In the 1950s the Japanese laver seaweed industry was facing collapse; after years of poor harvests and ever growing demand, the whole future of the industry looked uncertain. This was not only going to be a huge issue for the people employed in the industry, but for the very practice of consuming seaweed - a cornerstone of Japanese culture and cuisine. In fact, seaweed is so revered in Japan, its people were allowed to pay tax to the emperor in the form of kelp seaweed instead of money. The Japanese needed a solution and fast.
As it happened, 6000 miles away in Wales, Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker was studying laver seaweed and was able to discover the life cycle of this complicated algae; her discoveries went on to provide vital information which revolutionised, and rescued, the Japanese laver industry - today the richest form of aquaculture in the world. She never knew of Japan’s desperation, she simply studied for the pure joy of learning and discovery, joining what is known as the ‘sisterhood of seaweed’, where female academics and hobbyists were naturally drawn to the beauty of the sea and seaweed.
During her life time, Kathleen gained a 1st in Botany at Manchester University and became a lecturer, although the university eventually sacked her for committing the horrendous crime of marrying her good man (female lecturers where not allowed to marry at this time). She travelled the world studying seaweed and became one of the founding members of the British Phycological Society (the study of marine algae).
She died never knowing how important her work became, so important in fact in Japan they have called her “The Mother of the Sea” and celebrate her work each year on the 14th of April.
In honour of her pioneering work and the wonder seaweed that is Laver, we have registered a national day "National Laverbread Day", which will be celebrated on the 14th of April each year. (See our "National Laverbread Day"(B)log
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