Caring About Quiet

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Point well taken. We came to believe in the importance of efforts to reduce noise pollution while living in southern India, a noisy place indeed. Thanks to Dr. Morber for adding the soundscape to this story:

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Listening to Silence: Why We Must Protect the World’s Quiet Places

As more people push into once-remote areas, truly quiet spots — devoid of the noise of traffic or crowds of tourists — have become increasingly scarce. Now, a coalition of activists, scientists, and park officials are trying to preserve the last quiet places on the planet.

It is a frosty March morning in the Hoh Rainforest, deep within Olympic National Park in Washington state. The forest is full of Jurassic ferns, hanging moss, and towering spruce and cedars, but what I hope to find is an absence. I seek a spot known as the “One Square Inch of Silence” — one of the quietest places in the contiguous United States, free from chattering people, humming power lines, and the whoosh of cars. Continue reading

Marine Biodiversity and Public Health

Ocean ecosystems are rich sources of compounds used in medicine. Photo by Bob Embley/NOAA.

Life within the world’s oceans have an ineffable beauty that will always defy the limitations of our discoveries. If we ever needed reasons beyond that acknowledgement, then here are timely examples of the interconnected nature of life on earth and reasons to protect our oceans and the biodiversity within them.

The Ocean Genome Helps Fight Disease: Here’s How We Save It

The ocean plays a surprising role in fighting COVID-19. With death and infection numbers escalating daily, the World Health Organization has made it clear that countries need to do three things to successfully fight this pandemic: test, test and test.

The dramatic increase in demand for testing has drawn renewed attention to the ocean’s genetic diversity. This “ocean genome” is a rich source of anti-viral compounds. In particular, enzymes from a remarkable hydrothermal vent bacterium have been key to the technology in virus test kits, including those used to diagnose COVID-19. Similarly, a protein derived from a coral reef red alga around the Canary Islands has been valuable in the fight against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, an illness caused by a coronavirus closely related to the one responsible for COVID-19.

This renewed attention to the genetic diversity of ocean organisms also brings conservation and equity concerns — the subject of two recent research papers commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel). This research has found that multiple threats face the ocean genome, jeopardizing opportunities for new commercial and scientific uses. At the same time, there is an unbalanced relationship between low- and middle-income countries that are home to most marine biodiversity and higher-income countries, which possess the research capacity, technology, infrastructure and finances to develop marine biotechnology.

These recent papers lay out a clear list of actions that governments and marine researchers can take to safeguard the ocean genome and share its benefits equitably.

Continue reading

Immunity Boost Pep Shot

5084bce2c484b_170546bWhen Amie and I visited the Greek island of Ikaria in the autumn of 2013, it was years after we had first read about Blue Zones. We were there for work reasons, looking to identify a new location for Xandari. We learned plenty, though Xandari Ikaria never happened. Hortopita, for one. Not only spinach, but all kinds of greens, both cultivated and wild, can make a dish both healthier and more interesting than the spanakopita I had grown up with. For several weeks now, while investigating ways in which the ferias of Costa Rica might adapt to the new health protocols, and whether we might assist family farms in any way, we took a hiatus from attending the one in our town. I am happy to report that our municipality has made adjustments, and so we attended a new, smaller gathering of family farms this last week. Now that the feria is twice a week, the number of people shopping at either one is effectively halved.

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b6cbd244-7cad-4258-bd6a-7293eb55a5b4I bought beets and broccoli and various greens from the stall above a few days ago with no other shopper in close proximity. Good start. And plenty of other distancing measures in place, plus an abundance of soap and sinks and disinfectant sprays at every place where you can enter or exit the feria. Also good. But we remain convinced that a new social enterprise might help these farmers, and shoppers, more. And for that, our kitchen has been a laboratory for generating ideas, with various reading materials to assist. The Blue Zones Kitchen has been especially helpful.

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While the “it” social enterprise is elusive, the meals have been nutritious and tasty. This experimentation has converged with my coffee tests, and my 3-year near-obsession with how to bring Maya nut to a wider audience, so this is what I will report on today.

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I have been combining a couple Blue Zones products with slow brew coffee, thinking of a drink that can add pep to the day and at the same time add other value, nutritional and otherwise. Honey is part of the recipe for its antioxidant properties as much as its sweetness. And the ojoche (aka Maya nut) to the left in the image above is there for its own nutritional reasons, which will require a post of its own.

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But to get this drink just right, sweetly combining pep + immunity, the ingredient that comes from our feria is the magic touch.

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Turmeric became an important part of our diet while living in India. And so it came to be again last month when, just prior to the closure of Costa Rica’s borders, a friend from India visited us. He is a medical doctor, not prone to folk remedies, but under the circumstances we all found ourselves suddenly in, looking for ways to boost our bodies’ immunities–he recommended something simple to us: have some turmeric every day. He specifically recommended combining it with milk, honey and freshly ground black peppercorn. Which we started doing, immediately. And day after day, one thing led to another. So now we have a slow brew coffee with these ingredients, plus some ojoche for good measure.

In Costa Rica, With Rwanda On My Mind

In Costa Rica, where tourism has been shut down and our own business interests completely on hold, I have resilience of family farms on my mind, which may seem quite a narrow focus but it is my choice, for now. Even with that narrow focus, as always I enjoy stories about this little country’s contributions to the world (click above). But Costa Rica is not the only little country doing remarkable things, it just happens to be where I live and work.

Newly constructed terraces in Rwanda

Rwanda has had experience in similar health crises, managing to successfully contain Ebola from its borders in 2019

This hunger for stories about little countries and their phenomenal achievements keeps me searching for stories to share here each day. And I just found one worth sharing. BBC’s website has a story in their travel section today on what they believe will be the five most resilient economies in terms of recovery from the current combined health and economic crisis. They use the 2019 Global Resilience Index to make some baseline inferences and then share their own expert opinion on how this would translate to recovery. I was struck that Rwanda, a country I have been musing about since Seth’s field work there last year, was in their top five:

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We felt confident that the Rwandan government would handle the situation way better than in our home countries Continue reading

Ed Yong, Excellent Explainer

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A little over seven years ago the great science writer Ed Yong first came to my attention, and he has featured dozens of times in these pages ever since, never failing to enlighten me. When I saw his recent work on giraffes in the Atlantic I neglected to post it here, but I am correcting that now. It is important work, and I now know he has taken leave from his book-writing assignment from which that story is derived. He has taken leave so he can explain to us something much more pressing. I learned that in his conversation here:

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I recommend listening to him talk about reporting his most recent work, which he says is the most important work he has done to date.

New Activities For Community Developments

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This trend in real estate development is a breath of fresh air:

Taking the Golf Out of Golf Communities

Around the country, planned developments are adapting and reinventing in order to appeal to a wider range of buyers.

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Hilton Head Plantation is a gated golf community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

MacDonald Highlands is a master-planned community of less than 1,000 units in Henderson, Nev., a wealthy suburb of Las Vegas within squinting distance of the Strip. For years, its main selling point was DragonRidge Country Club, a private 18-hole golf course sculpted out of the desert foothills, with emerald fairways that wind past multi-million-dollar homes.

But lately, the property’s owner, Rich MacDonald, has had more on his mind than golf.

Mr. MacDonald opened the club in 2001, sold it in 2014 and bought it back in 2016. When he did, he said: “I wanted to make sure we have the equivalent of a cruise director. Someone who does fun things, interesting events. We’ve had to adapt quite a bit because the social aspect seems to be the main focus for new residents.”

At existing golf communities around the country, a similar story of adaptation and reinvention is playing out. Continue reading

A Chef Tests Plant-Based Meats

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Our columnist J. Kenji López-Alt making a burger at Wursthall, his restaurant in San Mateo, Calif. Peter Prato for The New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times for having a chef as a writer on these themes we care very much about:

How to Cook With Plant-Based Meats

You may have tried restaurant versions, but making them at home is another matter. J. Kenji López-Alt has tested them and offers practical advice.

SAN MATEO, Calif. — Even before opening my restaurant, Wursthall, here a couple years ago, I knew that taking vegan and vegetarian options seriously — with both traditionally vegan foods and modern meat alternatives — would be a central element of its success.

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A meatball sandwich made with Impossible meat at Wursthall. Peter Prato for The New York Times

Though sausages form the backbone of the menu, my team and I believed that people who don’t eat meat should be able to dine in mixed company without feeling that they were second-class citizens, or that their meal consisted of a series of side dishes, as they so often do at restaurants.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

For me, a food-science writer who is a chef on the side, this meant testing, and lots of it. Continue reading

Dirt Candy’s Clean Win

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The eponymous Lekka burger, featuring a patty made primarily from portobello mushrooms and cannellini beans, is topped with vegan mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles, on a house-made bun. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

After a meatless month, and a strong belief that alternatives to meat are going to dominate my eating future, my thanks to Hannah Goldfield for another clue of where to eat in New York City if my goal is a mix of meatless and tasty. This one is titled Lekka Burger and the Quest for the Perfect Veggie Patty and the subtitle is the kind of question on my mind lately: In the golden age of vegetable-centric cooking, do we need more dishes made in the image of meat?:

There has never been a better time to eat a meatless hamburger. The current surge of interest in plant-based diets has sparked an arms race of sorts. Companies such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are using cutting-edge technology to make ground-beef facsimiles that look, feel, and even smell eerily similar to the real thing; you can find their products everywhere from small restaurants to national fast-food chains and supermarkets. Meanwhile, in New York, a number of creative chefs have put serious effort into improving upon the archetype, using actual vegetables.

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The menu offers five iterations of the burger, some with globally themed toppings such as guacamole and Hatch-chili sauce or papadum and curry-tamarind ketchup, plus French fries and a few salads. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

Since 2008, the chef Amanda Cohen has been the force behind Dirt Candy, the first vegetarian restaurant to hold its own in New York’s fine-dining landscape. Cohen had never served a veggie burger before Andrea Kerzner, a South African philanthropist looking for ways to fight climate change, cold-called her to propose that they collaborate on a restaurant built around one, but she was game to try. Last November, they opened Lekka Burger, in Tribeca. Continue reading

Coffee & Caffeine, Better Understood

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Some days everything comes up roses. Today was one. This morning my scanning routine, looking for what to share here, was made easy by the image above and the headline below it: Is Coffee Good for You? Yes! But it depends on the kind of coffee and the quantity. My favorite takeaway, among many, points to the benefits of filtered coffee. Read each section and take what matters most to your coffee life.

PollanCaffeineMichael Pollan, first mentioned here in 2011, has been so frequently featured over the years it is fair to say he is one of our heroes (those links cover only part of the first year of this platform; dozens more since 2012). In a recent interview Pollan discusses his own findings related to coffee, and specifically its caffeine. The interview was promoting his new book, available in audible form. What I heard in the interview was just enough to ensure I click to the right when I have the 2+ hours to listen…

Ikaria, Blue Zones

ExoPlagiaMy mother’s best friend, before she emigrated from Greece to the USA in the 1950s, was from Ikaria. Amie and I traveled there some years after we were first exposed to the Blue Zones research. Our conclusion, from that visit, was that Ikarians live longer because they walk steep, rugged hillsides. But there is more to it than that; a concise summary of the Blue Zones concept:

For more than a decade, author Dan Buettner has been working to identify hot spots of longevity around the world. With the help of the National Geographic Society, Buettner set out to locate places that not only had high concentrations of individuals over 100 years old, but also clusters of people who had grown old without health problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes. His findings—along with easy steps you can take to live more like these cultures—can be found in his book, The Blue Zones Solution.

Now we are back living in Costa Rica, and have just taken a big step in the direction of Blue Zones, so here is where my current reading list is coming from.

Maya Nut, Superfood & Superdrink

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From the time it came to my attention in 2017, Maya nut was an obsession for a year until I learned everything that was available to learn. Between the internet and a group of anthropologists focused on Maya culture who I came to know through their work in Belize, the knowledge went from zero to overload quickly. I ordered large quantities of organic roasted, ground Maya nut and tested so many recipes that I can confirm it is a versatile ingredient to savory dishes and deserts, in addition to being a superfood.

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Continue reading

Weeds Are Not Automatically Enemies

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Credit: NPR

We missed this when it was first posted, but on this topic never too late to share:

VIDEO: Dandelions Aren’t Just Weeds. You Can Fry Them, Too

Some may think of dandelions as just unwanted weeds, but expert forager and nutritionist Debbie Naha says “a weed is just a plant growing where you don’t want it to.”

Naha loves to collect and eat dandelions when they bloom in the spring and again in early fall, when the days begin to shorten.

Some may also think of dandelions as those white puffballs whose seeds you can blow away like a candle on a birthday cake. The puffball is also considered a dandelion — it’s what the yellow flower matures into after a few days. But these aren’t especially good to eat. Continue reading

Biophilia By Any Other Name

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LUISA RIVERA FOR YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

It is surprising that neither E.O. Wilson nor his biophilia concept is mentioned here, but still it is an interesting finding. Our thanks to Jim Robbins for sharing:

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

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A park ranger leads a hike through the Kahuku unit of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. NPS PHOTO/JANICE WEI

How long does it take to get a dose of nature high enough to make people say they feel healthy and have a strong sense of well-being?

Precisely 120 minutes. Continue reading

Field of Greens

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Assembly required: Sweetgreen’s hexagonal, compostable bowls have become status markers. Rozette Rago for The New York Times

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Illustration by Gluekit; Photographs by Philip Cheung for The New York Time

It is not the first time we are linking out to a story on this company, but thanks to the New York Times for In a Burger World, Can Sweetgreen Scale Up?for a more in depth look at them.

And for that matter, for a theme we care deeply about, which is that we should all be putting more thought into the food we eat, and how it is packaged.

The market is rewarding those companies paying attention to these themes:

Squashing the competition: A worker preparing zucchini.  Rozette Rago for The New York Times

The chain that made salads chic, modular and ecologically conscious now wants to sell you a lot of other stuff.

On a Wednesday morning last fall, several executives at Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain, gathered around a conference table at their headquarters here. They were discussing a new store format, called Sweetgreen 3.0, that had recently been introduced in New York City after two years of planning. At Sweetgreen’s other 102 locations, customers brave queues that, at peak lunch, can make T.S.A. lines look tame. Up front, employees assemble Harvest Bowls, Kale Caesars and infinite customized variants from a spread of freshly prepared ingredients, in a ritual that has become a hallmark of the modern midday meal.

At 3.0, to increase efficiency, the action had been moved offstage, to a kitchen in the rear. Customers give orders to a tablet-wielding “ambassador,” if they haven’t done so ahead of time with their smartphones, retrieving their salads from alphabetized shelves. While they wait they can mull adding one of the Sweetgreen baseball caps or $37 bottles of olive oil on display to the tab.

Many of the changes being tested at 3.0 seem crucial to realizing the ambitious plans of Sweetgreen’s co-founder and chief executive, Jonathan Neman. With its prescient mobile technology strategy, the company hopes to become something bigger — much, much bigger — than a boutique urban chain serving arugula to health nuts and yoga moms. Continue reading

Therapeutic Noise

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Sedge Wren. Photo: Ben Cvengros/Audubon Photography Awards

Thanks to Audubon for pointing us in this direction:

Around the World, the Soothing Sounds of Birdsong Are Used as Therapy

The natural tunes decrease stress while possibly invigorating the mind.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Transcript:

This is BirdNote.

In a children’s hospital in Liverpool, England, the sweet sounds of birdsong carry along the hallways. It’s a recording of the dawn chorus from a nearby park, and the intent is to calm the anxious young patients…

Greening Our Daily Bread

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Strawberry picking at Restaurant de Kas, from The Garden Chef

Thanks to Phaidon for ideas, presented in snappy cookbooks, about how to green our diet:

9780714873909-620Many of us know that favouring plants and fruits over burgers and fillets is often a wise idea. Still, it’s nice to have your suspicions confirmed. This week’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods can both improve human health, and help the land around us, staving off some of the effects of climate change.

So, where does a would-be vegan, vegetarian or meat reducer (the report does allow for ‘animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-green-house-gas emission systems’) start? With our books, of course!

VeganbookThe Vegan Cookbook Author Jean-Christian Jury might be a reformed meat eater, but he doesn’t want to take the fun out of dining. “For years, my goal was to surprise non-vegans with delicious vegan recipes, to show that meat wasn’t necessary for a delicious and satisfying meal,” he says. His raw nori and vegetable rolls might look like a indulgent, Japanese-style treat, but they actually pack in plenty of sunflower seeds, avocados, and cauliflower florets. It takes about 40 minutes to make, and you don’t even have to use a cooker.

9780714878225-ph620The Garden Chef Our book on famous chefs, restaurants and their accompanying gardens features plenty of highly sustainable operation. Yet even here, Restaurant de Kas in Amesterdam, stands out. “Set in a series of greenhouses that date back to 1926 and which belong to the Amsterdam Municipal Nursery, the restaurant relies on produce from greenhouses and gardens, where it harvests vegetables, herbs, and flowers,” explains our book. “Founder, Gert Jan Hageman, is also the head gardener.”  His barbecued eggplant, with peanut vinaigrette, green curry and herbs, is a wonderful way to bring together late-summer vegetables. Want to try it? The recipe is reproduced in our book…

Read the whole story here.

Pulses Improving Life In Multiple Ways

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Chickpeas are often called by their Spanish name, garbanzos or garbanzo beans, in the United States. Inga Spence/Getty Images

Whitney Pipkin, appearing for the second time here, has another great story about healthy food with environmental benefits:

Your Hummus Habit Could Be Good For The Earth

Hummus is having a heyday with American consumers, and that could be as good for the soil as it is for our health.

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High in fiber and protein, chickpeas are playing a starring role on menus at fast-casual chains like Little Sesame in Washington, D.C., where hummus bowls abound. Chickpeas also good for soil health — and growing demand could help restore soils depleted by decades of intensive farming. Anna Meyer

Formerly relegated to the snack aisle in U.S. grocery stores, the chickpea-based dip has long starred as the smooth centerpiece of Middle Eastern meals and, increasingly, plant-based diets. Occasionally, it even doubles as dessert. Last year, Americans spent four times as much money on grocery-store hummus as they did a decade before, according to the latest consumer surveys, and a growing number of snacks and fast-casual concepts also feature the fiber- and protein-rich chickpea as their pièce de résistance.

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Anna Meyer

Part of a subcategory of legumes called pulses, chickpeas — along with lentils, dry peas and several varieties of beans — have been a critical crop and foodstuff for centuries in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The crops are so promising that the United Nations deemed 2016 the “Year of Pulses” to expand interest in these ancient foods and their potential to help solve dueling modern-day conundrums: hunger and soil depreciation. Continue reading

Free The Seed

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Today, just four giant companies control more than 60 percent of all the world’s seed sales.

 

Thanks to the New York Times for this opinion:

Save Our Food. Free the Seed.

By Dan Barber

Additional reporting and graphics by Ash Ngu. Photographs by Ruth Fremson

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Flowering curly kale, a variety called Baltisk Rod Purpurkal, being grown for seed at Fresh Roots Farm in Montana. The farm is collaborating with the Organic Seed Alliance on a toolkit for farmers who want to produce seed.

Not long ago I was sitting in a combine tractor on a 24,000-acre farm in Dazey, N.D. The expanse of the landscape — endless rows of corn and soybeans as precise as a Soviet military parade — was difficult to ignore. So were the skyscraper-tall storage silos and the phalanx of 18-wheeled trucks ready to transport the grain. And yet what held my attention were the couple of dozen seeds in my palm — the same seeds cultivated all around me.

We are told that everything begins with seed. Everything ends with it, too. As a chef I can tell you that your meal will be incalculably more delicious if I’m cooking with good ingredients. But until that afternoon I’d rarely considered how seed influences — determines, really — not only the beginning and the end of the food chain, but also every link in between.

The tens of thousands of rows surrounding me owed their brigade-like uniformity to the operating instructions embedded in the seed. That uniformity allows for large-scale monoculture, which in turn determines the size and model of the combine tractor needed to efficiently harvest such a load. (“Six hundred horsepower — needs a half-mile just to turn her around,” joked the farmer sitting next to me.) Satellite information, beamed into the tractor’s computer, makes it possible to farm such an expanse with scientific precision.

The type of seed also dictates the fertilizer, pesticide and fungicide regimen, sold by the same company as part of the package, requiring a particular planter and sprayer (40 feet and 140 feet wide, respectively) and producing a per-acre yield that is startling, and startlingly easy to predict.

It is as if the seed is a toy that comes with a mile-long list of component parts you’re required to purchase to make it function properly. Continue reading

Problem Solving the Entrepreneurial Way

 

The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to mind when related to overcoming the obstacles of handling emergencies in remote or dangerous locations. But after listening  to Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo’s TED talk, “entrepreneurship is the new philanthropy” seems more apropos. Our direct experience is more within the entrepreneurial conservation model in developing economies, but the energy with which many countries have leap frogged established technologies with 21st century models and solutions belies their assumed status of development. Continue reading

Melissa Clark’s Kelp Call

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Kelp, a variety of edible seaweed farmed near Portland, Me., is harvested in spring. It’s delectable and nutritious, it’s easy to cook with, and it actively benefits the ocean’s health. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

Melissa Clark has appeared in our pages plenty of times, starting in 2014 when we were launching a restaurant whose menu featured tasty, nutritious and environmentally friendly dishes–i.e. the types of foods she promotes. Today’s pitch is right in line with those we have featured before:

The Climate-Friendly Vegetable You Ought to Eat

Kelp is delicious and versatile, and farming it is actively good for the ocean. Melissa Clark wants you to just try a bite.

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Justin Papkee, kept company by his dog, Seguin, pulling up a line of kelp. Harvesting wild kelp is ancient, but farming it is a relatively new practice in the United States. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

PORTLAND, Me. — It was a sharp, windy March day, but the gray water of Casco Bay glimmered green in the sun. On his lobster boat, the Pull N’ Pray, Justin Papkee scanned the surface of the ocean, searching for his buoys. But he wasn’t looking for lobster traps.

Mr. Papkee was farming, not fishing: His crop, clinging to ropes beneath the cold waves, was seaweed, thousands of pounds of brownish kelp undulating under the surface. Growing at a rate of 4 to 6 inches per day for the past six months, it was nearly ready to be harvested and sent to restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Estela, Houseman, Saint Julivert Fisherie and Luke’s Lobster in New York, and Honey Paw, Chaval and the Purple House here in Maine.

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Justin’s father, Chris Papkee, at left, and Jimmy Ranaghan removing the kelp from the long ropes on which it grows. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

He pulled a blade of kelp from his line and handed me a long, translucent strip. I took a bite, and then another, seawater running down my chin.

I’d eaten plenty of seaweed salads at Japanese and vegan restaurants, but this was not that. A variety called skinny kelp, it was lightly salty and profoundly savory, with a flavor like ice-cold oyster liquor, and a crisp, snappy texture somewhere between stewed collard greens and al dente fettuccine. The chef Brooks Headley, who adds it in slippery slivers to the barbecued carrots he serves at Superiority Burger in New York, described it in an email as “insanely delicious and texturally incredible.” Continue reading