The 2008 Eat Local Challenge

Hawaii imports nearly 90% of its food from other places
. We don’t even make many of the ingredients that most people consider essential to daily life anywhere on the islands. There are no rice paddies in Hawaii. No one in the state grows wheat nor makes flour (at least any that I’ve been able to find). There is not a single dairy left on Oahu (although if you read Meadow Gold’s website, they still say that is where they’re getting their milk…). That means there’s no local source for butter on Oahu then either (No butter? Oh my God, why did I move here???). Considering that we are one of the most isolated island chains in the world, should the current oil and economic crisis continue, we could one day find ourselves without planes and ships delivering food to our doorstep daily. It’s unlikely for now, I know. But if/when that occurred, some people believe that we would not be able to sustain our Island populations for even a month on the food that is grown and produced here. It’s a sobering thought.

Put all that aside for a moment, however, and you’ll find we’re quite lucky in many ways. Not only do we live in paradise (tee hee ho ho...I guess I can live with imported butter), but we are also one of the only states in the US that produces their own coffee, tea, chocolate, salt and sugar, we have a plethora of delicious varieties of fruit and fresh island produce, and we even have a few (albeit some nearly secret) farmers and fisherman that produce organic, free-range chicken and eggs, grass-fed beef, our own iodine-rich source of sea vegetables and some of the freshest prawns and fish that the ocean has to offer.

The Eat Local Challenge began in 2005, in an effort to get more people out there foraging across their home states (and in some case, foraging only 100 miles from their homes) for local sources for nearly everything. The goal was, and still is, simple: try your best to eat 100% locally grown foods for 30 days (or at least try and eat as many as you possibly can). Their website is a collaborative hub of foodies, food bloggers and normal everyday Joe's around the world who are doing their best to seek out local products - and they've even got their own title in Wikipedia: the locavore. Being a newbie to the local food scene here on Oahu (and after a great suggestion from a fellow locavore), I decided that this would be a great way to help (/force) myself find locally available products. So, I signed LB and myself up 5 days ago (hey, honey, I signed us up for something that I hope you want to do too...). Today was the first day. I'll keep you updated with weekly (maybe bi-weekly) posts on the progress of our local eating habits, but I'd really like to feature some of the better foods we find and eat throughout the whole thing, so stay tuned for that too.

The first step is making a creed of sorts:

1. What is your definition of local?
After a bit of research the last few days, I think our definition of "local" has to be the entire state of Hawaii, which includes all of the surrounding islands. Considering we're a small island ourselves (only 566.66 miles), and since the majority of those miles are either not livable (think: very steep volcanic mountains!), are full of residents or tourists and resident or tourist properties, or are industrial, then I think this is fair. Relatively speaking, the miles from Island to Island that our Island-produced products travel are far shorter than any food that would be imported from anywhere else. Also, when it is impossible to find foods that are grown locally, I will at least support local producers (for instance, we have some fantastic bakeries, even if they don't produce the flour, they know how to use it well!) - for me, this is part of the over-all goal and supports the local economy and small, family or individual enterprises. If I eat out, it will be at a place that sources as many products as possible from local growers and producers.

2. What exemptions will you claim?
I'm going to try to claim as little as possible, while still living like a person: spices that are not available locally (including pepper, unless I can find a local source...), flour, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, Dijon mustard and butter. I will also be drinking organic soymilk from Costco (milk costs sooo much here!) and using organic half-and-half in my coffee until I hear back from the people at Meadow Gold to find out if the really do source and distribute from local dairies. I was going to just cut them out completely, even if they were local, until I saw that they don't use growth hormones in their milk (whew). So I'll let you know if that changes. I'll try to make it through the month without rice, but I'm putting it here just in case I get desperate... Also, any perishables that are in my fridge right now that aren't local - letting them go to waste isn't good for anybody.

3. What is your goal for the month?

Our goal is to support our local economy and the farmers and producers who are the blood, sweat and tears that actually provide food to this Island state - it reduces our carbon footprint, supports local families, promotes sustainability and it's something I'm passionate about already. I've been wanting to find and feature local foods on here since we arrived in Hawaii, and this is a great chance to meet new people involved in the local food shed, to find great products, and even just to see if it's possible. But importantly, our goal is also not to break the bank. Food is not cheap in Hawaii by any means, and often local foods are even more expensive than imported goods (go figure). So, we aim to find high quality, local goods that are reasonably priced (or at least worth the price). I think that's about it. Gulp...what have I gotten myself into?!

You can still sign up. Care to join us?

11 comments from you:

cookiecrumb said...

Congratulations, and good luck!
A friend of mine in Honolulu sent me some sun-dried ground Hawaiian chile flakes... You might use that instead of pepper.
Also, I remember taking a field trip to a dairy on the North Shore when I was in second grade. Dairyman, I think it was called. I saw a cow stick her tongue inside her nostril! Cool!

Debinhawaii said...

You are so brave! I am with you in spirit even if I am not able to do the challenge all month--maybe I'll join (unofficially) for the last two weeks. Can't wait to see your posts!

Zoomie said...

You go, girl! It will be a challenge in Hawaii but you've made a great start. When I lived there, the milk really did come from dairies on the island - I hope it still does.

Michelle said...

Hi Cookie! Leave it to the girl who made her own salt to come up with a way to make her own pepper too! I'll see what I can do!! Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately all the dairies here have closed (the last one this February) and the only cows around that are for public use are the ones sold for beef. But at least you have the memories!!

Hi Deb! Thanks for your support! It's not too bad; but I already miss a few things. I'd love to have you join me, even later on in the month!!

Hi Zoomie! Thanks :) I'm trying! The produce, fruit, eggs, and some meat aren't too bad - it's the rest of the stuff that's killing me! On this side of the Island, even Hawaii-caught fish can be tough to find believe it or not. There's another woman here and those are the things she chose to do locally and I think she chose the smarter route! But I will prevail! Sadly, she's done this before and has had many talks with MeadowGold, and she told me that while they used to get it from here, it's no longer even from the Big Island (they don't distribute off that island any more)...so basically, their website isn't up to date (or they're being misleading...). I plan to do some research and then post on that too!

Embla said...

Hi Michelle! I found your blog through the post on Alan's blog (ma'ona). Good luck with the challenge! It will be a little tough, but Hawaii at least has some great produce and the North Shore Cattle Company has some very tasty meat. I can't think of any areas on the windward side to easily find fish (I don't know it that well), but you can definitely find fresh and local items in Chinatown and at the swap meet near Pearlridge Mall. A lot of local farmers sell their extra produce there for much cheaper, and with Filipino, Thai, and other ethnic minority farmers, you'll come across a delicious variety of produce! Also, the eat local challenge will give you the *perfect* excuse to head up to the North Shore shrimp shacks -- yuuuummy! I'm not certain whether the famous Giovanni's shrimp truck uses local shrimp, but Romy's is very, very good and they harvest their shrimp and prawns daily. Mmm.

Good luck with the challenge, and I can't wait to hear how your experience goes. :)

P.S. The picture of guavas on your page is making me want one sooooo bad. Yummy!

Michelle said...

Hi Embla! Thanks for stopping by to say hello! And for all your suggestions! I still haven't ventured into Chinatown yet, but I think this month will be the perfect excuse. Thanks for all the support and ideas!

Zoomie said...

If you go over to Chinatown, look in the yellow pages for Tamashiro's fish market in Honolulu, too. It's down a funny little street, as I recall, but is brimming with fresh, local fish!

Nate-n-Annie said...

Hi Michelle,

A while back, the Honolulu Weekly ran a series on eating locally. I think it's near impossible to eat the way Hawaiians eat nowadays - "local food" is almost completely unsustainable. Not because of the major ingredients such as meat, poultry and fruits and veggies. But for the condiments. Soy sauce, for instance. That one would have to be my exemption.

As far as locally caught fish goes, sometimes you see people selling fish on the side of the road, that they caught on their own boats. But I don't know whether or not the State is cracking down on that kind of business.

Good luck on being a Hawaii locavore!

Michelle said...

Zoomie, Thanks for the tip! I've heard of Tamashiro's as a great source for local products (especially fish!) but have yet to make it over there. Being over here on the windward side and being unfamiliar with all that town has to offer definitely has it's disadvantages! I'll try to make it over there and report back!

Nate-N-Annie, Thanks so much for your input! I had a look around for the article you were talking about but the closest thing I could find was one from 2006 "no shoyu. no rice." etc...is that the one you're talking about? It doesn't seem like it after reading the article, so please send a link if you can find one! I'm really interested in the "unsustainability of local food" you're talking about...do you mean the WAY that people eat now, or the actual food production itself?

While many of the ingredients of several "local" products are not produced locally (say, shoyu from Aloha), the production of the final food product does occur here, the final product isn't shipped, and the jobs are here, so in my book, that's still supporting a local business and local people. However, most of the fish caught here are fish like longline bluefin tuna - not a very sustainable fishery. And organics are even more difficult to find here if you're not talking produce or meat. It's really so complicated, isn't it? You guys are so lucky in California!

I used to see one of those fishermen you're talking about all the time when I first arrived, but he's since disappeared. I hope he comes back!

Annie said...

My definition of locavore might be a little more hard-core - the raw material must be produced locally. So Aloha shoyu may be processed locally, but I bet the soybeans either come from Asia or the Midwest.

By "unsustainable", I mean the way people eat in Hawaii. No way a million+ people could eat the way they do, without shipping in ingredients from outside. And no way the land and sea that is currently being used to produce food can sustain a million+ people for very long. Imagine if the boats and planes stopped coming to Hawaii. Most of the people would absolutely starve to death.

Frightening thought.

Michelle said...

Hi Annie, I'd love to be a hard-core locavore here, but honestly, it would be completely cost-prohibitive for us, even for only 30 days. We function now buying lots of things in bulk - and the cheap things at that. Unfortunately the things that cost the most in Hawaii are the ONLY ones you can get here - produce, fruit, meat, dairy and eggs. Especially if you actually care what kind of produce or meat you're buying (TG for organic farms and grass-fed beef!). That said, we're keeping our ingestion of non-locally produced processed products to only ones that are businesses where we support their ideals too. And we're planning 100% local for the last week of the challenge.

You're also absolutely right about the shoyu, and so many other things, but like I said, I could just as easily buy it from Japan or the mainland, who may not get their ingredients "locally" either and then pay the cost of shipping on top of the workers there that produced it instead of putting that money back into my local economy. That link in the post is to an article where one guy is saying the same about the that "unsustainability" you're talking about - it's terrifying! But from what I've read, it's not just the condiments - it's everything. We just don't have enough agriculturally-available land to support feeding everyone here.