Ocean Greens: The Least Deadliest Catch

Huffington Post 6/2/15

by Bren Smith & Brendan Bashin-Sullivan

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In a food world that flips from fad superfood to superfood, an increasingly skeptical public has to ask which miracle crop has the staying power. In order to be called "the next Kale," a food has to demonstrate not only exceptional nutritional value, but positive environmental and ecological externalities, potential to meet large-scale need, and the ability to create jobs at home. Our nonprofit, GreenWave, and our farm, the Thimble Island Oyster Company, are betting that the new kale won't come from land at all, but rather, from the sea. We believe that long-underutilized seaweeds will become the basis of a new food chain.

There are more than 10,000 edible plant species in the ocean, in an impressive variety of forms, from dense sea beans to leathery kelp fronds to frilly sea lettuces. These plants have been integrated into global cuisines for generations, but are largely neglected in the developed world. The possibilities for reintroducing sea vegetables into the contemporary diet are limitless. Ocean greens boast an impressive nutritional profile. Some species pack more calcium per serving than milk, others more iron than red meat, and still others more protein than soybeans. Thimble Island's flagship crop, sugar kelp (saccharina latissima) has been adopted by chefs and food entrepreneurs nationwide; these innovators have worked to "de-sushify" seaweed, serving up kelp noodles, kelp butter, and kelp cocktails instead. Ocean's Halo released a full line of nori chips, pushing to make kelp a viable alternative to snack foods.


And the high potential of sea vegetables doesn't just lie in the kitchen. As global climate change continues to make water a scarce and expensive resource, terrestrial crops appear less and less able to meet our needs. With climatologists projecting an 80% chance of a millennium drought in the next 30 years, a feedstock with no freshwater input like sea vegetables will be critical for meeting the needs of a still-growing population.

A zero-input food has great potential to remain cost-competitive in any market, especially as growing scarcity of cropland and fresh water drive up the prices of conventional crops and feedstocks. As the price of freshwater rises, sea vegetables will become the most affordable food on the planet. Because kelp is a zero-input crop, capable of thriving even in high-nitrogen conditions that harm other species, it's one of the most sustainable foods on the planet, and one of the few edible crops that improves the health and biodiversity of its ecosystem.