Conference in Reykjavík

At the National Museum on April 11 and 12, 2024

We are now preparing the program for our upcoming 2-day conference in Reykjavík on April 11 and 12. This will be a one-track event situated at the conference hall of the National Museum in Suðurgata, next to the University of Iceland. At the conference a number of speakers will approach human-microbial interaction, symbiotic practices, and crafting cultures from a wide-angle cross-disciplinary perspective.

We’ve set up a page with the program and speakers here…

The National Museum

Speakers include Gísli Pálsson, Salla Sariola, Amber Benezra, Sigurjón Baldur Hafsteinsson, Tinna Grétarsdóttir, Veera Kinnunen, Björk Brynjarsdóttir, Rósa Ómarsdóttir, Daniel Münster, Ragnheiður Maísól Sturludóttir, Bernhard Tschofen, Jón Þór Pétursson, Viggó Þór Marteinsson, Adam Bencard, Birna Guðrún Ásbjörnsdóttir, Helga Ögmundardóttir, Sveinn Steinar Benediktsson, Kjartan Óli Guðmundsson, Björn Viðar Aðalbjörnsson and Bryndís Eva Birgisdóttir, among others.


You, your gut microbes and fermented foods

The wonderful Dennis Sandris Nielsen will be giving a lecture in English at the University of Iceland on the relationship between our diet and our gut microbiome. The lecture will take place in the lecture hall of the National Museum of Iceland at Suðurgata, at noon on January 25.


Summer projects

After a successful panel at SIEF in Brno in June, we are resuming work on a number of last-minute research tasks, that will conclude this summer. These include four rounds of sampling sourdough starters, a study of user- identified sourdough “strains”, sampling of various home fermenting food products, and a sampling of garden composts.

We also set up a team of scholars from within the project and outside, for producing a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Cultural Analysis. A number of proposed articles are based on questionnaires and interviews conducted within the SYMBIOSIS project and will be among the first publications using data from the project. Our working title for the special issue is Relating to Microbes, and it will explore many aspects of multispecies symbiotic practices where humans and microbes relate to each other.

We are currently preparing a postgraduate level course of 5 ECTS for the University of Iceland this fall. Based around the concepts studied in the SYMBIOSIS research project, it will be a joint venture by project participants with 11 professors covering different aspects of human-microbial communality.


One Health panel at SIEF23

We have been busy preparing a panel for the upcoming 16th congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) in Brno next June. The panel proposes a discussion of the relational agency of humans and more-than-humans in mutually shaping life and death.

The panel is entitled More-than-human care in uncertain times and will take place sometime between June 7 and 10 in Brno, the Czech Republic.


Another year with microbes

The project is now entering its third year. Data collecting is proceeding well, with the first half of the intervention research almost finished and preparations for the second half ongoing. Analysis of the various biosamples collected will start this year. Open interviews with participants are also progressing well and people have been more than willing to share their experiences from consuming fermented foods. Qualitative data analysis of these, along with the questionnaires published by the National Museum of Iceland, will also begin this year.

This year we are also looking forward to a workshop meeting in Lund, Sweden, in May, and another workshop in Iceland in September.

Wishing everyone a happy fermented new year!


The Art of Fermentation with Sandor Katz

The workshop The Art of Fermentation, lead by Sandor Katz, was held in Skálholt in South of Iceland over the weekend of 3rd to 4th September. Sandor Katz is a renowned American food writer and food activist who calls himself a “fermentation fetishist”. The workshop was organised by Studio Bragginn which is run by the couple Bjarki Þór Sólmundsson, chef, and Erna Elínborga Skúladóttir, artist, both fermentation enthusiast. Studio Bragginn is a creative platform where people can come to learn about sustainability and share creative experiences. Studio Bragginn organises workshops regularly and has previously had workshops in cheese making and craft beer brewing. 

In the workshop, The Art of Fermentation, participants got hands-on experience in a wast variety of fermented food and drinks including sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, sourdough and kvass. Sandor Katz also gave various interesting examples of how fermentation has been used in various ways around the world. People have fermented their porridge to increase its nutritional value and prevent famine. Before there were refrigerators, fish, intended for sushi, was stored in rice to preserve it with the help of fermentation. In some parts of the world people would chew in sugar cane plants and spit in water for it to ferment and produce an alcoholic beverage. The fact is that living things want to ferment. It’s actually harder to prevent them from fermenting.

Sandor Katz has been in the forefront of the fermentation movement for the past 20 years. He has travelled the world studying and teaching fermentation and has published 6 books. His book Wild Fermentation, first published in 2003, is considered by many an essential for anyone interested in fermentation. In 2021 he published The Art of Fermentation which can be called an encyclopaedia of fermentation as it describes almost every fermentation process thinkable. In his new book, Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys, he celebrates and shares traditional fermentation processes he has encountered on his many journeys around the world. Sandor Katz is the most experienced advocate of all things fermented. It was therefore a great opportunity to attend his workshop, especially for those interested in and researching the relationship between humans and microbiomes. 


Microbes and Social Theory

The workshop Microbes and Social Theory took place in Oslo, Norway, between 31st of August and 1st of September. The workshop brought together diverse academics within social sciences and humanities working in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. The workshop was organized by the Institute of Health and Society in Oslo in collaboration with the NOH-HS funded Nordic Network for the Social Study of Microbes. The focus of the workshop was to explore meeting points between microbes and microbial worlds with social science thinking. The aim was to explore new openings that could help develop tools and concepts that enables new ways to think about health, ecology, and justice in a microbial world.

The workshop was organized as a combination of short input presentations and discussions based on the world café method ( The group discussed concepts, terms, and processes in microbiology that have generative potential for social and cultural theory:

Digestion, gut-brain, animal, species, shit/dung, metabolism, soils and soiling, rhizosphere, mucus, mold, more-than-human, fermentation, probiotics, antibiotics, symbiosis, immunity, resistance, health as/and ecology, hygiene, identity, holobiont, organism, homo microbis and scale.

A lively discussion took place around how people from different research traditions and disciplines can research human-microbial relations together. This is one of the challenges with the Symbiosis project which raises several questions: How do we combine different sets of data? How can scholars from different disciplines write together? This includes different styles of presentation, production of knowledge and different analytical and methodological traditions.


Ethics committee approval

After a several month long application and evaluation process, we finally got the news that our application to the Icelandic Scientific Ethics Committee was approved. This means that our interdisciplinary intervention study can go ahead as planned this September.

The research involves people changing their diet for a period of 10 weeks, with one group switching to a highly fermented diet consisting of various pro- and prebiotic foodstuffs that are widely available in stores or easy to make at home. Another group will get a specially prepared colostrum-based dietary supplement. Two control groups are established: one with a regular diet low in probiotics and one with a regular diet that is high in probiotics. All four groups will be tested, and the intervention groups monitored over a period of 14 weeks, with biosample analyses before and after the 10-week intervention period.

The research also involves open interviews with participants in the first group, on thoughts, feelings and attitudes towards their experience with fermented foods and human-microbial interactions in general. We are hoping that the combined laboratory, quantitative and qualitative data, will contribute to a holistic view of the effects and affects of symbiotic living, with cross-cutting and collaborative trans-disciplinary analyses that will get published in the next couple of years.


Cultural tourism revisited

Our partner, Veera Kinnunen, wrote a wonderful blog post about our travel workshop in April on the Lapland University blog platform entitled  CULTURAL TOURISM REVISITED – Intra-living in the Anthropocene.


Craftlife Workshop

We had the first of three NOS-funded workshops titled “Craftlife” from March 31 to April 2, consisting of a public seminar and series of meetings and visits to local producers in West Iceland.

The program started on March 31 with a seminar at the National Museum of Iceland, where Jón Þór Pétursson, ethnologist from the University of Iceland, gave a paper on Skyr as “mother culture” and Veera Kinnunen, sociologist from the University of Lapland, talked about bokashi as multispecies waste care. After this there was a workshop on cross-disciplinary collaboration on human-microbial symbiotic relations, led by Valdimar Tr. Hafstein, with the participation of the project team and Veera Kinnunen and Birgitta Vinkka from Finland, Martin Skrydstrup from Denmark, Håkan Jönsson from Sweden and JoAnn Conrad from California. Bryndís Eva Birgisdóttir gave a talk outlining an intervention research that is planned for next fall, and Helga Ögmundardóttir explained the ongoing research into composting practices.

JoAnn Conrad, Valdimar Tr. Hafstein and Birna Guðrún Ásbjörnsdóttir at Erpsstaðir. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.

On April 1 the whole group travelled to Erpsstaðir creamery and dairy farm where the farmer, Þorgrímur Einar Guðbjartsson, explained the process of making skyr in both the traditional and modern manner. We were treated to a feast of skyr and other cheeses, rye bread and cured meat, including traditional meat conserved in sour whey. Filmmaker Áslaug Einarsdóttir joined us in Erpsstaðir and filmed the whole demonstration.

Þorgrímur Einar Guðbjartsson prepares his demonstration of skyrmaking at Erpsstaðir. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.

After visiting Erpsstaðir the group continued north to Hveravík in Strandir, where we met local producers and ethnologists from the University of Iceland research center on folklore/ethnology in Hólmavík. We were joined by Hafdís Sturlaugsdóttir, sheep farmer and natural scientist, Ásta Þórisdóttir and Svanur Kristjánsson, bee farmers and directors of Sýslið makerspace in Hólmavík, Þorgrímur Einar Guðbjartsson, dairy farmer, and folklorists Guðlaug G. I. Bergsveinsdóttir and Dagrún Ósk Jónsdóttir. During the workshop, Birna Guðrún Ásbjörnsdóttir gave us an inspiring talk about mounting evidence connecting the gut flora with a variety of health-related issues. Afterwards, Viggó Þór Marteinsson explained how research into thermophiles discovered in hydrothermal vents in Iceland contributed to the development of PCR technology, that has become a household name during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were received by folklorist Kristín Einarsdóttir and her husband, Gunnar Jóhannsson, who hosted the workshop and afterwards treated the team to a feast of locally caught fish.

Our host at Hveravík, Kristín Einarsdóttir, talking about gardening with Veera Kinnunen, Helga Ögmundardóttir and JoAnn Conrad. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.
Håkan Jönsson and Valdimar Tr. Hafstein inspecting the geothermally heated greenhouse at Hveravík. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.

After a refreshing overnight stay at Malarhorn in Drangsnes, close by Hveravík, the group visited the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík and got breakfast at their restaurant/café while museum director Anna Björg Þórarinsdóttir told us the story of the museum and its ties to local folklore from Strandir.

Áki Guðni Karlsson and Viggó Þór Marteinsson listening to museum director Anna Björg Þórarinsdóttir. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.

After a quick tour of the museum where we learned about the intrigues of the 17th century witch craze in Iceland and discussed similarities and differences with events in other Nordic countries, it was time to hit the road and drive to Bjarnarhöfn in Snæfellsnes.

Eysteinn Ari Bragason and Veera Kinnunen at Hólmavík. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.

After a short lunch stop at Stykkishólmur, where we met up with filmmaker Áslaug Einarsdóttir, the group travelled to Bjarnarhöfn where greenland shark is processed in the traditional manner and a picturesque shark museum has been created. We were received by brothers Guðjón Hildibrandsson and Kristján Hildibrandsson who walked us through the process of making traditional hákarl from the greenland or basking shark. Microbiologist Viggó Þór Marteinsson is currently researching the transformation that occurs in the shark meat, which is poisonous in its fresh state, but is cured by a variety of microbes, making it both safe to eat and highly palatable.

Martin Skrydstrup commenting on the difference between hákarl and gamle ole cheese to Jón Þór Pétursson, with Bryndís Eva Birgisdóttir in the background. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.
Guðjón Hildibrandsson at the building where the pieces of shark meat are hung for drying after curing. During this time the meat develops a protective outer layer and gradually firms up until it reaches the desired texture. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.

After our visit to Bjarnarhöfn the team travelled to the Blue lagoon on Reykjanesskagi, where a pool and spa have been developed around a silica-rich salty geothermal lake, and immersed in the silicabacter that has been confirmed as the dominant species in the lagoon. After a luxurious dinner at the Blue lagoon restaurant, we headed to Garður at the end of Reykjanesskagi, where we visited one of the youngest craft breweries in Iceland, Litla brugghúsið, and sampled their products, while master brewer Davíð Ásgeirsson explained the brewing process, the different strains of yeast used, and how they react to different temperatures, times and types of sugar.

Viggó Þór Marteinsson tasting the kveik yeast used for brewing at Litla brugghúsið in Garður. Photo by Birgitta Vinkka.

While the program was intensive and tightly packed, the workshops and visits we had during these three days turned out to be highly stimulating, inspiring in-depth discussions on the links between probiotic food and health, and the myriad different ways we interact with microbes in our environment and in our food. It also gave us a unique opportunity to touch, smell and taste the microbes involved in traditional food production as an international and interdisciplinary team, prompting lively comparisons based on wide-ranging experience and scientific knowledge.

On behalf of the project team we wish to thank all of the people who participated for making this the best roadtrip ever!