Saturday, 17 January 2015

Seaweed is Not Evil

This video was recently posted on Cornwall Vegans Facebook page, and I felt I had to redress the imbalances in the arguments presented.  To do so fully would mean writing a long essay, but I'll try and address the main points raised, and hopefully bring some balance to the issue.  I'd like to do this because seaweed is the main vegan source of iodine, an essential element for thyroid health, and one that is often lacking in vegan diets.  In fact both Scooby and myself have vegan friends who have had thyroid problems, some of which have been quite serious. Seaweed has long been used as a food in coastal cultures the world over for thousands of years.  If you choose to include it in your diet (and I hope you do), then it would be wise to eat it regularly and in moderation, as many 'long lived' people do.  It is particularly delicious in some of the vegan macrobiotic recipes like miso soup.

These are the 3 main points as I see it:

1).  The Title - 'Sushi is not healthy or vegan'.

This poses the question; is all seaweed in sushi the same?  No, of course not!  This obviously refers to the seaweed in vegan sushi which like anything we eat, can come from many varied sources and various producers, some of whom will be more 'kosher' than others.  I'm sure there are companies who harvest seaweed intensively from polluted areas, and there are companies who harvest seaweed ethically from unpolluted areas.  Some seaweed will not be strictly vegan as it will contain small crustaceans as part of the manufacturing process. Personally I have found these in some seaweeds from certain companies, but in 20 years of using their products I have never found any in the Clearspring range of seaweeds.  All of their products are certified 'vegan' by the Vegan Society.  This is not to say that they aren't there though. There may be traces of shellfish there, just as if you eat an organic green salad there may be insect eggs and caterpillar larvae there, as well as many microscopic creatures that you don't notice, and therefore don't even think about.  Are you never going to eat any vegetables ever again because of this?  It's the same with anything that is harvested, like grains, nuts, legumes, etc.  The question is, "are you intentionally harming these creatures?"  I think not.  

2).  "If you eat 10 sushi rolls then that equals 10 sheets of nori", and "1 sheet of nori raises your mercury levels by 400%".

I think she may have got confused here.  Either that or she is a really big eater!  Now I'm a big eater, and 10 sushi rolls would be plenty!  You can normally get 10 sushi rolls from 1 sheet of nori, so the dramatic emphasis on levels of mercury are overstated.  It is possible that you will get some mercury from seaweed from polluted sources, but if you choose those sources wisely, then this shouldn't be an issue.  In fact, one of the positive reasons for eating seaweeds is that they are known to bind toxic heavy metals, and so are actually used to remove these from the body.  This function of seaweeds has been used to treat victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and also those of the Fukushima meltdown in Japan. This can be verified with a quick internet search.  If you eat organic seaweeds from safe sources, you will actually be detoxing your body of heavy metals!  If you do choose to eat at sushi restaurants, then you may want to ask them the source of their seaweeds, or more pertinently, ask yourself why you are willing to give your money to a business that directly causes the death of hundreds of thousands of fish every year.

3).  The scenes of environmental destruction.

These are presented in a very 'emotional' context, and this is fair enough for intensively harvested products, but the scenes shown are hardly 'intensive' by modern farming standards.  Harvesting washed up seaweed from the tide line, and 'trawling' from small craft is nothing compared to the widespread intensive farming practices of everyday life, including that of our fruit, grains and vegetables.  If you can honestly say that you only buy fruit, grains, nuts, vegetables and beans from vegan organic growers, then feel free to take the moral high ground,  Realistically, how many people do that?  Yes, in intensive harvesting of seaweed, fish and other creatures will be 'sucked up' and may become part of the end product, but that is no different from a combine harvester processing whole grains, or any other form of harvest. Some small life forms will inevitably be harmed.  Again, the question arises, is this intentional?  If you spend every waking moment inspecting every item that you harvest yourself, then you may avoid harming more little creatures, but how many people are going to do that?  Let's be realistic.  Are you going to stop eating all grains/fruits/nuts/seeds/beans because some creatures are inevitably harmed during harvest?   

While I applaud the video makers concern for the environment, and well being of her fellow vegans, she would be wise to look at the bigger picture, and not see the issue in such 'black and white' terms.

Some seaweeds intensively harvested from polluted sources are undoubtedly harmful, but by choosing seaweed from ethical sources, we can ensure we get an adequate supply of iodine for our thyroid health, detox our bodies of harmful heavy metals, and ensure the health of our digestive systems.  Seaweed is not evil!  Do some research on the subject, and see for yourself.  If you are really adventurous, go out and harvest some!  Living in Cornwall it is really very easy to source from rock pools at low tide.  Kelp, Dulse,  and 'Nori' (Laver) are plentiful in Cornwall, as well as many other edible species.  As long as you take only what you need, and leave the roots intact you will be causing minimal harm.  Be sure to wash well, and leave as many tiny crustaceans behind as you can.  It's no different from picking wild blackberries.

I love the sea.  I love the coast.  Nature provides us with everything that we need for our health and well being,  It's up to us whether we utilise what nature provides and look after as much of the natural world as we can.  We can do this by the choices we make. Choose wisely.

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