Wednesday 31 August 2016

Eat yer algae - it's good for you.

At the beginning of the Summer, I was walking the beach with Dau.II and Young Bolivar at Kilfarrassy on the Waterford Coast when we met a mother and daughter from the Home Education Network. Dau.II was entirely recognisable although all grown up. We stopped and chatted about the best beaches along the coast and what to do there.  It seems that while I'm scavenging fish-boxes, buoys and old rope, more civilized, or hungrier, folks are scavenging sea weed and the other family had recently been on seaweed gathering workshop with Marie Power, director [-and-sole-employee?] of The Sea Gardener.  Seems that these seaweed-pushing workshops and talks and events have been going for nearly ten years.

Fast forw to last week when Marie Power re-surfaced in the Home Ed Network [aka, in this instance, chatting to my pal Russ] at the same time as Dau.I was visiting from England. Both my girls are in the catering trade but Dau.I is of the vegetarian persuasion and is currently a Dinner Lady in a primary school outside of Stroud. It's a bit complicated but the Woowah Veggie Café where she used to work got the contract to serve healthy food to the kids instead of p'ison like chips and pizza; and Dau.I got a job in the country. ANNyway, she cares about food and the politics or food and Marie was looking for people who'd be on the same wavelength.  Seaweed isn't meat after all.  It was arranged that they'd meet in a seafront café in Tramore and compare notes.

Apart from some talk and comparing-of-notes, Dau.I came away with an Almond & Orange Bar . . . with seaweed. The seaweed was honestly in smaller type because organic seaweed mix is only 6% of the ingredients by weight. Here's the whole Table of Contents:
  • wholegrains (rolled oats, wholewheat flour, wheatgerm), free range eggs, grapejuice concentrate, milled organic seeds (flax, hemp, sunflower & pumpkin), butter, organic seaweed mix (6%) (sweet kelp, dilsk, sleabhcan), flaked almonds (6%), coconut, raisins, dark chocolate (unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa, butter, soy lecithin, natural vanilla) orange juice, orange oil (2.2%). allergens in bold print.
    That's 20 ! ingredients, more or less, depending on how you count/bundle them.
Dang those bracketted ingredients! Is it even legal? If flax Linum usitatissimum, hemp Cannabis sativa, sunflower Helianthus annuus and pumpkin Cucurbita pepo were treated as separate ingredients, then butter would float to the top. And there is butter again as part of the dark chocolate; if the ingredient list means anything at all, surely they should be bundled together?  And note the Latin name for hemp and ask what is the difference between this product and the hash brownies of the flower-power 1960s.

The seaweeds (all Irish and organic) are
  • sweet kelp Laminaria saccharina is the new kale as we found with Bren Smith and his vertical sea-farm in Long Island Sound.
  • dilsk Palmaria palmata, aka dulse, dillisk, duileasc, red dulse, sea lettuce flakes, or creathnach
  • sleabhcán - it's hard to discover the Latin/Linnean binomer for this is because  "sleabhcán latin" is a googlewhack. Heck, google doesn't even offer an image for sleabhcan. I think it's the same as laver Porphyra umbilicalis perhaps more familiar from the other side of the world as nori which come to the market as green sheets with which you wrap up sushi. The Welsh make bara lafwr = laver-bread with it. More info here including this memorable (and TMI!) quote somewhat resemble the byproduct of a seal’s hayfever upon the rocks. Any algologist is invited to share their expertise in the comments.
But the proof of the pudding almond & orange bar is in the eating and we shared the 45g bar among 6 people to see what they thought. I guess, in the back of many of the tasters minds was Bob's Famous Flapjacks a bar with only 5 ingredients - 6 if you include the optional pinch of cinnamon and costing about €2/kg. The A&O-bar verdict was "sort of like a tea-brack but drier" certainly not over-sweet and with some substance to it: chewy, like.  It's hard to know when you're meant to eat it though: is it a between-meals snack, a robust dessert or something you'd have with a cup of tea? You can buy these bars direct from The Sea Gardener at €10/4 bars. that's about 5c/g or a fabulous €55.50/kg. But the Supervalu in Tramore is selling the bars, as a local product, at €2 a pop, which is only €44/kg.  That's a LOT of health. I hope that enough are sold to keep Sea Kitchen on the road. For me empowerment and education are the real value of Sea Gardener - you can find simple edible food for free on the sea-shore that will diversify your diet and help your children engage with the food that they eat.

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