Heart First, Stomach Second: What We Put On Our Plates And How It Can Help Save The World

Unless human behaviour starts changing drastically it’s highly unlikely the children of tomorrow will be able to enjoy the same ocean resources their parents did. Photo: Nic Teichrob except for far left by Lindsay Henwood

words :: Taylor Godber

There is romance in the union of eating a freshly caught salmon over an open fire on an empty beach. Broken away from the constraints of modern society, encapsulated by the aroma of the smoked fish and the softness of the sunset sky – it conjures a moment in a weekend adventure, an escape where nature and real food meet. This sort of active, participatory dining is also deeply rooted in human history, although lately, in an any-food- anytime supermarket society, it seems to be a lost art.

“There is a sense of pride when you are eating that meal that you have made from start to finish,” says ocean guide Oren Lawson. “It tastes better than anything you can buy at the store.” And he would know. Lawson and his siblings were raised on Wickaninnish Island off the coast of Tofino and instilled with a connection to the land and ocean from a very early age. During the summer months, the Lawson family would gather 80–90 per cent of everything they needed to survive. He recalls fishing, driving boats, helping with foraging, canning, smoking salmon, and preserving food well before the age when most kids start packing their own school lunches.

Lawson insists that be it garden to bowl, farm to table, or ocean to plate – the process of cultivation and the patience, knowledge and elbow grease required, all give a meal earned its own special flavour. And even looking past what the 12-letter preservatives and alien-sounding ingredients of packaged foods do to our palates and bodies, conscious decisions of what we put on our plates can have a tangible effect on the survival of this planet.

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“A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided,” explains the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, a 1992 declaration signed by 1,700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences. A second, updated warning was recently posted and signed by over 15,000 scientists and academics from around the globe. This document checked in on how humanity has responded to the first warning. With the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, we have completely and totally failed to make progress.

Inside the kelp forest. Photo: Mason Mashon

In fact, the global situation is getting substantially worse at a rate few could have predicted. The updated Warning… pulls no punches in its introduction: “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course,” it reads. “Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”

Distressing news, but the good thing is, everyone can make a difference without renouncing our jobs and dedicating our lives to a non-profit initiative (although that helps too!). Of the top recommended steps we as humanity can take to transition to sustainability, seven out of 13 include food and our relationship with nature. Everything from wildlife reserves and protection of native plant species (especially forests) to stopping the poaching crisis, reducing food waste, and shifting to a plant-based diet are listed as top action items.

Of course, population is a major contributor and the answer isn’t for everyone to go burn dozens of litres of boat fuel in hopes of catching one fish. Like everything in life, it all comes down to balance. Only taking what is needed is integral, as is giving back when we can to the land and sea.

Love will save the day (and the scallops.) Photo: Lindsay Henwood

“Maintaining our environment is a huge part of it,” says Lawson. “If we have polluted waters out here then we can no longer eat our shellfish or mussels, or scallops… our food becomes poisonous to us. The same thing if we don’t take care of our wild salmon and rivers.”

Eating locally is a great way to live, but without conservation, education and respect we lose that right to be able to harvest our meals from the land. “It’s all part and parcel,” Lawson says, “taking care of our lands so that they can take care of us.”

So let’s connect with nature more often. Let’s pay better attention to what we eat and how it got on our plates. Let’s investigate how our actions influence the world around us. Because 15,000 top scientists are warning us, again, that if we don’t make changes soon, there won’t be any fresh foraged foods to savour, there won’t be any pristine waters to pull wild fish, and eventually there won’t be anyone else to share it all with anyhow. A couple of things to think on while sitting around the fire.-ML

CLAYOQUOT CLEAN UP-Harvesting food from nature necessitates giving something back. “It’s an amazing lifestyle to forage and fish, and an amazing thing to be able to do these things as long as we are only taking what we need and giving back as much as we take.” The Lawsons are active members of Clayoquot CleanUp, a team dedicated to restoring the coastline and a world leader in marine habitat restoration. They are trained experts who respond to emergency spills and are on the frontline of moving accumulated debris off beaches. Last year, with the incredible support of volunteers, they were able to clean up 29.04 kilometres of BC coastline, returning it to a pollution-free state. clayoquotcleanup.com