Imagine a plant that can be grown free of pesticides, plant food, fertilizers, deforestation and water waste. Imagine this plant is packed with nourishment and can flourish at a rapid pace by simply being seeded and left alone. Lastly, imagine that harvesting this crop meant improving the natural environment while it grew. Lucky for us, this plant already exists and is continuing to make its way into primary Western culture: Seaweed.
Seaweed is well known as a big part of Eastern cuisine in countries like China, Japan and Korea where it’s been farmed since it was discovered in the 1950s. It is filled to the brim with protein, iron, Vitamins A, B and C, and a big variety of phytochemicals (biologically active compounds found in plants). Some common forms of seaweed we eat include kelp (miso soup seaweed) and nori (sushi seaweed), and the popularity of this plant continues to filter into the US as a growing superfood. While we’ve established its health benefits, there’s another end of the spectrum of benefits to which we’re still being introduced. Seaweed is one of the few existing plant foods that can have a positive impact on the earth.
Read that again.
This plant literally improves the quality of the water in which it’s grown. Many of the threats the ocean faces today, such as ocean acidification, can be balanced and canceled out by increasing the amount of seaweed grown. It is also known to remove toxins from ocean water as it grows. Carbon dioxide is the leading cause of ocean acidification, and it can now be balanced out and mitigated through seaweed. Farming seaweed has been shown to have a negative carbon footprint, absorbing 20% more carbon dioxide than it produces, according to one World Bank study. A superfood with environmental superpowers!
As the threats to our planet are growing, alternative solutions are also on the rise. Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production activity in the world right now, and seaweed is amazingly easy to cultivate using only a line to be submerged and left to itself. For every temperature and depth of water, there is a strand of seaweed that can thrive in its environment. Some seaweed species harvested in California grow so generously, they can be harvested up to 5 or 6 times a year. A growth in the need to harvest seaweed is necessary to bring us to a place where we can start seeing results.
While we set out on our own journeys to find ways to better our planet, there are always creative solutions to doing your part-- big and small. Most of all, it all starts at the source: yourself. Checking in on your diet, rituals and daily practices to point out where these solutions can be implemented is most important. Eat more seaweed, use less plastic and see where you can start to make a mark on the bigger picture. After all, it’s not about a few people making a big change, it’s about many people making small changes that really adds up.