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How Seaweed Can Feed the World

Food
How Seaweed Can Feed the World

By Josh Chamot

Seaweed is an acquired taste, but rich in nutrients and cheap to produce, and it could replace carbon-intensive foods on menus everywhere. With that in mind, Lisette Kreischer and Marcel Schuttelaar wrote Ocean Greens, a guide to cooking with seaweed. Kreischer shared her insights on seaweed with Nexus Media, along with two of her best recipes.


What are the advantages to harvesting vegetables like seaweed from the oceans?

This little green plant can save our planet. It's a high quality source of protein, its cultivation doesn't take up agricultural land and it hardly uses any fresh water. However, as the seaweed market grows, we don't want to make the overconsumption mistakes of the past, mistakes that have caused so much destruction to our planet and harmed creatures great and small. Eating a plant-based diet can make meals so much more pleasurable, not only for people, but also, of course, for animals. Change is always in our power and now is the time to change our choices about the way we eat and produce our food.

Lisette Kreischer

With Ocean Greens, we emphasize sustainable production of seaweed. Companies like Zeewaar and The North Sea Farm Foundation in The Netherlands are showing us beautiful examples of a holistic way of producing food while respecting nature. This is what my collaborators and I also propose with The Dutch Weed Burger, a vegan burger alternative. The plant based diet has been proven very efficient when it comes to the use of precious water and agricultural land—and it produces lower CO2 emissions and has the potential to feed everybody. As the climate continues to change, as oceans warm and acidity changes, this will have a huge impact on all life that depends on the sea. We're not going to find another planet to eat off of.

Lisette Kreischer

Seaweed and sea vegetables are a big part of some cultures' diets—but not in the U.S. What's the key to getting Americans excited to eat these particular greens?

It's just such an adventurous new kid on the food block and it can make your taste buds rock!

As the environment changes and we're faced with new challenges like the growing population and rising temperatures, we have a responsibility to look at food differently from how we have the last 60 or so years. Food production has just cost too much on so many levels and because of the conditions animals endure, this is a painful subject we all have to eventually face. With such challenges, we have to start making different choices now for food production and choice. We have to start looking at nature, to work with her instead of against her.

Fortunately, there are delicious options available. Seaweed can play a big role in that transition. As a new commodity crop, it's produced in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. That is why we wrote Ocean Greens.

Lisette Kreischer

What inspired you to cook with ocean greens?

I became fascinated and intrigued with food when I was 10 years old. At about that time, I developed a conscious mind and noticed how food impacts everything—starting with the animal that used to be on my plate every night.

But it didn't stop there. Not long after, I took a closer look at everything I ate. I had to know what was hidden behind my daily food intake: what was in it, how it was made, where it came from. The more I learned about the background story of my food, the more I felt the need to change. The fact that a living animal lived—and died—solely to feed me did not feel right. As a result, I quit eating animal-based products. Soon afterwards, I discovered the diversity and variety within the plant kingdom. I got excited about plants, nuts, grains and legumes. Not only did I enjoy the taste, I also liked the way it made me feel: healthy.

Lisette Kreischer

I refocused towards those positive feelings and developed a sense of passion, excitement and joy for food, which I had not felt before. I started to bake pies without eggs, French stew without meat—but with lots of wine—and tuna salad without tuna. Cozy and Burgundian, I relished it!

After that transition, people were constantly asking me, "So … What do you actually eat?" The simple answer is I fell in love with this wonderful, colorful, diverse, plant-based kitchen. It helped me learn about my body and strengthened my immune system and it enriched my taste buds. The extensive variety of herbs, greens, nuts, grains, fruits and superfoods gave my creativity an amazing boost. But there was something missing. I noticed that however great my story about the vegan kitchen was, people appeared to be so afraid of it. Afraid to not get enough protein, afraid to change what they have been doing for so long. Afraid to lose something.

The answer was seaweed and my connection with Roos Rutjes. He and I found each other through our mutual love for sustainability and the plant-based kitchen. In 2006, we were both studying at the Styling-Academy in Amsterdam and our partnership blossomed into an eco-fabulous lifestyle agency, Veggie in Pumps, with the motto: "Enjoying in style with respect for people, animals and nature." To this day, this is still our guide.

Lisette Kreischer

Inspired by a beautiful and impressive lecture from ocean protector Dos Winkel, we began a mission to make the plant-based kitchen—and seaweed—more appealing to the masses. Winkel's message was that the ocean is dying. The beautiful closed-loop system that supports our lives is falling apart and he called on us to stop eating fish and discover plant foods from the ocean. It was a real lightbulb moment. The plant-based kitchen, enhanced with seaweed, could be an answer to big global challenges and create a way of more equally dividing food resources. And, such a kitchen is very effective in using natural sources, cuts out a lot of animal suffering—hopefully all of it—and provides tremendous support to the human body, especially the protein, iron and calcium from seaweed.

Then in 2012, my good friend Mark Kulsdom and I developed the Dutch Weed Burger, a 100 percent plant-based burger enriched with seaweed. The burger came out of a documentary we produced in New York City and the combination of plant power and seaweed turned out to be a huge success. Roos and I saw a huge possibility from this: Because of our love for all those beautiful nuts, grains, legumes, seeds, vegetables, fruit, herbs and algae that are around, we started to long for making a beautiful book about algae and seaweeds.

Nice thick pancakes filled with pumpkin and layered with seaweed pesto and fresh purslane. Lisette Kreischer

We were both using seaweed more and eating a lot of Dutch Weed Burgers of course, so we felt it was time to take it up another level. After a lot of experimentation in the kitchen and taste tests with seaweed, we knew that we had to make a cookbook filled with delicious recipes that would subtly introduce readers to unique kinds of algae and seaweeds. In a powerful meeting with Marcel Schuttelaar and Koen van Swam of the North Sea Farm, we developed a way to combine our vision with scientific knowledge from their side and I got to pull together my first book of food photography: Ocean Greens was born.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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