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  • I am babysitting a pickle for a friend. It's made from oat bran, beer, yeast, apple peels and other things. It's called 'nukazuke', it looks like pink cat food and it smells just as interesting []. The night before they flew to Thailand, my friend brought the pickle to my house in a brown crock pot and instructed me on how to turn the pickle daily so the deeper parts of the blob get aerated. They also told me that the purpose of the pickle wasn't to eat the pink mush but to bury other vegetables in the pickle, resulting in perfectly pickled produce in just a few days.

    Last night after a long work meeting and a sad rainy day I came home and turned the pickle, thinking about the advice my friend read on the internet, which said that if you get a friend to mind your pickle, make sure you ask someone you like because the pickle will start to taste like your friend! After turning the pickle I chose a nice little carrot from the fridge, stood it on its tapered end and pushed it into the pickle. I then lay the carrot flat and pushed it deep into the thick pink mass. A carrot-shaped grave formed above the buried vegetable. I admired it for a moment before filling in the hole, beginning the fermentation process.

    Today I made kimchee for the first time – the second pickle I've started this week after my purple sauerkraut. I had been urged by a friend with fermentation fever to just start doing it, so I took her advice and her illegally downloaded copy of a well-known fermentation book and started chopping, salting and packing things into jars. Unfortunately, as I write this I have salt-burn on my knuckles from squashing briny wombok into a jar, but I am looking forward to the result.

    Not that long ago I watched a BBC documentary on decay [] that reflects a lot of what Sandor Ellix Katz writes about in the final chapter of 'Wild Fermentation': that fermentation is proof of the cyclical nature of life, with death as an integral part. When he dies, he wants to be buried in the ground and allowed to compose naturally, transferring the life-giving building blocks of carbon into the soil to nourish plants and flowers, bees, fruit trees, birds, humans and life itself.

    Earlier this year I saw my grandmother's embalmed body in a funeral parlour – the two details that I remember clearly are the smell of the lilies, which horrified me, and her beautiful bunny-rabbit front teeth, which seemed more real than the rest of her body, perhaps because they still looked the same as when she was alive. This visit behind a curtain with my parents, uncle and grandfather felt clinical and taboo. We were told that we could touch her hand as we said goodbye but I was only brave enough to look. It felt weird to be told by a stranger in a suit that I could touch my grandmother. I'm not sure what I wanted from that experience, but it didn't exactly feel like I was engaging with the cyclical nature of life.

    Fermentation makes me think about death and decay but it also makes me think about transformation and change. In this Year of the Dragon, a year for magic, we see an important astrological formation: a square between two major planets of our solar system, with one representing unpredictable energy channelled into initiating change, and the other representing energy established over a long period of time channelled into maintaining the current structure and order of things [].The last time this formation occurred was the 1960s – we've entered a revolutionary era.

    When I talk with excitement about the possibility of revolution, my housemate who has lived through revolution and oppression in Chile reminds me that in times of revolution, people die. This knowledge sobers me but I can't help thinking about the people, animals and environments that die on a daily basis as a result of capitalism destroying the world for profit. There is a time for revolution and there is also a time for slow change on a daily basis – this form of change can't be underestimated.

    Sandor Ellix Katz says that fermentation is a process you cannot halt: if you leave a pile of food scraps in your kitchen they will begin to ferment. Social change is similar: 'Ideas ferment, as they spread and mutate and inspire movements for change.' I like to ponder this as I gaze at the glass jar full of vegetables and spices on my kitchen bench. My favourite line from the film 'Melancholia' is when Justine says, deadpan, 'life on Earth is evil.' It's easy to look at the fucked up problems of the world and make that conclusion but perhaps a more accurate one is that life on Earth is subject to change. 'Fermentation is a force that cannot be stopped,' writes Katz, 'It recycles life, renews hope, and goes on and on.'
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