Today at the park, my oldest wound his way through paved walkways and grassy knolls looking around at the ground. He stopped by the trash can and deposited something into the bin and ambled over to my table where I quietly placed a book mark in the novel I was enjoying amid the heat of the day and the emerging sun.
"Whatcha doing, buddy?" I asked of him. "Oh, I'm just picking up the trash around the park," he replied. "I see," I said. "Yeah," he continued, "there are only, like 350 species of turtles left in the world and I want to be sure that they stay alive." (my son has a pet turtle and truly adores the reptile). I nodded, but stayed silent; encouraging him to continue. "See, sea turtles may be extinct by the year 2050," he explained. "Huh, and why is that?" I prompted. "Well," he shrugged, like it was completely obvious, "the trash, it's pollution. The turtles are dying from pollution, and I think maybe, if I pick up some trash here, I can save at least one."
Sustainability Spotlight: According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia, "nearly all species of sea turtles are classified as Endangered" with plastic waste killing at least 1,000 turtles each year. The most shocking part? "70% of loggerhead turtles found dead (in Queensland, Australia) have eaten plastic (and) 52% of all sea turtles have eaten plastic particles.
But why do they eat plastic particles? Accordingly to research published in 2020 in Current Biology and reported by CNBC, "Sea turtles...mistake the scent of plastic for food." The study conducted airborne smell tests to 15 loggerhead turtles. The two groups? Scents of clean plastic and water vs. scents of ocean-soaked plastics. The findings showed that the turtles had a clean reaction to the ocean-soaked plastics. But why? "...turtles responded to bio-fouled plastic (because of) the accumulation of microbes, algae, plants and small animals on the surface of plastic..." Simply put, the plastic now smells like animals or plants that the sea turtle would eat. The turtle believes the plastic is real food.
"More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year - the rough equivalent of dumping one New York City garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute." Because of the high volume of plastics along with buoyancy properties, and combined with the fact that plastics only "bio-degrade" into smaller pieces (not diluting or disappearing from the waters), the lifecycle for plastics is continual. They circle the globe and bio-foul their way into the stomachs of turtles, fish, sharks and whales.
As always, this leaves the question of "What can we do?" We can take a page from my son's playbook today, and clean up. Attempt to use reusable materials as much as possible and limit our acceptance of products that are sold in non-recyclable packaging. Purchase food from the store and cook it at home; like this play on the classic Greek Cod and Potato Cakes, but vegan; without the fish. A vegan dish limits additional harm to turtles from commercial fishing practices on our waterways (ocean and beyond), no matter the type of seafood used in the conventional dish.
We can make the world a better place by talking with our children and having them grow up with an appreciation for what it means for their choices on the environment.
I finished my conversation with my son by saying to him "Now, do you see why I don't pack the snack size bags or put everything in plastic disposable containers for your school lunches? I'm helping you save the turtles too." He nodded and smiled a Cheshire cat grin. Then, he bounded off to continue the hunt for errant pollution much to my (I'd like to think secret) satisfaction.
1 cauliflower head (cut into florets)
1 baking potato (peeled and cut into bite sized pieces)
2 large shallots (sliced)
1 tbsp avocado oil
1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese (I used Chao brand original)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp egg substitute (I used JustEgg)
1/2 cup panko crumbs (whole wheat)
4 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lemon (juiced)
dash of salt & black pepper
1 medium handful arugula
1 medium handful spinach (chopped)
1/2 pint grape tomatoes (quartered)
Pre-heat oven to bake at 400 degrees F and line a jelly-roll (rimmed) baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
Add cauliflower, potato, shallots and avocado oil to the baking sheet and stir to mix thoroughly. Slide pan into oven and bake vegetables till tender and golden (~45-50 minutes). Note: I usually stir halfway through, but technically it's not required. Do not turn off oven.
Once the vegetables are done, carefully add them to the bowl of a large food processor along with the thyme, vegan cheese, salt, black pepper and JustEgg. Pulse till combined; set aside.
Add panko and yeast to a shallow dish and mix. Set aside
Using the same pan as you used for the veggie roast (but wiped clean and with a new parchment paper or silpat liner), you will be adding 6 vegetable cakes to the sheet as follows:
Using hands, divide the mixture into 2 portions and from there form 3 (evenly sized) vegetable balls with your hands from each portion of the vegetable mix.
Add one at a time to the panko mix and press your ball out lightly so it forms a patty. Be sure that all sides of your fritter are lined with the panko mix.
Add vegetable cakes spaced evenly to prepared jelly-roll pan, spray lightly with cooking spray, and slide pan into the oven.
Bake vegetable cakes for ~25-30 minutes or until browned. Note: I usually do not flip the fritters; they are pretty delicate.
While your cakes are baking, make the Arugula Salad by adding the oil, lemon, salt and pepper to a medium bowl. Whisk till combined. Next, add the arugula, spinach and tomatoes and toss all together (pulling up and through the salad in order to get all greens coated).
Serve vegetable cakes over a bed of arugula salad and extra lemon (to squeeze over the top of the cakes).
With love and hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie