The first time I took spider crabs and mussels from sea to table taught me the impact of what it means to actually lift your food from the water yourself, to kill it and cook it.
It took a long time to stop and ponder the inter-tidal zone, the area between extreme low and extreme high tides. Most of the places I surf are highly subject to tide, shutting off and turning on in a matter of minutes. For a long time I took pride in being surgical about when to be where, and rushing through the surroundings (whether it was 100m from the car or a three mile hike) to get into the sea. In this kind of mindset, everything else becomes invisible; the fringe landscape where the land meets the sea is just an access route, like the road you drove in on. Increasingly, I’ve been looking at what else connects me to the inter-tidal zone and I’ve found some answers in foraging and spearfishing. I guess my interest has gone beyond the swiftest journey into the best waves, and focuses more on trying to better understand the environment I am passionate about.
Foraging in the inter-tidal zone is an ongoing journey. It is a seasonal, regional and site-specific pursuit, itself deeply subject to the whims of the tide. For instance, in Iceland, seaweeds are safe to eat. Because they absorb nutrients with incredible efficiency, seaweeds also absorb and concentrate heavy metals toxins and other pollutants. Experts estimate that there are as many as 40 good edible seaweeds in the UK, but I only know a few, each of which has its own quirks in flavour. Studies have found edible seaweed on sale that contains arsenic, lead and cadmium. Seaweed foraging can yield sea lettuce, dulse, laver, carragheen, bladderwrack and many others. Eating seaweed can be as simple as picking (again, each species needs its own approach to repair sustainably). Collecting seaweed helps you understand the network of life floating all around you, every plant part of a web of cycles. Certainly, seaweed has an immense and under-utilised value as a human food (as many as 2 billion people are iodine deficient), but beyond that, when we see ourselves as part of a network, our attitude to the environment also starts to shift.
Looking under the surface makes this even more evident. The first time I took spider crabs and mussels from sea to table taught me the impact of what it means to actually lift your food from the water yourself, to kill it and cook it. To me, it’s not a matter of taste, it’s one of impact. I thought about every single mouthful of that meal and decided to step it up a notch.