Guest Contribution by Jesse Orr.
The poet Mary Oliver says, “To pay attention: that is our endless and proper work.”
As an artist, I find this quote immensely reassuring, since my proper (read: “paid”) work seems constantly to be approaching its end. My income may not be steady, but least I have that endlessly renewable resource of attention to invest wherever I choose. This summer I have been lucky enough to both work as an artist and to devote my attention to something wonderful: the wild seaweed harvest.
If you want to know more about eating seaweed, there’s a great SmallScales post by Mary Weir that will get you started.
The first half of my seaweeding summer was spent in Maine, learning about a company called Ironbound Island Seaweeds, who are dedicated to the sustainable hand harvesting of a few local species. They are a tiny company in Downeast Maine whose small wooden boats occupy the same territory as dozens of lobster fishers. The harvesting season stretches from spring to fall, and they’re kept busy in the winter months by shipping dried seaweeds to health food stores, restaurants, and individual customers around the U.S.
After my stay in Maine I was lucky enough to be the artist in residence at the Roberts Street Social Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, I used all my artistic faculties to create art about seaweed. I know, I know, what does that mean? Seaweed art?
Art about seaweed means, in my case, that I created printed a zine, or a do-it-yourself book, using all my knowledge about the seaweed harvest. Art about seaweed means I shared my enthusiasm for the vegetable bounty from the sea with all those young punks and artists, students and neighbourhood passers-by who frequent the Roberts Street Social Centre (now at 2084 Creighton Street). Art about seaweed means that I put on the first ever (or first annual?) Seaweed Social, where several people gathered specifically to celebrate seaweed.
Believe it or not, we recited seaweed poetry, ate Irish moss pudding, danced to ocean-themed music, enacted kelp science experiments, and mused philosophically on past and present visions of making a living on the wild seaweed harvest.
Imagine that kind of joyful engagement, creativity and attention paid to seaweed and its natural habitat!
Imagine if all of us who pay attention to the wonders of wild food could spread that enthusiasm to the broader public? Imagine if food was more than just commodity and regained its place as a central connection between humans and the larger world. I believe we need this kind of infectious attention directed at basic needs like healthy food to thrive in the warming world we currently inhabit.
So, it is in that vein that I would like to present to you my favorite seaweed recipes and ideas in a series of guest posts. Most of the images and drawings will come from my zine, Wild Seaweeds of the North Atlantic, available for purchase from Ecology Action Centre or the Anchor Archive Zine Library.
Up next: Applications of the kelp Saccharina Longicruris to the culinary and fashion industries.
Jesse Orr is a visual artist, puppeteer, theatre designer and seasonal agricultural worker based in Montreal.