Photo by Toby Hudson, Wikimedia Commons

In Lucky Peach‘s twelfth issue, Rachel Khong writes about the harvesting of wild algae, more commonly known as “seaweed,” on California’s coast:

The seashore is where all our stories start. It’s understood that present-day humans evolved in littoral spaces, where the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and shellfish, originally from seaweed, were needed to evolve complex nervous systems and big brains. Which is to say: eating seaweed — either directly or by proxy — was what made us us. And seaweeds sustain life on earth, producing 70 to 80 percent of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis.

The word seaweed is about as descriptive as “dog.” The “weed” part is especially misleading, because seaweeds look like plants but aren’t. They’re neither plant nor animal, but actually algae, which doesn’t narrow it down much, either. That term is also an incredibly vast umbrella, encompassing ten million different species that come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, from the tiniest microscopic phytoplankton to the most gigantic of kelp forests.

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