Sustainability seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days. But what does it taste like, exactly? Off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, one environmentally-conscience entrepreneur is giving eager adventurers an opportunity to find out.
Meet Dave Lacey: outdoorsman, steward of the sea, and owner of South Coast Tours — a modest-sized outfitter based out of Gold Beach, Oregon. Although he happily provides trendier activities such as surfing and stand up paddleboarding, his ocean kayak tours go further highlighting his true passion: preservation. Ocean waters have historically been overfished and Lacey wants the public to know that you can enjoy its edible bounty without threatening this fragile ecosystem.
“Orford Heads State Park is an amazing headland protected by the state of Oregon,” says Lacey of the majestic, craggy coastal setting of his kayak tours. “We are supporters of conservation measures like marine reserves [such as Orford]. The hopes are, if we protect some important ecological areas from extraction they will become so prolific that the organisms will spill out into the rest of the ocean helping to seed and provide healthy populations.”
While some pockets of sea life require decades to sustainably harvest, ocean-based vegetation is always ripe for the picking, and often overlooked. “Sea foraging does not seem to be a growing trend as far as I can tell,” Lacey observes. But his tours are working to change that, focusing on the bounty of floatable fauna just off Oregon’s dramatic shoreline.
Although there are no poisonous species of ocean vegetation, some taste markedly better than others. “The types of kelp that we typically see are sea palm, sea lettuce, bull kelp, feather boa, and purple laver,” says Lacey. “All are edible and good when prepared in different ways. Raw is usually a good option, but some are better dried or cooked.”
When wet, seaweed’s slimy texture can seem strange at first. All it takes is a few nibbles to get hooked. Certain varieties offer unexpected savory notes to balance out surrounding salinity. Some even evoke umami tones, familiar to sushi and other Japanese-inspired cuisine.
Up north in Portland, a spate of high-profile chefs are incorporating the practice into their cuisine. At Nomad.PDX, chef Ryan Fox and his team make frequent missions to the sea, returning to their kitchen to experiment with all manner of hand-picked maritime ingredients. They appear frequently on the restaurant’s ever-rotating menu.
But thanks to the city’s DIY vibe, many residents feel empowered to give foraging a go on their own. For those looking to take the plunge, Wildcraft Studio School offers workshops on seaweed harvesting, and similar classes abound on the West Coast, ranging from several hours to several days. Wildcraft’s six-hour class introduces students to 10 species of coastal flora, culminating in a demo where you prepare your own seaweed salad.
Give someone kelp, and you can feed them for a day. Teach an entire generation to properly sea forage and you can empower an entire ecosystem. Nothing would taste sweeter than that.