Week 1, Day 5: A Little Bit of Botulism

At the turn of the century, I spent a lot of time staying and then work-trading at a raw-food retreat center outside Austin, TX. There I learned some habits that healed the chronic migraines I’d suffered throughout my 20s. I also learned how to make fermented sour kraut without using salt. That last part is key, as the conventional wisdom is that if you make a ferment without salt, life-threatening microbes will emerge. No-salt is key as well, from the raw food perspective, because salt is considered problematic to a natural diet.

These days I cook my food, but I still make sour kraut without salt. Each time I open a new batch, after giving it three-plus weeks to build all those wonderful, gut-healing flora, I give pause. I begin by examining the top—ideally I want to see clear liquid—no cloudiness and no chunks. Just to be safe, I skim off the top layer of liquid. (As if the liquid is not getting mixed with each dip of the spoon.)

My next step is to lift out the top layer of full cabbage leaves. These leaves are another raw-foodist’s trick. If anything rots, it would be these top leaves because they were at the top and therefore most likely to have been exposed to oxygen. Ostensibly, the chopped veggies below the full leaves will be preserved in a perfect ferment.

After removing the leaves and smelling the product (if you’ve ever smelled a rotten ferment, you’d know this is a valid test), I take the plunge and try a taste. Piercing a mere three shreds of the cabbage, I take a deep breath and bite in.

Somewhere a part of me must believe that botulism is okay if I only ingest a little bit of it.

It makes me wonder: what else am I willing to risk a little of? A little passive aggression from co-workers. A little sexism or classism. A little genetic modification. A little bit of off-gas from a fluffy new pillow (maybe they don’t seep through the pillowcase…)

With all the toxic substances, experiences, and people we’re exposed to that may not be in our control to interact with each day, why am I willing to invite any thing else—on purpose, by choice—into my system? Even just a little?

Meditating daily, morning and evening, I’ve become more attuned to the effects of these “little bits of toxins” I allow. Particularly television. After a few days of starting this 12-week meditation project, it became clear that the evening meditations were qualitatively different than the morning meditations. In the morning, I wake relaxed and therefore primed to dive deeper into mindfulness practice. In the evening, much of the time is spent winding down from the day.

This makes sense, intuitively. After rising, I’m likely still in slow brain wave states shared by stages of sleep and meditation. After a day of stimulation, of being in alert beta states, logically it would take some time to shift to alpha for meditation.

But nights I watched television were even harder to recover from. Meditation on those evenings was being used up recovering from what I’d subjected myself to during the day. If it’s my choice, why decide to ingest something I know is toxic?

What’s your little bit of botulism, and what new choices would you like make about what and how much you ingest?

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