One of the most difficult things about the Eat Local Challenge is deciphering the labeling of products. I shop for all of my veggies at the farmer's market, where you can actually talk to the producers of your food and there are some regulations about the type of food that can be sold there and where it was grown, but even this has it's own issues because some of the markets are so incredibly busy that the vendors simply have no time to chat. The bustling of the markets is both good and bad - good because more people are visiting and buying from farmer's markets but bad because we're losing one of the best things about farmer’s markets, being able to form a relationship with the farmer or producer of the food you are going to eat.
However, none of the farmer's markets on the windward side that I can go to have meat or fish readily available. When I can make it to town (Honolulu) on Saturdays, and when it is available, I can get free-range chicken from Greg Yee at Blue Lotus Organic Farm or grass-fed beef from North Shore Cattle Company. NSCC also has meat available on the windward side at the Kailua Farmer's Market, but they often run out before either market even begins (many people go early and buy before the bell rings to begin the market, then go around and pick up their bags after it officially "starts"). We actually buy our beef wholesale (1/8 a cow) through an arrangement between Puu’o’Hoku Ranch on Molokai and the Slow Food group here on Oahu instead of NSCC in part because of availability, but also price and because we support the way the farm is run.
they actually tell you where their fish is from, but most of it is not from Hawaii.
With the new labeling laws in effect, I've been seeing more countries of origin on the labels of some meats and fish many of the grocery stores I've recently visited. But while it does tell me the country, the label “Product of the USA” does not tell me where in the USA it is made or caught or produced. And it most certainly does not tell me whether it was caught or raised in Hawaii. The fish has been the biggest surprise. Even though this is an island with it’s very own fishing fleet, much of the fish is still shipped in from all over the world – even things we can, and do, fish for here (Ahi, Opah, Opakapaka) and have farms for here (tilapia and prawns)!
Keep in mind that there is a paucity of local products in the grocery stores in general, even at Whole Foods, who actually makes it part of their "mission" to get as many local products on their shelves as possible. When it opened about a month ago, only about 1/4 of the fish selection and none of the meat selection at Whole Foods was locally caught or raised.
The windward side is even worse than Town – we have one vegetarian natural foods store with very few locally grown produce options and one non-vegetarian natural foods store with absolutely no local meat. While it is sometimes helpful to talk to the people at the meat or fish counters at other grocery stores, they often have no idea where the food or fish or meat is from either. Some stores have their own “local” labeling buzz words: "Island Produced," "Locally Grown," "Island Fresh," or some other variation on these phrases, and that’s primarily what I’ve been looking for and relying upon to make my grocery selections.
You might remember my story about the first day of the Challenge, wandering around Foodland, picking up anything I could scrounge for dinner and breakfast those first few days because I wasn’t quite prepared and the farmer’s market was still two days away. You might remember I picked up a pork leg steak under the “Island Produced” label. While I wondered to myself what “Island Produced” meant, I figured it would do as a local product for the day. I went home, grilled my steak and enjoyed it for dinner. For this, the second week of the Challenge, I went back and bought myself an “Island Produced” pork belly – figuring it would be fun to make my own bacon or roast it with veggies since this isn’t a cut that I see very often.
Then I opened my email this morning and found this story. Then I read this story. And watched this video. While the claims in the story haven’t been “verified” by state and local pig producers, which doesn’t surprise me, pork produced under this label are raised in Montana or California and shipped the 2,400+ miles to Hawaii in very inhumane conditions. They are then brought in, kept and slaughtered here on Oahu in similarly inhumane ways. Read the stories or watch the video if you want the full grisly details. Suffice it to say that I’m appalled and disgusted and there is no way I’m eating that pork belly now, nor buying from this label ever again.
Sigh. There’s also a “50th State Brand” chicken producer here. I’ve been staying away from it because the label says only that the chickens are “Processed and Packaged in Hawaii,” which to me indicates the chickens are not born and raised here at all…and now I’d question how they arrive here too. Not that the mainland has any more scruples than Hawaii though. I’ve read the books, I know the drill: the state of food production in the USA is horrible. LB and I typically buy organic or humanely raised meat and eggs and from small farmers when/if we can find it (in Eugene, this was easy), but even corporate organics, where we get our meat now, has its issues too. And there are no small, family farms shipping their organic goods to Hawaii. At least we have a few good beef and chicken producers here, and I think I’ll be sticking to them for my meat the rest of the time I’m here.
with fresh, backyard guacamole, local veggie pasta salad (leftovers from a potluck) and warm okra salad.
To read more about the challenge, and find more local products, see these posts: 1, 2 and check the Eat Local Challenge website for updates on what's happening both locally and nationally.