What if we used the ocean not just as a playground or something from which we extract resources, but rather like a garden that can be sustainably harvested?


Cole Meeker and Anastasia Emmons, the founders of The Great and Wonderful Sea of Change Trading Co., a company that makes seaweed-based snacks, certainly see the ocean that way. Seaweed is an infinitely nourishing gift from the seas, one that we don't always fully appreciate. In the following section of Dark Rye, we highlight seaweed's many uses and its many wonderful qualities. We also talk about changes in the ocean and how they're affecting us. As de facto stewards of the environment, we have a choice. If we treat the oceans poorly, we'll struggle. If we treat them well, we'll thrive.

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By Neal Pollack


Changes in our oceans mean that certain kinds of marine animals are declining. But seaweed is more plentiful than ever.


Seaweeds are essentially marine algae; though we've documented thousands of known varieties, we only tend to eat a half dozen or so in significant amounts. Rich in calcium, magnesium and iodine, as well as many other vitamins and minerals, seaweed is going to become an important source of nutrition in the years to come. Here's a quick guide to our best-known seaweedy friends.

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Arame

Sweet and mild, this native southern Pacific seaweed is usually packaged sun-dried and shredded. Great on top of salads or cooked vegetables.


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Dulse

Naturally occurring in cold waters, like off the coast of Maine, this delicious red seaweed that's full of B vitamins is great in soups, fried, on sandwiches, or even as a soft, chewy stand-alone snack.


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Kombu

Often sold in broad sheets, kombu is most often used to flavor soups, or in tea, or in its namesake fermented drink, kombucha. It can be eaten on its own, although it tends to have a leathery texture.


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Nori

A good source of protein and the basis for most stand-alone salted seaweed snacks, nori is the most commonly eaten type of seaweed in the United States because of its use in sushi recipes. It can also be eaten as part of a soy-flavored paste.


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Sea Lettuce

Also known as green laver or Ulva, sea lettuce grows in most climates, though better in colder waters. It can keep up to six months without losing its flavor and is often deployed in seaweed salad at restaurants and at the Whole Foods Market® take-out counter.


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Wakame

A vitamin-rich brown seaweed that has been the staple of the Japanese and Korean diets for centuries, wakame gained popularity in the United States during the macrobiotic movement of the '70s. On the negative side, it behaves like an actual weed and is considered one of the world's 100 most invasive species. Looks like we'd better start eating a lot more of it.

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Neal Pollack is the award-winning author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestselling memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, and the "yoga mysteries" Downward-Facing Death and Open Your Heart. He's contributed to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ, Yoga Journal, Men's Journal, Slate, and Salon, and is a 3-time Jeopardy! champion.


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Seaweed Scrub for Body and Face

A lovely alternative to seed-based scrubs and microbeads that damage the environment. Suitable for face and body.

INGREDIENTS

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  • ¼ cup ground almond meal
  • ¼ cup ground organic oats
  • ¼ cup bentonite clay
  • ¼ cup ground seaweed or organic kelp powder
  • 5 drop essential oils (see below for benefits and options)

METHOD

Use a coffee grinder or blender to grind up your almond meal, oats and clay. The almonds should be ground to a fine meal, and the oats can be ground to a consistency that is suitable for your skin needs (coarse for a good scrub; finer if you want a milder scrub or face mask).

Mix the almond meal, oats, clay and seaweed, and place in a glass or porcelain bowl or jar. At this point, you can add in essential oils to improve the smell of your scrub. Seaweed smells like the sea, and if you're not into that smell on your face, add in essential oils with skin benefits:

Geranium Rose: Balances oil production and helps remove oil from clogged pores
Sweet Orange: Soothing for acne prone skin and a tonic for mature skin
Lavender: Tones and revitalizes problem skin
Tea Tree Oil: Balances oil production and helps prevent breakouts
Lemongrass: Helps your skin glow while also detoxifying

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To use, mix a small amount of the powder with filtered water in a bowl to create a paste. Next you can apply the paste to your face or body prior to getting into the shower. Scrub as you apply and rinse in the shower or sink.

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Rejuvenating Seaweed Facial Mask

This mask is detoxifying and rejuvenating!

INGREDIENTS

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  • 2 teaspoons sea kelp powder
  • 2 teaspoons green clay, rose clay or any fine facial clay
  • 1 teaspoon bentonite clay
  • 1 teaspoon vitamin C powder
  • ¼ cup spring water, warmed
  • 1 tablespoon aloe juice or gel (gel gives a thicker consistency)
  • 1 tablespoon organic raw honey (If you prefer not to use honey, simply add more water or aloe)
  • 5 drop essential oils

METHOD

Place the sea kelp, clay and vitamin C powder into a small glass or porcelain bowl or jar; add warm spring water and mix.

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Add aloe juice and honey, and stir until well mixed. Mix in essential oils to mask the scent of the sea kelp. Add more water or clay as needed to reach your desired consistency. Apply the seaweed mask to your face, leave on for up to 20 minutes and then rinse off with warm water and a soft cloth. Use this seaweed mask for up to twice a month as part of your typical skin care routine.

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Sticky Brown Rice with Seaweed Spice

Serves 4

This easy dish is both exotically flavored and wonderfully comforting. We suggest making about eight large balls or mounds of rice, or 16 smaller one-bite ones. But you can also simply serve the rice in a bowl sprinkled with the spice mix.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  • ½ cup reduced-fat coconut milk
  • Pinch fine sea salt (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon dulse flakes
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

METHOD

Combine rice, coconut milk, 1 1/2 cups water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir and cover; lower heat and simmer until rice is very soft and water has evaporated, 45 to 50 minutes. Set aside, covered, 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine dulse, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chili powder and ginger in a bowl.

Transfer rice to a plate; when still warm but cool enough to handle, form into balls with dampened hands or scoop up with an ice cream scoop. If forming balls by hand, roll them in the dulse mixture until coated; if using an ice cream scoop, place rice mounds on a plate and sprinkle them generously with the mixture.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Seaweed Salad with Fresh Herbs and Chile

Serves 4

The fresh, bright flavor of this salad is a great way to introduce newbies to the wonders of seaweed. We suggest using a popular Southeast Asian combination of mint, basil and cilantro in the salad, but even using two of these varieties will give the salad complex flavor.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ounce wakame seaweed or other tender seaweed
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 Thai chile, seeded and minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons coconut aminos (optional)
  • ½ sliced mint leaves
  • ½ cup sliced basil leaves
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro

METHOD

Place seaweed into a large bowl. Add cold water to cover and let soak until tender, about 10 minutes.

Drain well, pressing down to extract as much water as possible and pat dry.

Meanwhile, combine vinegar, shallot, chile, ginger and coconut aminos in a large bowl. Add seaweed, mint, basil and cilantro, and toss to coat.

Spicy Seaweed Salad with Brown Rice and Salmon

Serves 4-6

This flavorful meal features some of our favorite wholesome ingredients: seaweed, salmon and whole grain brown rice.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 ½ ounces mixed dried seaweeds, (such as wakame, arame or dulse)
  • 3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chili-garlic paste
  • 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons expeller-pressed canola oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) pieces salmon fillet
  • ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt

METHOD

Put rice and 2 cups of water in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer until liquid is completely absorbed and rice is just tender, about 40 minutes.

Set covered pot aside off of the heat for 10 minutes then uncover and fluff rice with a fork.

Meanwhile, place seaweed in a large bowl and fill the bowl with cold water. Soak until the seaweed is tender, 10 to 15 minutes depending on varieties. Drain well, pressing down on the seaweed to remove excess liquid. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, agave nectar, sesame oil and chili-garlic paste. Add seaweed and toss well.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Sprinkle with green onions.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle salmon with salt and cook, turning once, until browned and just barely pink in center, about 8 minutes. Serve with rice and seaweed salad.

Nori Lunch Rolls

Serves 4

These colorful rolls are terrific on their own, or you can make them heartier by adding an ounce or two of steamed shrimp, baked tofu or smoked salmon. Just don't overload the wrap or you may find them difficult to roll.


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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ½ ounces thin rice noodles, divided
  • 8 sheets nori
  • 1 cup rehydrated hijiki or other seaweed (about ½ cup dried)
  • 1 cup finely chopped kale leaves
  • ½ cup shredded carrot
  • ½ cup shredded cabbage
  • ½ cup shredded radish
  • ⅓ cup sliced mint leaves
  • ⅓ cup sliced basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (white or black or a mix of both)
  • Low-sodium soy sauce, for serving (optional)

METHOD

Cook noodles according to the package directions. Drain well and pat dry.

Overlap 2 nori sheets to form a rectangle that measures about 8x12 inches.

With a pastry brush dipped in water, brush the underside of the top sheet where it overlaps and press down to seal the 2 together. Leaving a 1-inch border all around the edges, cover the bottom third of the longer side of the sheet with a quarter of the noodles, hijiki, kale, carrot, cabbage, radish, mint and basil. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Fold in the sides of the wrap and firmly roll it up as you would a burrito. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, making 4 rolls.

Serve immediately with soy sauce, if using, or wrap securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

See more great recipes at wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes

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By Neal Pollack


Above my head, at the entrance to the main exhibit hall at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, hundreds of sardines, fleshy, plump and happily alive, whip around in a circular tank, a living memory of what the oceans used to be like.


Outside, in Monterey Bay itself, they're not quite as plentiful. In fact, they're basically absent.

This is supposed to be an El Niño year, which generally means warm water and high winds in the oceans around Monterey. The water is definitely warmer this year, but the winds are basically absent. Regardless, anchovies, which prefer warmer waters, have replaced the sardines, which tend toward colder climates.

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Sardines are bigger and fatter, and provide more nutrients for a greater number of animals. The sardines are migrating further and further north. If temperatures keep rising in the bay, it's possible that they might not return.

I look up at the sardines and find myself wishing for a world where they could thrive normally. But that world no longer exists. Sarah-Mae Nelson, the "climate change interpretive specialist" for the aquarium, is standing next to me.


"We're running a gigantic experiment on the planet," she says, "and we don't know what's going to happen."


The Earth and the atmosphere, in many ways, resemble a set of lungs. The oceans cover 72% of the Earth's surface and are breathing in ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. This is irrevocably transforming their composition. "We are engaged in the world's biggest chemistry experiment," says George Leonard, chief scientist at the Ocean Conservancy. "Carbon is having a number of impacts on ocean health." As we continue to burn fossil fuels at an unsustainable rate, there's no way to avoid the fact that the seas are changing.

These changes are numerous and also difficult to track and predict. But they can be divided into a few major categories.

Acidification

As carbon dioxide dissolves into ocean waters, it forms carbonic acid, increasing the water's pH levels and decreasing the amount of calcium carbonate. Since that's what mollusks use to build their shells, it's having staggering impacts on oyster populations. It's also, Leonard says, having all kinds of other bizarre and varied effects. Clownfish can't hear their predators as well in acidified waters. Animals that use sonar to communicate are also affected. "It's a big threat to what lives and what can live in the sea," says Carl Safina, founder of the Safina Center, a vital organization in promoting conservation of the oceans.

Increased Temperatures

"Fish are on the move now," Leonard says. Every ocean species has a temperature range in which they can survive, and as waters warm around the planet, many of them are migrating closer and closer to the poles. Some are moving to deeper waters. Lobsters, like conscientious objectors, are moving north to Canada. This means that fishermen are moving north to catch them, and it's leading to territorial disputes, Leonard says: "It's creating all kinds of social conflicts that the management regimes are incapable of dealing with."

Pollution

As an outgrowth of our increased carbon production, the oceans are now filling up with plastic. Aquatic species get caught in plastic, and they eat it because they think it's food. Geologists are even finding sedimentary rocks that have plastic baked into their chemical composition. "It's hard to say exactly how big a problem this is because many animals killed by pollution aren't found by people," Carl Safina says. "But from the ones that are found, we know it's a huge problem."


But despite the fact that the change in our seas seems, and in fact may be, irreversible, that's not a reason to give up. "Humans do figure stuff out," says Paul Greenberg, author of several books about the seafood industry. "I do believe that alarms need to be sounded, but I also believe that humans will not go down without a fight. Many things will be attempted."


We can scoop plastic out of the oceans. We can develop sustainable aquaculture. Most importantly, we can decrease our production of carbon and stop the transformation of our atmosphere.


"I'm not hopeless," Sarah-Mae Nelson tells me at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "There are a lot of really motivated people who want to do things differently."

She takes me outside. We stand on a deck overlooking Monterey Bay. Thirty years ago, the bay was basically dead, devastated by the fishing industry immortalized by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row. Then the region's leaders, including the aquarium, decided the bay was worth preserving. Steps were taken.

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Now, dozens of tourists are gazing out at the water, where they can see, with the naked eye, the spouts and fins of humpback whales. Ironically, humpbacks feed on anchovies. The new, warm, slightly acidic Monterey Bay has been fertile for them so far. Nelson says there are up to 10 humpbacks living in the bay this summer.

"A few years ago, we started seeing blue whales here," Nelson said. "It's not uncommon for hundreds of dolphins to swim by. Every day I come out and watch some incredible animal because we made the choice to protect them, to give them space."

Human beings are the dominant species on the planet, but with that dominance comes a unique opportunity. Our behavior has changed the seas. But we also have the opportunity to save them.

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Neal Pollack is the award-winning author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestselling memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, and the "yoga mysteries" Downward-Facing Death and Open Your Heart. He's contributed to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ, Yoga Journal, Men's Journal, Slate, and Salon, and is a 3-time Jeopardy! champion.



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