Building community with wild food

The unusual topic of conversation last Saturday - when 26 Bowen Islanders spent the day foraging, cooking, and eating it - was seaweed. Yep, that’s right: seaweed. Also known as marine algae to biologists, cooks around the world know it as kelp, dulse, kombu, nori and many other words. Believe it or not, the local seaweeds here on Bowen are highly edible, easy to find, and super nutritious. Called superfoods by many nutritionists, they beat many green leafy vegetables in nutrient density, and provide essential minerals like iodine, calcium, iron and magnesium. They’re also high in protein and vitamin C, and have anti-inflammatory properties. Perhaps even more importantly, they are very tasty, and can be used in all kinds of savoury and sweet recipes, as participants in the seaweed adventure were soon to find out!

The afternoon started with a hike past the Cape lighthouse, with instruction on how to safely identify and sustainably harvest three different varieties of very common seaweed. With help from Chris Mull, Bowen Island’s resident shark biologist, who donned his snorkel gear to lend a hand, we gathered sea lettuce (Ulva spp.), rockweed a.k.a. bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus) and bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). Packing the precious edible cargo into grocery bags, everyone headed over to the home of our hosts - local painter, Lea Allen, and writer, Steve Mitchell - and got cooking! Following a recipe from my book, The Urban Homesteading Cookbook, the brilliant green sea lettuce was prepared into a seaweed salad full of ginger and sesame – just like at the sushi restaurant! The rockweed - that ubiquitous greenish brown seaweed with the air pockets that pop when you step on them – was cooked up into a delectable quiche with walnuts and blue cheese thanks to a recipe collaboration with Stani Oben, owner of Lime & Moon Pie Co. The bull kelp made for fine bread and butter pickles as an accompaniment, in a recipe adapted from Sheryl Matthew’s grandmother’s (Sheryl is also a Bowener and owner of Finch’s Café downtown). The meal was rounded off by the stellar combo of seaweed bread made by Chris (shark guy) and handmade butter with seaweed made by Brad Ovenell-Carter, former owner of The Beggar’s Purse, a past favorite Bowen Island eatery. Many recipes were shared, many hands contributed, and finally… the feast was ready! Everyone got to taste their creations and revel in the success of their foraging foray.

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After lunch, the group sat down by the fire to reveal their thoughts about the day, and share their stories about foraging, food and their journey to Bowen Island. The Bowen Story came out loud and clear - the shared values around the beauty of the nature surrounding us and the sense of community on our island – and these were strengthened by learning about edible wild foods and coming together to cook and eat. And this was exactly what the organizers of this event were hoping! David Adams, founder of the foodie Facebook page Paladar on Bowen, Lea Allen and I had a “Bowen magic” moment in Artisan Eats about a month ago when we hatched the plan to gather, educate, celebrate local wild food, build community and food security, and examine our collective food stories. Seeing it to fruition and hearing the comment, “I learned so much, and met a great group of people – we cooked together and then ate a great meal” was exactly what we were hoping for! We plan to continue this as a Community Food Stories Series, so get in touch to find out about the next event. 

Dr. Michelle Catherine Nelson has lived, foraged, farmed and fermented on Bowen for four years. She has a PhD in conservation biology and writes about food, travel and sustainability. You can get in touch with her at mcnelson@sfu.ca, find her on Twitter and Instagram: @therurbanist, and find her cookbook and foraging field guide at The Soapbox, Branch 01 and The Phoenix on Bowen.  

Candice Kabantsov is a food, architecture and portrait photographer based here on Bowen. Her other exciting project is developing a small-batch distillery in Snug Cove with her husband, Miguel, called Copper Spirit Distillery. You can check out more of her photography at www.candicealbach.com

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