Would you care for some jellyfish with a side of sea asparagus?
Written by Sofia Perez
Edited by Ayla Sage
In the face of a changing climate and with the threat of more change to come in the future, we are slowly but surely learning, sometimes out of curiosity and often out of necessity: We need to adapt to changing weather patterns and food supplies; We need to adapt to rising sea levels; We need to adapt to changing migratory patterns. Now a highly contentious topic after the release of Netflix’s Seaspiracy, another lesson is tacked on to the end of our societal to-do list: We need to stop eating seafood. But the question few are asking is about the flaw in the word itself. If there were such a word as ‘landfood’, would our minds go straight to hamburgers, rotisserie chicken, and turkey on Thanksgiving? No. Similarly, ‘seafood’ can mean so much more than just fish, and to some, it already does.
With the world population projected to approach 10 billion within the next thirty years, it is crucial that society solve one essential problem soon: creating enough affordable and nutritious food for everyone. Currently, 11% of the world’s land area is used for crop production (3% of the entire globe’s surface), yet population growth and climate change are repeatedly proving that current agricultural systems are not environmentally nor socially practical in the long run. With the farming of the following ‘ocean vegetables’ in the sea (70% of the earth’s surface), agriculture can adapt to feed more people at a lower cost without using toxic chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
|Seagrass Zostera marina||Potentially the future rice of the sea|
|Sea Asparagus Salicornia||Salicornia Risotto|
|Agar Made from red algae Gelidium & Gracilaria||Dark chocolate and orange ganache, orange parfait and cocoa nib tuile|
In addition to ocean vegetables, seaweed offers a promising alternative to various land-based crops. Renowned for its umami flavor and unique mouthfeel, the estimated value of the seaweed industry is $6 billion a year and is expected to double. Useful for a wide range of products and recipes, it has become extremely popular in Asian countries and is growing in popularity among Western nations.
Another possible solution to the growing strain being placed on aquaculture facilities and land-based agriculture is the harvesting of jellyfish. While having been consumed for millenia in Asian traditions, these watery medusas are still novel to Western cuisine. Nonetheless, they have a similar salty taste to oysters and if approved for market, could mitigate overexploitation of fisheries.
Less watery species such as Rhizostoma pulmo and Cotylorhiza tuberculate offer omega 3- and 6- fatty acids which aid antioxidant activity. Furthermore, collagen, one of jellyfish’s primary compounds, aids antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and when digested, can produce several small peptides that can provide anti-arthritic properties.
Currently jellyfish cultivation isn’t yet possible, as the traditional drying process involves a toxic compound called alum, but hopefully with pressure to patent a safer method, this will soon become a new ingredient in Western dishes.
‘Landfood’ in the Sea
In addition to food that is naturally found in the sea, another innovation to look forward to is the growth of land-based crops on the ocean surface and floor. The Nemo’s Garden Project has been crucial to the development of this concept. The first experiment of growing food underwater was in 2012, when a green basil plant grew in an anchored biosphere at the bottom of the sea in Italy. Gradually this project expanded, and in 2019 the focus became not only about re-establishing the habitat, but making it “even stronger and more auto-sustainable than ever”.
The benefits of this system are that it allows for crops to be grown without using pesticides and through more efficient water management, in which crops must only be watered at the beginning when they are starting to grow. Because this is difficult for land-based agriculture, especially in harsh climates, Nemo’s Garden offers a promising alternative to be considered for future use. Nevertheless, more research is needed to ascertain the right levels of water necessary and to assess the limits of what can be grown.
While the contentious topic of ‘sustainable’ seafood might evoke repulsion and even despair in today’s political climate, there is still hope that the sea might have more on its menu than we think. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll all be eating jellyfish instead of oyster and seaweed instead of kale.
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