SCOBY Symbolism

When we moved last year, something struck me differently about our recycling. My family drinks a lot of Kombucha! It’s the painfully expensive, but healthy, drink of choice for my preschool/elementary tribe. The number of bottles were a travesty for Mother Earth and my bank account. Quick, easy choice – it was time to start making my own Kombucha again, using SCOBY.

Last time I tried, I aborted mission early when I found myself pregnant and throwing up everywhere, for 39 weeks. The Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) sitting in the corner of my kitchen fermenting with some sweet tea was literally too much to look at. So, she sat. And sat. And sat. Some 16 months or so later, she was rescued from her glass vessel.

I’d, rather stupidly, started it all in a huge glass jug with a narrow top. Like placenta previa. Trapped. Two ladies I knew lovingly broke the jar to try to rescue something in there. They saved some of the long-overdue Kombucha for us all to taste (after straining out all the glass). It was the most delicious I’d ever had.

The 1st symbol in the SCOBY emerged: Sometimes your culture can block you from fulfilling your purpose. Choose your vessel and tend to it regularly. Things get funkier and worth savoring over time.

So these years later now, I have a really stable Kombucha operation going on in my kitchen. I now use honey and white tea, instead of the traditional black tea and cane sugar. I’ve learned this is actually its own different beverage called ‘Jun,’ a close cousin to Kombucha. I make a weekly batch for my family, friends, neighbors and people I work with.

My SCOBY makes a lot of babies. So, I put it out over Facebook, ‘who wants a SCOBY?’ … And the 2nd symbol in the SCOBY began expressing itself. I ended up getting to see a student from over a decade ago, she came to my home to get her SCOBY. I got to reconnect with an old colleague. I got to meet a few friends for coffee and lunch. I made a new friend. And I finally met somebody in person I’d only known virtually before.

This simple, slimy pancake of bacteria and yeast is a metaphor of symbiosis at its best and the kind of community culture I’d like to believe in.

Symbiotic relationships, in the biological sense, are interactions between different organisms that live physically close to one another. In the sociological sense, it is organisms, people, or things existing together in a way that benefits them all. For our little yeasts and bacteria, it is apparently both.

When I was talking about wanting to start making Kombucha again last year, a lovely woman I work with offered me a start from her SCOBY. Isn’t that how it is all supposed to begin? With kindness. With simple offerings of exchange and communal goodwill. With simple things that offer the promise of nourishment, refreshment, joy and tradition.

Well, she overheated her SCOBY (my SCOBY’s mom) last winter. It died. I was able to give her a grandbaby SCOBY back to start over with. Isn’t that how it is supposed to be? Full completed circles. Abundance. Lineage. Friendship.

It just takes a little clean, honest attention. It requires making the space. Things need to be generally stable. Boundaries (like temperatures and cheesecloth) decide if the culture will ultimately survive, or not. If it’s healthy and doing its thing, it is all self-perpetuating and the good will just keep coming. You’ll have to start sharing your baby SCOBYs. You will have to share these precious little slimy gifts in order for them to survive.

They make the notion of a ‘healthy culture’ and ‘symbiosis’ look easy. If the environment isn’t right, growth won’t occur. Simple. When a sustainable colony is cultivated, it can go on generation after generation after generation. It can go on forever if you keep it clean, hold the space, share with others and just give it a little sweet tea every so often …