Midnight Mussel Hunting and Other Food Reflections

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Kicking off our midnight mussel hunt with incredible Alaskan views

The sunlight reflected on the glassy surface of the water as our skiff motored its way out of the harbor. I was still awestruck by the fact that it was nearly midnight and the daylight was still going strong. The air was crisp, but the “night” was young, or perhaps the “day” was old?  Either way, we had time to get in one more adventure for the day before the few hours of summer darkness settled over Homer, Alaska. I sat back in the skiff, laughing with the rest of the girls as we picked up speed, the water splashing up along the edges as we gobbled up the incredible view. Jagged snow capped mountains reached up from the horizon, incredibly dramatic and massive against the long flat surface of the bay.

We were on our way to China Poot Bay, taking advantage of the hour of low tide to harvest wild mussels for dinner the following day. The tides here move incredibly fast, faster than any I had ever witnessed, we had to be quick as the water began to recede. We cut the motor, jumped out of the boat, buckets in hand, and stomped through the ankle deep water to the countless mussel beds quickly revealing themselves as the water level dropped. The sheer volume of wild mussels resting at the bottom of the bay was simply incredible, and the experience of seeing all of them as they exist in this brief moment outside of the water was pretty wild.

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This sure beats running to the grocery store for dinner!

The water lapped gently alongside the skiff, the air that was previously loud with the purr of the motor was briefly quiet. That quietness shifted as we jumped out and walked among the tidal pools. Everything was alive, there were gurgling bubbly sounds coming from the suddenly exposed mussels, crabs, shellfish and algae. The mud squished beneath our muck boots, the birds chirped loudly, swooping low and having their own midnight feast in the low tide. We hike about, squatting to pull out the large loose mussels, tapping them to be sure they were not filled with sand, wiping off the mud and then tossing them into the bucket.  Our buckets filled quickly, but it was impossible to see any dent we had made. We spent a good half hour or so picking mussels until we saw the water rising along the sides of the skiff and realized we didn’t have much time before the water swallowed up these mussel beds, us with it if we couldn’t get back to the boat in time. Not looking forward to a freezing cold midnight swim, we combined our buckets, hoisted them up and carried them back to the skiff quickly.

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Hauling our bounty back to the skiff before the tide could catch us

The ride back to the harbor was pure magic as we raced toward what felt like an endless sunset. It was nearly 1:30 in the morning by now yet the sky was still light.  The sun appeared to be setting on the horizon but it just refused to take its light with it. The water was quiet, but the birds called to one another loudly, disregarding the late hour and instead conversing as though it were midday rather than midnight. We tide a rope to the buckets of mussels and once we had picked up speed we dropped them into the water to be drug along behind the boat, one of the quickest and easiest ways to clean the rest of the mud out of them. Back in the harbor, we hauled the buckets full of mussels and fresh bay water up to the house where we would all get some rest during the few hours of darkness.

The following day was filled with beach hiking and adventure prepping as we loaded the boat with all the gear we would need to head up to the glacier the following day.  The mussels would be our dinner for the night, our harvest easily able to feed all six of us. Around 8pm we jumped in the skiff cruised out across the bay to the inlet where we would set camp that night, allowing us an early start the following day. We pulled all of our gear out of the boat, set up camp and got to cooking. We sauteed some fresh garlic in olive oil, added water, white wine, lemon juice and dumped in our bounty of mussels gathered the night before. The mussels cooked in a massive pot over an open fire as we passed around beers and shared stories and exclamations of the beauty of this place we were so lucky to be enjoying. Once the mussels were cooked, we sliced up the freshly baked bread, doled out hefty spoonfuls of broth and mussels and dug in. DSC_5336 DSC_5331

Bliss. Divinity. Rich delicious tasty sensations filling our mouths and kissing our taste buds with every single bite. Words cannot do this meal justice. The memory will forever be etched in my mind and my heart- that moment sitting by the fire, shoveling in spoonfuls of broth with freshly baked bread and meaty mussel goodness, a rushing creek bed to our right, a quiet bay to our left, the sun quietly resting on the horizon, cold beer, sounds of laughter and joy and oh so much goodness packed into one single moment. We feasted until our bellies were too full to fit one more, hauled the leftovers down to the cold creek to sit for the night, and cooked up incredible mussel scrambled eggs for breakfast the following morning. It was a simple meal, harvested by our own hands from the land surrounding, and it was incredible.

Growing up on a farm allowed me to establish a connection with the food I ate from a very young age. We raised cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys for meat. We cared for the animals, loved them, and were taught to thank them for sacrificing their lives so that we could have food. We delighted in the taste of the first fresh tomato of the season, of the crisp burst of sweetness from a freshly peeled ear of sweet corn, we laughed at the purple color our milk turned when freshly picked blackberries were sprinkled atop our cereal. It made me deeply aware of our interconnections with nature, and all of the other living creatures on Earth. It established a practice of appreciation for the life of what I ate- be it a vegetable, fruit or an animal- as well as the life I had as a result of this food.

When I left the farm at the age of 18, I had a different relationship with food than most people I knew. My life has taken me all around the world, and I have lived in many different places that impacted the food I ate and the food I had access to. I witnessed the lack of connection many people had to food, to the source of food, the lack of understanding where it came from and how it was processed, a lack of understanding of how food affected their bodies, how pesticides and chemicals and additives impacted our cells. In some places, I personally experienced a lack of access to fresh and healthy food, and a lack of access to information about where the food came from and what was in it. With a food system focused on mass production, we have become more and more disconnected from the sources of the food we eat. With that lack of exposure, many of us have lost our curiosity and gratitude for that food as well.

I have a lot of stories about my experience from food all around the world- from harvesting food in our organic gardens to witnessing the working conditions of workers in fields in countries such as Morocco and Mexico. My hope is that my stories might inspire others to think back on beautiful moments they have experienced with their food- that first fish you ever caught and cooked over an open fire, the taste of your grandmother’s homemade raspberry preserves, the fun you had with your siblings picking apples in the fall as a kid. If we all think about it, there is a good chance we all have a wonderful story connected with the food we eat- and if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t make one. There has been massive growth over the years of local and slow food movements, and there is nothing stopping you from getting out and meeting your neighborhood farmers. Get to know the source of your food, not only will it change the way you experience your meals, it will bring a deeper level of appreciation for this incredible Earth that makes our life possible. At least it did, and does for me.

I recently made a pledge to know the source of my food, because I do believe we have to power to influence positive change- and that power begins with access to information. I grew up on a certified organic farm, having a rare (these days) understanding of where my food came from. We planted, we weeded, we harvested. We loved, appreciated and respected our land for our food. Now my career focuses on building transparency in supply chains- and this doesn’t just mean at the factory level, but also food production in fields around the world. It is incredibly shocking how far removed people have become from their food sources. I cannot begin to say how important it is that we have access to information about what is in our food, where it came from and how it was produced. It matters. Supporting local food options has incredibly powerful potential for positive change in our very broken food system.

We literally are what we eat, shouldn’t we know what that is? If you want to lend your voice, to stand up for your right to know, I encourage you to check out this fantastic campaign that 1% For The Planet is empowering through Takepart– simply click here to learn more.

In the meantime, go have an adventure involving food, I’ll bet you come back with a really great story!

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Leigh and I making a memory cleaning mussels and checking for duds

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