Germs have been getting bad press lately. I’ve never been one to like them myself. As a habitual germaphobe, I have been able to navigate my way through FASoS buildings without touching handles for years. Yes, I am one of those weirdos who opens doors with elbows or sleeves. I love electronic openings. And oh, the sound of automatic hand cleanser dispensers! Maybe it was the years I spent working in hospitals. Or the stories from my mum, of food poisoning from a can left open in the fridge. Maybe I was scarred from our (other) recent-in-memory Year of Germs (i.e. my son’s first year in kinderopvang).
All this means that I sense critters everywhere, so it did not take too much to adapt to corona rules. Nonetheless I have been feeling sorry lately for the nice germs that inhabit our worlds and bodies. Those germs that have also gone into isolation. For one of the benefits of social contact is that those critters get spread around, as our microbiomes interact. Scientists have shown that in lockdown our germs are now breeding and diverging in different ways. We are growing, in our own homes, new little miniature ecosystems.
I’m no microbiologist, but I have started to wonder what it might be like to discover more about these germs at home. If only we had kept our sourdough starter going, that jar of flour-water mixture with “wild” yeasts and bacteria used to help sourdough bread rise. Apparently bakers’ sourdough starters contain microbes from their kitchens and bodies. And bakers’ bodies start growing the lactic acid bacteria of their starters too.
As #breadbaking became an Insta fad the world over, the thought of combining a sourdough schedule with childcare seemed a bit much and the starter in our fridge became dormant sludge without a bubble in sight. But now I am thinking about reviving it (or encouraging my husband to, because let’s face it, he was the slop’s primary caretaker). As a way of celebrating the joy of germs. In the mean time I will still keep some handcleanser in my bag.
Anna Harris, associate professor department of Society Studies; Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences