Decomposition: hope for the future

Day 55 of #LiveWell2017


I’ve been working with fermented foods lately – making sauerkraut and sourdough bread – and reading more of my favorite book on the subject, The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz. At the very end of the book, he explores “non-food applications” of fermenting, including in art. He relays the story of Jenifer Wightman’s art installation of mud and water, fermenting (Winogradsky Rothko: Bacterial Ecosystem as Pastoral Landscape), and concluded the chapter with her quote:

“De/composition represents beginnings, change, contingencies of cause and effect, interconnectedness, possibility…Perhaps decomposition is where my hope for the world lies.”

It’s one of the coolest art installations I’ve ever heard of. You can read more about it and see some if it here.

It reminded me that to live well we need to understand and accept natural biological processes, like decomposition, and learn from them. Fermenting is a form of decomposition that creates symbiotic relationships. As humans, we have co-evolved with bacteria for millions of years. Fermentation is not a human invention (though we’ve learned to use it make some yummy things like breads and beer), but it has shaped us culturally since the beginning of existence.

What we can learn from fermenting is that we are part of and dependent on the larger web of life. That we must adapt to change and build community (both human and non-human), and that we must understand that endings are also beginnings.



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