Let's Eat Things Hawaiian Grown!

Aloha and thanks for being patient and waiting for us to come back to www.aroundhawaii.com and Let's Eat!  Big thanks to Ed Sugimoto and crew for giving us this opportunity. We highly appreciate the immense following of our local readership.  This New Year, we will slightly shift our focus and content to keep you, our readers, entertained and educated within the subject of food.  Here's the first column for 2010…  

Remember that storm that created an island-wide power outage that happened back on December 26th 2008?   Luckily it only lasted less than 24 hours.  How about those   earthquakes back in '06 and '07?  Did you feel helpless and completely disassociated? Did it remind you about how thankful you should be for the things we take for granted?  For those of us with only cell phones and no land-lines, did it make you feel isolated and anxious when you couldn’t call anyone for help?  Were you bored out of your mind too?  Those were just some of the feelings I had during that ordeal. 

Not to mention, it was a Friday night during the holiday season that made it that much more intolerable.  Everything seemed to just stop, literally.  It never seemed so evident how dependent we are in needing electricity.  Not that we ever forgot how important electricity is, but you start to re-realize how many things you can't do without.  Things we normally never worry about, worry us.  Even people who consider themselves "tough guys" may question the extent of their toughness when it comes to dealing with no electricity.  Many bad things happen too, like traffic accidents, food spoils and the smallest tasks become dangerous without the presence of light, just to mention a few.  

After acknowledging those insecurities and feelings of helplessness without electricity, transpose those same feelings onto something more specific, frightening and just as possible even with plentiful electricity.  Running out of food.
Seems unlikely?  Just a trip to the trip to a friendly neighborhood supermarket should fix it, right?  Well not exactly.  In a crisis situation, say due to a terrorist act, all mainland and international shipping ceases to arrive here in Hawaii.  We don't stand a chance of lasting more than a couple of weeks or less without eating ourselves out of food, literally.  Didn't know that, huh?  Yes, even all other foods such as; frozen, canned and dry pantry products that are from the mainland or abroad, will run out as fast and completely.  Those huge container trucks you see at the supermarkets daily aren't there for no reason.  Supermarkets various supplies need to be replenished daily from shipments that have been preordered to have daily shipment timetables.  Get the idea?

This statistic on imported product dependence is debated by industry officials and many other food service personnel, but the fact of the matter is we sadly don’t have enough local resources here in Hawaii to sustain any kind of long-term food service wholesale to retail, period.  Even manufacturing requires raw products from the mainland or abroad, so even if a company makes a food product here in Hawaii, its dead in the water without everything else the manufacturer may need.  Now try and imagine how it would feel if you went out to buy groceries for your family, but there was nothing to buy.  No local stuff, no mainland stuff.  If there were nothing to buy in stores, everyone would try to go out to eat, right?  Actually restaurants would have no food to make anything either.  Chilling.

Some smart mouth people might say we can "survive" off of fish and seafood in our surrounding oceans.  Ok, try fishing for a million people daily and see how long our ocean resources last and do it without gas.  Yes, fishing boats run on fuel from the mainland. Some people forget we live on an island chain in the middle of one of the largest oceans in the world.  Ok so we have no gas, anyone want to fish for a million people in canoes?  Its exhausting trying to rationalize and make unconscious ignorance comprehend an incomprehensive situation.  Survive?  Why rationalize and say we can survive?  That’s the kind of thing you would say when more than just "shipping" would cease.  That’s ice-age mentality.  Why would we need to survive off of anything we didn't want to if we had more food produced here at home?  Get the idea now?  

We are so dependent on everything that is brought in, we forget how fragile our own natural resources are and how lucky we are to have what we have, but we should have more.  In the same breath, maybe it’s a good idea to start to re-structure our natural food resource systems to be able to sustain us for more than a few weeks. Of course that’s easier said than done.

So where do we start if we want to be able to be less dependent on imported food?  Buy local.  That’s the first step.  

But now the questions and excuses arise:  "But the economy is weak and buying local is expensive, can we can't afford it?"  The answer to that is even when the economy wasn't as bad, we still didn't make much of an effort.  Many years ago, people didn't care what they bought.  As long as it was cheap and decent, they put it in their mouths.  Since no one cared to buy local, local purveyors struggled.  The business of being a local anything with food became a liability and we slipped into import dependence.  This didn't happen overnight, it took decades.  With a semi-recent culinary movement, more people demand local produce and locally manufactured items.  So restaurants and other retailers strive to utilize, upsale or boast verbage using the word "local," or local words, as much as possible.  This could be good and bad.  Everything local is a premium now.  Its down right expensive.  Why?  Its probably because demand went up, but not enough to go macro production.  So how do we get sustainability?  Again, buying local.  Locally produced "anything" could be a highly competitive market against the imported stuff with high enough demand.  Its a proven fact with more local purveyors competing in the game for the increased market share, prices would taper off accordingly.  

Another question might be "Do we have enough fertile soil, can we grow everything we need and will it be as good as the imported stuff?"  The answer to that one is unanimously, yes.   Many believe if we retain and nurture the amount of usable agricultural land we have left statewide, we just might have enough space and time left to grow some pretty important food we will eventually need.  If no one has been paying attention to how superior locally produced food products are in Hawaii, then they will be pleasantly surprised to learn Hawaii can produce some of the best stuff in the world.  We have 6 out of the 8 climate zones in the world that can grow anything and everything great.  And our volcanic soil has been known to yield some of the most fertile growing conditions in the world.  Everything that is grown, manufactured, raised on or out of our volcanic soil and fished from the surrounding waters are unparalleled as far as quality.  It has to be that good, because if it wasn't it wouldn't be worth it to produce against cheaper and lower quality imports.  Therefore we should have more of it, a lot more.

So what can you do to help stimulate the local food system?  Here's some suggestions:

Step one, if you are buying at a supermarket, get savvy and get to know what's local and buy it.  Buy as much as you can, as often as you can.

Step two, if you are an eating out kind of person, get savvy and learn who uses local stuff.  It's usually healthier for you to eat somewhere that uses fresh local ingredients. When it comes down to health, nothing else really matters.

Step three, do some research.  Get educated and understand what you are eating and who produced it and where it came from.  You can start by asking your supermarkets produce person "where are these vegetables from?"  Or try reading the label of your fish products, is it from Hawaiian waters or the Philippines? Ignorance is not bliss, its just plain ignorant.  Education and upkeep awareness is pivotal in being a pro-local supporter and consumer. If you care, education will ensure you don’t end up buying too much of the imported stuff. 

Step four, tell a friend, family member or even a stranger what you have learned and practice, and what they will soon happily discover.

Step five, shop at Times Supermarkets and go back to step one and repeat.  Practice makes perfect.  Also watch Hawaiian Grown and Hawaiian Grown Kitchen on OC-16!  Visit: www.hawaiiangrowntv.com for all programming info, content info and archived shows.

Eventually all of this education and action (buying and eating) will lead to the stimulating of the local food economy and help to support the people that grow the good stuff.  Hopefully it will encourage the manufacturers, farmers, fisherman and other local food production businesses to expand and increase output and perpetuate Hawaii food sustainability.  Who knows, further down the line, the "important" people of Hawaii will do what they do and create laws and extend monies to encourage education and diversification in local food production too!  Sounds simple, but like any good plan, it usually starts simple.  It just might take a while.