the system sounds like similar logic to vaccinating all diseases away. There is a place for parasite cleansing and there is a place for vaccinations, God help us, but with a better understanding of what it takes to be in relationship with the parasitic organism, we might be able to embody better the underlying truth, that we are all connected.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Commensality? -- But What Is, Impacts

You all know I'm a serial junkie. Grain free, of course. So (couldn't resist), isn't it going against the grain that I've taken so long to come out with the next in my Symbiotic - Commensal - Parasite series? Where have I been?
barnacles on a feather--were they there when the feather was on the bird?
As I would tell any friend of mine, the important thing is, I'm here now. In the meantime, though, I spent the weekend at a silent Sufi retreat and then took a hike today. I'm on day fourteen of a 21-day sugar detox, am getting things set up as a professional post-MFA writer (including sending my work out), have registered a domain name and committed to learning a new content management system for my "for real" website--oh, and I've been working. Stunning synchronicities, humbliing realizations, astonishing liftings of veils enabling me to understand what has been before my face but hitherto opaque.
No excuses -- but hey, I could blog for the rest of the month just filling in the details on that paragraph!

Commensal, though. The real reason it's taken me some time to get to this is that I find "commensal" hard to explain and even understand. "Symbiotic" is straightforward--life working together to make life. "Parasitic" (which we'll get to next time) is also a pretty clear-cut concept.
Commensal comes from Latin whereas the other two come from Greek. Maybe just a coincidence that it's more slippery. If it were a Greek derivative, it would be:
Syssitic. In other words, it combines the first element of "symbiotic" -- the sym/cum/co "with"
with the second element of "parasitic" -- sitos "food" (actually literally "grain"; NB the "mensa" in Latin literally means "table" but specifically a meal table and with an etymological connotation of grain harvest also).
The colloquial translation of commensalis/syssitios is "messmate" -- someone who sits at the same table in a communal cafeteria. In that situation, you'd think one diner is much like another. But in our parlance, technically a commensal  organism is one that feeds from a host without causing the host any harm or damage. The remora fish glomming onto a shark or manta ray is a commonly cited example, as are the barnacles on whales.
So it turns out part of my discomfort is linguistic/syntactic. The word "commensal" properly denotes a reciprocal (sym/cum/co = "with") relationship between two different diners/remoras. But our language is using it to denote a one-way benefit relationship between remora and manta ray.

Sometimes words just don't collide with reality in a logical way...

Reaching deeper, with all the messages I've been receiving lately on the interconnectedness of all of us, animalvegetablemineraletherial (and that's why we have differentiation) I just can't wrap my brain around the idea that something feeds on something else without affecting it for either good or ill. Something can be affecting me even beneath the threshold of my awareness. And something else that isn't even present can affect me because I believe it is. The idea that the barnacle or the remora or the commensal bacteria have no benefit or detriment to the whale or manta ray or human gut seems to me tantamount to saying that they don't have real existence. It's a disrespect to them! Surely the barnacle helps clean the whale's skin, the remora and bacteria likewise--if they're nurturing themselves from what their host doesn't need, in my book that's actually providing a benefit.
When I've been in social situations being served gluten/dairy/meat, being able to pass the food I couldn't eat on to a friend or partner was a boon for me--there's one kind of commensal.
On the other hand, for whatever scarcity consciousness reasons, for much of my life I've appropriated the "cleanup crew" commensal position whereby something's permissible for me to eat if no one else wants it and it'll otherwise be thrown out (like stray fallen pieces of fruit on the floor at the store or farmers market, or godhelpme leftovers). Current meditations--and, no doubt, the sugar detox--are helping me let go of that old pattern. 

Commensality is no one-way street! I am, therefore I impact.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Symbiosis, and Differentiation

Those three words from last time: "Symbiotic." "Commensal." "Parasitic."
Just like kombucha and kefir cultures, we "individuals" am/are are symbiotic cultures, amalgams of bacteria, yeast, human cells... But since you are in my arm and I in yours, we are all connected. Human culture is symbiotic; you are my symbiote, life is symbiosis, acting on and being acted on by each other--
                                                                                                     as the earth does with the moon--the earth pulls the moon and centers its path. And the moon pulls the fluid bodies of the earth, even within our own bodies.
Sym- "with" bios "life." Life together, life cumulative, life collective. 
As probiotic, antibiotic (for- and against- life).
As sympathetic (suffering/feeling together with -- you in my arm again).
As symptom (circumstances seen together).
As symmetry (measurements taken together to form a pleasing whole).
As syntax (elements arranged together to make some sort of sense).
As synesthesia (multiple senses experienced together).

As synchronicity (events falling together at the same time to create magic).

Synesthesia could be my middle name, and I know synchronicity (to say I believe in it would be far too weak an assertion). Easy though it is to disparage the Internet, it is a fantastic fulcrum of synchronicity. As I began to think about this post, to reflect on "symbiosis" and all it means, from my kitchen ferments to collective humanity's potential to turn around the ship of global warming, I found myself listening to an interview with fellow Israeli Anat Baniel. She's one of those wonderful holistic bodyworkers who became wise to how using the body's movements can "rewire" the brain (align the synapses, where nerve endings touch together).

I was thinking about symbiosis, right?  --about how all beings are connected and thus influential on one another. Go there, and it's tempting to go one more step to "we're all the same."
The wonderful thing about Anat's message was that she was saying the opposite of this, and at the same time she was reinforcing that we are all connected. Her point was that a lot of physical pain and range-of-movement issues, and also a lot of the behavioral and spatial problems autistic children suffer, are predicated on lack of differentiation. If you have a series of vertebrae all moving together as if fused, you're not going to know the flexibility that would otherwise be available to you. If multiple areas of your brain all light up in response to a stimulus that "should" only affect one part, you could end up being excitingly synesthetic, or you could lack the filters and buffers to respond appropriately to a situation.

I guess that's why we all need to be the best self we possibly can be. I can't harm myself, because you are in me. But without differentiation, yes, there would be no war; but also there would be no musical cascades of notes, no art, no sentences, no poetry.
Our lives, together, side by side, interlinked, each one of us unique as the tile of a mosaic, different in our location within the whole, different in our individual certain sparkle.

Culture within, Culture without

Water kefir on the left, milk kefir (more on that later) on the right. Proofs from the dictionary project on bottom.
Yes, I do some of my editing work in the kitchen. Sometimes that's the most time I spend in there of a day. This isn't really a tangent: on the subject of "me in you, you in me," I've been thinking about microorganisms within and without, and of course that takes me to words. "Symbiotic." "Commensal." "Parasite."

It's now understood that nonhuman cells outnumber human cells in our "own" bodies by ten to one. These microorganisms form colonies that can lobby with powerful demands, so that it can be literally true that we are possessed/overtaken by influences within us but not of us. "My bugs made me do it!"

Reflected on the outside: my kitchen, no doubt, is full of uncontained bugs I can't see. I welcome the spiders when I see them, benign weavers and cleaners. But I was horrified by the roaches that showed up. In my kitchen, I also contain and feed several colonies on purpose and strive to ensure they get fed correctly. It's another kind of gardening, in a way, and I do it at least as much to cultivate (pun intended) my spirit relationship with microorganisms as I do to consume the products of bacterial/yeast ferments.
Aside from the two kefirs, I have more kombucha cultures than I can manage (give me a shout if you want one!) -- enough to give some of them experimental diets, like coffee instead of tea (far right) (so far so good). This culture's ancestor moved with me from Hawaii over six years ago, and it seems to be happy back in a warm climate, although I left many of its offspring happy with happy owners back in Alaska.
Both kefir and kombucha cultures are called "SCOBY"s -- an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." Which I guess we are, as humans, too.
Taking a walk on the wild side, here are two veggie krauts: napa cabbage/onion/ginger, and daikon radish. In their own juices with a little sea salt, these are consumed almost overnight in this climate by wild yeasts/bacteria (i.e. I didn't add a culture; bacteria in the environment came and feasted) and become crisp, sour-sharp, without the overwhelming pungency of those sulfurous vegetables when raw. They have to go in the fridge at this point to avoid "rotter" bactera taking over and composting them.
Sandor Katz, the great fermentation guru, points out that no American has ever died from eating wildly- or home-fermented foods--if something's really "gone bad," your taste buds will protect you.

On the other hand, many "humans," American and otherwise, have died of organisms growing out of control within their bodies, and far more feel helplessly identified with addictions and cravings that are not truly of themselves. There is a way out.

  • Whatever I am doing at any moment is practice.
  • Whatever I practice I get better at.
  • What am I practicing now?
Likewise, 
  • Whatever I feed thrives.
  • What am I feeding now?
Back to the kefir, since I don't do dairy, I had a problem figuring out what to feed the milk kefir grains. I quickly figured out that they need protein (a la casein in milk) as well as sugar (a la lactose in milk). Soy milk worked great. but I mostly avoid soy too; an almond milk fortified with protein also worked well (and of course I need to get back in the kitchen habit and make my own). But then I almost killed the kefir grains when I got back from my trip by feeding them unsweetened protein almond milk. The end product smelled bad, the grain colony dwindled. They made their unhappiness clear.
A dance away from sugar seems a good idea for me right now (more on this soon), but that doesn't alter the requirements of this age-old ferment culture. Even feeding the kombucha on coffee as mentioned above, or hibiscus tea or green tea instead of black tea as I also do, and with maple syrup instead of sugar, doesn't violate this concept: the kombucha culture needs some sort of simple sugar and a tannin-rich tea medium. Coffee, hibiscus, and other grades of tea all have plenty of tannins; maple or even coconut sugar are simple enough.
Would that it were so simple to figure out the correct fuel mix for the SCOBY that is each unique human, to keep the good bugs happy and keep the detrimental or composter bugs from taking over.
More on that, and on those words up top (symbiotic, commensal, parasite), next time.

  • Whatever I am doing at any moment is practice.
  • Whatever I practice I get better at.
  • What am I practicing now?