Guest Post By: Peter Stein of Peeko Oysters
Let me start by saying that my heart goes out to those who have been directly impacted by COVID-19. If there’s a silver lining, it is that hardship often creates special connections and I’m honored to share my thoughts with The Spice House community.
During such an uncertain time, it renews my spirits to know that many of us are exploring new things: experimenting in the kitchen, trying new crafts, or starting businesses in response to the needs of the crisis. My team and I at Peeko Oysters got creative as well, launching a new doorstep delivery program that keeps our business afloat and raises funds for local medical workers. The response has been overwhelming and we’re now expanding our program to deliver goods from other local purveyors to keep our community well-nourished and connected.
We’re thrilled that many of our delivery customers are bringing oysters into their homes for the first time. While oysters bring new excitement to any dinner table, I thought I’d give credit where it’s due and illustrate how oysters—silently and invisibly—improve our environment, health, and community.
Supporting Our Environments
Improving water quality. Oysters are constantly feeding (i.e., sucking in and expelling water) in search of their main source of nutrition, phytoplankton. In the process, a single three-inch oyster filters approximately 40 gallons of water per day. Oyster filtering drastically reduces turbidity in bay ecosystems, creating more light penetration and promoting the growth of seaweeds, phytoplankton and other photosynthetic organisms that remove carbon from the water and represent the base of the food chain for all sealife.
Removing harmful gasses. Fertilizers and wastewater treatment systems contribute nitrogen to our water ecosystem. Excess nitrogen is a big part of what we broadly call climate change. Oysters sequester nitrogen through bioextraction, essentially digesting the nitrogen into their shells and tissues. In fact, oysters are so good at nitrogen removal that Maryland and Virginia are pioneering nutrient credit trading programs that will pay oyster farmers to farm more oysters.
Strengthening ecosystems. Oysters also reduce the risk of devastating events like algal blooms and red tides. These occur when there is an excess of bionutrients available in the water causing an explosion in algae. If uncontrolled, these blooms can result in low oxygen conditions called dead zones, causing widespread death of shellfish, seaplants, and finfish. Oysters mitigate the threat of algal blooms by feeding on excess algae from the water.
With these benefits its mind, it’s no wonder oysters are considered one of the most sustainable sources of farmed animal protein. A 2013 University of Maryland study concluded that oysters have “less than 0.5% of the greenhouse gas-cost of beef, small ruminants, pork, and poultry in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilogram of protein.”
Supporting Our Health
Stronger immune systems. Oysters are incredibly high in zinc, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, three essential elements for a well-equipped immune system. In fact, you can easily meet your recommended daily value for each of these nutrients with just 2-3 raw oysters!
Lower calorie proteins. A half dozen medium-sized oysters only adds about 45 calories to your daily intake, but comes along with 5 grams of lean protein and other important nutrients like iron (supports oxygen flow throughout bloodstream) and selenium (maintains proper thyroid function and metabolism).
High-quality omega 3s. Oysters also are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, a category of “good” fats that help regulate inflammation and keep your heart and brain healthy.
Supporting Our Communities
Supporting fishing industries. Oyster farming equipment serves as an artificial reef system that provides sanctuary for juvenile fish. This improves their chances of reaching adulthood and increases the stocks of commonly consumed fish species—benefiting recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, and our broader aquatic ecosystem.
Also, oyster farms are a net additive to wild oyster populations as every summer adult farmed oysters release billions of spawn directly into the bays. We hope this wild spawn continues to create oyster reefs and help ensure high water quality and a healthy ecosystem throughout our local bays.
Impacting the economy. Oyster farms are, for the most part, year-round operations with employees making a livable wage. Many farms are located in more rural areas where jobs tend to be sparse and seasonal. In this way oyster farms are doing their small part in spurring economic activity and development in locales that often struggle outside of peak seasons.
Protecting coastlines. Farming oysters drastically reduces the need to deplete the wild oyster reefs that are critical to preserving coastlines and marine ecosystems. These natural reefs act as storm buffers and prevent shoreline erosion. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, there were many proposals submitted on how to protect New York Harbor from future storms—our favorite was one using oysters!
Preserving natural beauty. One special aspect of oyster farms is their invisibility. My friend, scientist, author, Carl Safina puts it best, “We can see across landscapes and high into the sky. But the sea’s surface is the perfect disguise for all that lives, moves, and happens underneath. You can see grazing cattle but you can’t see a school of a million herring. You can see a migrating flock of birds but staring to the ocean’s horizons will not let you notice migrating tuna. Fields of corn are visible, but not acres and acres of mussels and all the fishes and crabs that live in those flat cities of the sea. Often we are reduced to merely probing the ocean, then imagining it.” I have over 100 acres of “farmland” that no one ever really “sees” because it is all under the veil of the water’s surface.
Being cooped up at home amidst a pandemic is giving all of us a chance to spend uninterrupted time with family. To be sure, it is not easy, as most of us love to be out and about, exploring and adventuring, especially as spring approaches and warmer climes prevail. We hope oysters can make their way onto your dinner table for the reasons above—and because they are also just damn good to eat!
Below you’ll find one of my favorite recipes for oysters and some tips for cooking with them.
Broiled Oysters with Porcini Powder
Porcini Mushroom Powder, fresh garlic, and some Gateway to the North Maple Garlic Seasoning make these broiled oysters unbelievably sweet, savory, and full of umami. These are a wonderful appetizer and can even be prepared on a grill too.
How to Shuck an Oyster at Home
The support our business is receiving from the broader community is keeping us afloat, and it is humbly appreciated. We are dedicating 10% of the sales we generate towards supporting local healthcare workers serving on the frontlines. We hope the story of the oyster has inspired you to support us as well! You can place your order here.