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Alternative (gourmet) protein

A View From the Edge

Let’s deal with nonsense first. It is true you can get more protein from a field of corn or soy than you can get from cattle on the same grass or hay field in terms of productivity. True, but only for year 1. Year 2 they are the same. Year 3 cattle yield more protein per acre; that is unless you feed the planting soil with fertilizer (cows fertilize their own fields). Where does fertilizer come from? 85% of all commercial fertilizer is an oil and gas industry product. You want to grow plants commercially? You support the oil industry. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or prepared to open 3,000% more quarries to dig up ancient chemicals (phosphates, minerals, etc.) to try and make efficient commercial farms work.

But there is another, cleaner, more environmentally sustainable protein source that humans have been harvesting and eating since Mesolithic times: Shellfish.

Anchored off the coasts in Britain are huge sea floor anchors to which are attached ropes sometimes 100 feet long with a float at the other end. Before anchoring these ropes, they are soaked with the larvae of mussels, many of which find nooks to hide in, and when lowered to the sea floor the mussels begin to grow. Now what’s interesting is that mussels grow from larva stage to full adult size in about 7 months. One acre of these floating ropes yields 12 times the same protein as farm cattle or corn or soy—year 1, and year 2, and year 3, and so on.

What’s more, mussels clean the ocean of carbon (as in carbon dioxide, a global warming gas) and convert it to calcium carbonate for their shells. Their shells are very good fertilizer for those vegetable crops. On a typical sea floor farm of 40 acres you can harvest, annually, 96,000 pounds of mussel meat (not including shells, of course). On a NE dairy farm, averaging one and a half cows per acre sustainability, you can get less than 30 2-years old beef head to market maximum on a 40-acre pasture. Averaging 400 pounds actual meat per animal, that’s just 13,500 pounds for supermarket shelves. Mussels give you 8 times as much.

So, what do you have to feed the mussels? Nothing. Placed in northern climates with tidal action, the mussels go about filtering almost a half gallon of sea water per hour. Yes, per hour. These small creatures filter out bits of food, small plankton, seaweed bits, and grow. Placed on the bay outside of major coastlines the mussels, like sharks, are a vital part of the ocean’s clean water for other fish to thrive. In fact, bi-valves (oysters, mussels, clams and so on) clean 30% of all sea water near shore. And you harvest them at maturity, not like beef or lamb, or chicken taken in adolescence.

And are mussels good to eat? If you have not tried them, do. Your Mesolithic ancestors thrived on them all winter long, when the mussels were grown and other meat was scarce. Mussels contain vitamin B-12, Omega-3, and a host of other brain-enhancing goodness. Easy to prepare, delicious to eat, hopefully mussels may well become a staple food this century once again.

 

Writer Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now resides in New Mexico.

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