As the first week of the Eat Local Challenge comes to a close, I’ve learned a few things. My emotions have run the gamut from thinking I live in a land of plenty to feeling like I live in a land of none. I’ve gone from wishing I my “exceptions” list was closer to that of a fellow locavore to reveling in the abundance of the new local products I’ve discovered or heard about from friends, relatives and other Hawaii food connoisseurs. I have felt frustration at grocery store fish counters, delight at talking to farmers, bewilderment while reading websites that say little to none about the actual production of the foods they make, sadness at the enormous loss of local dairies, rice paddies and egg farms in recent years, and even a smidgen of confidence as I try and explain to curious grocery store clerks, friends and coworkers about what I am trying to do and why I feel it is important.
It’s been a strange, winding trip from the beginning of the Challenge until now…Day 1 had me scrambling around my pantry, unprepared, trying to find things that I knew were local. Breakfast was easy, oddly enough – a few “island-fresh” Kalei eggs scrambled with scallions from the farmer’s market and a mango from our CSA box. Since I teach Wednesday mornings, I came home for lunch to a lovely salad made by LB containing the last few, scraggly CSA vegetables in my refrigerator drawer. Somehow the small, single, whole Roma tomato rolling around the bottom of the Tupperware felt like an unusually poignant finale to the whole meal as I bit into its juicy flesh, it’s seeds spraying into the back of my mouth.
Running to the grocery store to gather things for dinner was a rude awakening: I spent 30 minutes (on a hungry stomach) searching for local products and ended up paying $7.56 for a locally grown dragonfruit that became Thursday’s breakfast. I found “Island Produced” pork that didn’t say where on the “Island” it was produced and couldn’t find anyone who could answer my questions about it – still, I took the least unusual of the cuts (a leg “steak”) and added it to my basket. $50 and a small basket of a few local products later, I headed home. Dinner became the pork steak, grilled, with a warm okra salad (the okra came from a friend’s garden). We had planned to have steamed potatoes to go with the rest of our dinner, but thanks to a bit of oversight and distraction, our cheap plastic steamer melted into the pot when the pot ran out of water. Oops. We shared a bit of Oahu-produced Wailua Estate 70% dark chocolate to end the meal, treasuring the fact that chocolate is actually produced here. Exasperated from ruining one of the pots I use all the time, and knowing the following day would be difficult until I could head to the Farmer’s Market that evening, I decided I had to start fresh the next day.
Having made it through that first day, the rest of the days have flowed much easier. I now have my sources for a diversity of whole foods: organic (and some non-organic) fruit and vegetables; Hawaii-raised grass-fed beef, organic free-range chicken, and pork (although the “leg” cut is about the only one I think I could stomach); and organic eggs. Sugar, coffee, tea, chocolate, goat cheese, beer and wine have also been easy to find. I’ve found several local sources for delicious “processed foods” too – bakery breads; shoyu (soy sauce) and vinegars; tofu; granola; asian-style noodles and wrappers; tortillas and more.
Is it right to trade in my locavore card and eat processed foods whose ingredients don’t come from here? Some people in the midst of this challenge may think so. Some days, even I would agree – it feels almost like cheating. One thing I’ve learned this week is that the rules can, and will, change as I go along – just as my feelings do. I’m learning a lot more about my local food-shed than I thought I would. I’ve found it can be a roller coaster of trying to do what’s right, only to find that sometimes it’s not. Locally caught varieties of fish aren’t necessarily sustainable fish. I've heard that Meadow Gold Dairy products are strictly from the mainland, despite what their website says. It’s like reading Michael Pollan's books again and realizing that it’s not just the big box companies in far-away places that you have to worry about – sometimes the trickery is happening right in your back yard – as you learn that your milk travels 2,400 miles, unchilled, to become the only milk in the USA that is double pasteurized, after it's arrival 8 days later.
I’ve also learned that things are more complicated than I could have foreseen…there are two sides to every story. You may decide to cut one company off your list because everything isn’t from here, even if there are no reasonable alternatives. Then you learn that the company was just bought and is now owned by its employees and has a long-standing history of community on the island, even since before World War II. You pick your battles, I guess, and then choose the path that is right for you. First and foremost, this Challenge is about awareness for me, and I know I feel more alert and aware to every item that enters my kitchen these days.
I may not be able to eat like a locavore for 100% of my diet (there are no whole grains or dairy are produced here, and I prefer to have both in my diet), but I’ve founds some gems for some things and had my fair share of disappointments for others. My dinners are simple, un-complicated and unfussy, but nearly everything has been tasty (minus, perhaps, those potatoes that the steamer melted into, but we decided not to try eating those). Still, no matter what, my eyes are now open to a new world of farmers, producers, grocery store clerks and friends that I didn’t even know were foodies deep down inside – offering up their own recommendations, secret sources, and sometimes food from their back yard. And you know what? There’s a plethora of delicious options out there.
Local products I’ve been eating and drinking this week:
- Raposa mangoes, apple bananas, kale, chard, collard greens, green and red lettuce, beets, sunflower and daikon sprouts, sweet basil, sweet onions, napa cabbage, beans, oyster mushrooms (Just Add Water CSA; $25/week)
- Oahu-grown Dragonfruit ($5.99/lb from Foodland on sale, but also at the Kailua farmer’s market for a bit cheaper)
- Oahu-grown Molokai, Ho'olomahia, and Okinawan sweet potatoes ($3 for 6; Kaiula farmer’s market)
- Tangerines, avocados, macadamia nuts, apple bananas and okra (from our own and from friend’s backyards; free)
- Big Island Goat Dairy feta cheese (R. Field Wine Co., Foodland); Surfing Goat Dairy goat cheese and feta (Maui, $6/round; Kailua farmer’s market)
- Nalo Farms baby romaine (Oahu, Kailua Farmer’s Market; $4 for 2 small heads)
- Ono “Island Fresh” (Hawaii caught; Foodland; $8.50 for 2 small fillets) *on the "good alternatives" list
- Big Island Bees Organic Honey Ohi’a Lehua Blossom (KCC farmer’s market – but we get it from our neighbor who sells it there; $5/4.5 oz.
- Kona Sea Salt (Big Island, Kailua Farmer’s Market; $9/small bag)
Some good locally produced “processed” foods I've tried this week:
- Anahola granola (Kauai; Foodland; $8.50/bag)
- North Shore Naturals Hawaiian Spirulina popcorn (Oahu; Down to Earth; $5.19)
- Wailua Estate Malie Kai Chocolate, 70% (Oahu; Whole foods, $4.99/1.5 oz. bar)
- Mehana Brewing Co. Volcano Red Ale (Whole Foods, $9.99/6-pack)
- Kona Brewing Company Limited Release Wailua Wheat Beer with Passionfruit (Big Island, Foodland, $9.99/6 pack
- Kaiulani Spices “Exotic Curry” (Oahu, Whole Foods, $6.99/ 3 oz. jar - also at KCC farmer's market)
- Ba-Le Bakery Sliced Loaf (Oahu, Kailua Farmer’s Market; $5.00/loaf)
- Waialua Soda Works Root Beer (Maui, Kailua Farmer's Market; $1.50)