Learning to be a Locavore

Just Add Water CSA Beets (Oahu)

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.

Farmer's Market Finds: Pepeau (black tree fungus) from Maui
and oyster mushrooms from Oahu

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.

Ono, fresh off the boat; Honolulu Fish Auction

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.

locally grown "French Sorrel" (Oahu)

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:
I’ll be telling you about some of my favorite foods and products in the next week, as well as some of the recipes for some of the dishes we’ve been creating, so stay tuned! If you have suggestions for products or places to discover new foods, please feel free to leave me a comment - I'm learning from all of you too!

11 comments from you:

Annie said...

I'm glad you're blogging about this. It is a very important topic.

I wonder what you could eat that is produced locally, that can substitute for the nutrients you gain from whole grains and milk.

What sources did the native Hawaiians use to get their carbs, fiber, fat, and calcium?

genkitummy said...

I thought that being a locavore in Hawaii would be difficult, but wow, I didn't realize just how few foods Hawaii actually produces. It looks like you're doing a great job finding all those local gems.
Oh, I think the Hawaiian Chip Company falls into your "processed food list" or kulolo (taro, coconut milk steamed pudding(?)). You can get this at the Hawaiian food place across of Ward Warehouse on the same side of the street as the Ward movie complex.

Julie said...

I admire you for pushing yourself like this and like any good quest, it seems as if you've discovered a lot.

And as challenging as eating local may be on the Island of Oahu, some of your local eating sounds heavenly. That's an awesome CSA box you receive each week, and how thrilling to have tangerines, avocados, macadamia nuts, and apple bananas in your backyard.

cookiecrumb said...

I am so happy about your learning curve. And I am jealous of your local bounty.
It's not always easy. But it's an education. That's the whole point.
Ono is ono! Lucky you.

Michelle said...

Annie, great thoughts! I'm actually looking into this...breadfruit, taro, sweet potatoes for starch and some fiber; avocados and mac nuts for fat? Dairy I have no idea. And I'm not positive even what is native here vs. introduced as far as "local" Hawaiian ingredients...a whole different and sticky issue out there. There's some village on the Big Island that has gone back completely to a native diet and produces their own food. I'd love to visit there!

Genki, thanks! I've had kulolo and I like it! Thanks for the tip about where to get it. Part of my problem is being over here on the windward side too. Town may not be that far away by actual miles but it sure seems like it when you come home at night!

Julie, I have definitely realized how lucky we are in so many aspects, even if there are things I would still like to change and it's sad how the landscape and food production here has changed so much.

Cookie, well said! Thanks. Your support means a lot because I know you've been down this road too! xo

glutenfreeforgood said...

I should have participated in this "Eat Local" challenge as almost everything I'm eating is within a 60 mile radius of my house right now. Except the rice and quinoa I suppose. But other than that, I'm sticking close to home. I LOVE the photo of your beets. I'm eating my CSA beets pretty much on a daily basis. That and cabbage. And kale. And collard greens. I could go on, but you get the idea. I'm loving my Colorado autumn harvest! Wish I could share some of this with you, Michelle! Thinking of you anyway. :-)

Michelle said...

Thanks Melissa! You can always just join for a week or two!! That's great that you can find so much in such a small radius from home. Our CSA is unfortunately in hiatus for the rest of the month, so that's putting a bit of a damper on things, but alas, at least we have it after the month is over!! I miss Colorado Autumn too - all those beautiful Aspens... xoxo

Debinhawaii said...

See I told you you would get great posts out of this! I am so proud of you and excited about all of the knowledge you are sharing. Great job!

Michelle said...

Deb, aw, shucks. thanks!

Diana said...

Wow, good for you. One of the things I miss most about Hawaii is the food. Especially having so many different produce options for free in my backyard. Unlimited avocados! I also miss those 'nalo greens. But I didn't realize so many of my favorite foods weren't necessarily locally produced. I think my biggest staple there was ahi poke. I could (and did) eat it any time of the day. We get Hawaiian ahi up here but it's so expensive.

Michelle said...

Diana, I wish I had fruit trees in my backyard (when we moved, we lost the apple banana trees, which was sad). And Nalo greens are oh so yummy! I love poke too - and there are definitely some places to find Hawaiian ahi poke here too - you just have to ask before buying!