Radical Fare: Episode 3- Bacon Flavoured Seaweed Could Save The Whales

Bacon has a lot of cultural currency in the Western World, a symbol of all that is indulgent and delicious, a food of hedonistic rebels who do (and eat) what they please. Whales also carry symbolic weight, representing all that is wild, majestic and worth saving in nature as we wade through the early throes of ecological breakdown. So it was probably only a matter of time before some researchers thought to use one to help the other.

“The world revolves around sex and bacon,” quipped a member of the research team at the University of Oregon that developed a bacon flavoured dulse seaweed variety in 2016. To harness bacon's appeal to promote a resource, seaweed, that can sequester fourteen  times more carbon per acre than a tropical rainforest and create closed-loop agricultural systems that use the waste of other organisms and industry to produce nutritious food and biofuel...well, that might just save the oceans, and with it all those beautiful whales.

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Truth be told, the 'bacon' dulse was a bit of a gimmick. Yes, it has a smoky profile and chewy texture more like meat than veg, but it has to be seasoned and deep fried to really get full bacony goodness which diminishes its healthy aspects. Luckily edible dulse product development has moved light years since 2016. Rice puree with dulse air-puffed to a crispy snack, Cracker Jack-inspired dulse peanut brittle, dulse-sesame salad dressing, and dried dulse strips paired with peat heavy single malt scotches are but a few ways a modern foodie can enjoy this healthy, sustainable, ancient treat.

Harvested since Neolithic times in parts of France and still eaten today, seaweed has even been used historically in Denmark to make waterproof roofs that last centuries. It is prominent in the cuisines of China, Korea, and Japan, where it is farmed extensively. Rongchen, China, a major seaweed producing center, has an annual output of 500,000 tonnes of kelp, valued at 2 billion yuan, or 400,440,000 dollars Canadian. These countries are the established large scale producers, while countries like Sweden and the Faroe Islands are pioneering their own innovative seaweed industries.

The idea of a carbon negative food source which can also make fuel with no inputs (fresh water, fertilizer, etc.) is very appealing to a younger generation increasingly concerned about the world they will inherit. American seaweed pioneer and former fisherman Bren Smith says that a network of vertical seaweed farms the size of Washington state could technically feed the world and that just one acre farmed this way could produce 2000 gallons of biofuel. Smith includes several other species like oysters to improve productivity and create a functioning ecosystem somewhat like an artificial reef. He calls kelp, which sequesters 5 times more carbon than land plants, The Sequoia of the Sea.

Others call kelp the 'new kale'.High in zinc, iron, potassium, magnesium, iodine, and vitamins A and B, kelp also contains enough protein to make it valuable in a world attempting to wean off factory farmed meat. In fact many credit its popularity in Japan to the spread of Buddhism 1300 years ago, which advises a vegetarian diet. It's low cal and imparts a umami flavour in food, prominent in the staple Japanese soup stock dashi. The kombu seaweed used for dashi can also be used to make beer. Seaweed Salt Cheetos are a popular snack in Japan.

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Further decarbonizing benefits of seaweed include its use as both livestock feed which can replace grain and as a natural fertilizer. This helps land-based agriculture in its own battle to become more sustainable. What's really nuts is that seaweed actually grows faster in higher carbon concentrations and thus is being used, again in Japan, to harness the carbon outputs of thermal power plants to grow giant seaweed to use as biofuel for the plants. The potential of seaweed in closed loop systems like this and in multitrophic ( different types of feeders recycling each other's waste) farms is truly revolutionary. These farms are resistant to catastrophic weather events, an advantage in a climate becoming more extreme.

Creating industry through cultivating seaweed, even better in closed loop systems which amplify its carbon munching benefits, is a viable option for struggling rural Newfoundland communities. For the avid forager, opportunities are equally present. Remember to pick seaweed still fastened to its moorings, not the fronds which wash up to shore, and make sure you are far away from sewage drainage points and other pollutants. Though relatively safe, get a guide book and know what you are harvesting. Or let local wildman Shawn Dawson do the foraging for you and visit him at the Farmers’ Market. So Kee Chinese Grocery on Duckworth also carries a variety of seaweed products.

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