The Fermentation GutHub Project and the Internet of Microbes

The Fermentation GutHub Project and the Internet of Microbes

Marketa Dolejsova (National University of Singapore, Singapore) and Denisa Kera (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0827-4.ch002
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Abstract

The Fermentation GutHub is a local community of fermentation enthusiasts in Singapore formed around ‘smart' human-microbial interactions. The project is a critique of the common IoT utopia claiming efficient and transparent interactions between citizens and various stakeholders using smart sensors and monitoring devices in the cities of the future. Instead of relying on technology produced and supported by corporate actors or large government plans, the GutHub scenario uses existing fermentation groups and DIY tools as a model for designing resilient and symbiotic urban communities. Against the utopia of evidence-based decision making driven by policy and corporate actors, it emphasizes the importance of collective experience with risk and opportunities negotiated on a grassroots level. The project supports citizens' exchanges of various cultures, fermentation practices, and sometimes dangerous but also beneficial experiments with our guts as an interface, and proposes a model for messier IoT scenarios of future cities.
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Introduction

The Fermentation GutHub is basically about fermenting everything around and making wild associations to post-socialist foodies, Latour, Stallman and bitcoin.

The Fermentation GutHub is a personal and social experiment with food, taste and health, but also a platform for online - offline exchanges of fermentation skills and starter cultures (microbial mediums used for activation of the fermentation process). Through the GutHub project, we probe ideas of various new technologies and paradigms (blockchain, open hardware) to support local DIY food production, and highlight the related issues of trust in peer sharing economies. It is also a response to the present IoT (Internet of Things) scenarios (Ashton, 2009), in which corporate and government stakeholders try to define the future of urban communities and propose 'smart' models of an ideal society.

The Fermentation GutHub was initiated in April 2015 by four food-tech enthusiasts at the National University of Singapore (including authors). Since then, the project has been operated by an evolving community of geeks and foodies gathered around two Singaporean community hubs, the Hackerspace.sg (Hackerspace.sg, 2015) and the Edible Garden City Singapore (Edible Garden City, 2015). The Fermentation GutHub, as its name indicates, is a “git” platform to manage exchanges of fermentation skills and resources instead of software code. The platform includes a “Fermentation Bank” of starter cultures in a form of a public refrigerator; a Github page serving as a repository of fermentation 'source codes' (recipes; how-to tutorials); an active Facebook group for troubleshooting and sharing of fermentation ideas; and some OSHW (open source hardware) tools, such as the “Mother 0.1” starter culture incubator.

The GutHub project tests various HCI (human-computer interaction) scenarios transgressing anthropocentric limits and embraces technologically mediated human-to-bacteria interactions. In this sense, it is an example of situated and everyday techno-science practices, which create “assemblage of neglected things” (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011) and support human and non-human entanglements (Barad 2007; Haraway, 2003), which are gaining momentum in the recent feminist technoscience (Mol, 2002; Tsing, 2015). We specifically build on the notion of non-human “hyperobjectivity” (Morton, 2013) that operates on scales bellow and above the human body and horizon, and shows some larger environmental issues.

The practices of food fermentation connect the embodied knowledge of rural and folk culture with food science, thereby addressing some common themes in food studies, such as food preservation; food sustainability and security, the authenticity of traditional cuisines; and the industrial “engineering” of new food tastes. We see the GutHub as an example of a technological folklore rejuvenating the traditional food practices through tinkering with low-cost DIY technologies, inspiring anyone to learn and perform simple food science experiments at home. Along with the project, we are collectively building an urban community, which works on its immune system by sharing and fermenting food and engaging in sustainability-oriented research. As a platform supporting local food production and community building, it also stresses the importance of including food, bacteria, yeasts, and other non-human actors in our thinking about the networks that define the cities of the future.

Based on the observations from our GutHub workshops, meetups, and other community activities, we propose the technology-enabled microbial interactions as a model for negotiating a relationship between different actors and stakeholders, while highlighting the notion of empathy, symbiosis, and mutualism (Schmitt and Holbrook 2003; Bronstein 1994). In this sense, our study is a contribution to the emerging field of “food informatics” (Choi, Foth, and Hearn 2014; DiSalvo 2012) extending the issues of IoT food traceability to the issue of peer culture and design supporting human and non-human networks (or interaction with hyperobjects).

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