THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Take care of the land

Since a new year is upon us, it’s that time again when we decide to make positive changes in our lives. It usually has to do with shedding excess poundage accumulated since Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes it involves starting an exercise regimen that our doctors recommended almost a year ago with the threat of chronic medication looming if we didn’t lower our blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar. Sometimes, it simply involves being more charitable to our fellow citizens, whether by donating money to worthy causes or doing something as simple as random acts of kindness. I applaud any of these positive changes and any change continued for at least three months eventually becomes a habit. But I’d like to propose one additional change — if you haven’t already started — make a positive change for this little orb that more than seven billion of us inhabit.

As a species, we tend to consume quite a lot, and those consumables aren’t always readily replaceable, or they are at quite a cost. And while consuming, we tend to produce quite a lot of expendables, namely trash, along with “stuff” that goes into the water supply, the ocean or gases that increase the global temperature. So while I fully embrace the City and County of Honolulu’s recycling program, I know there’s a lot more I can do. And believe me, I’m borderline fanatical about recycling. Any plastic that’s a “1” or “2” goes to the recycle bin. Ditto all empty wine bottles and corrugated cardboard. And while I may not be as fanatical about recycling as a certain retired Bay Area news anchor (who I hear will go through YOUR trash at parties to reclaim recyclables and green waste), I know there is quite a bit more that I can do to help preserve this little orb.

Seafood Watch
I occasionally view the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch” to see what types of seafood are the “Best Choice,” “Good Alternative” and “Avoid,” but haven’t really paid attention to the list when making grocery purchases. I will try to change that behavior, which will be difficult because I love salmon, especially raw. The two types of sashimi blocks of salmon that Marukai Wholesale Mart sells is farmed — one is farmed Atlantic from Scotland and the other is farmed Atlantic from Canada. The only farmed Atlantic salmon listed as a “Good Alternative” is from Chile. I guess I’ll have to limit my salmon sashimi to wild caught West Coast salmon from now.

Another change will be my shrimp purchases. Because Hawai‘i doesn’t have a significant shrimp industry (what’s farm raised locally usually is sold to restaurants), most of what is available at the supermarket is farmed, and there only are a few farmed shrimp that meet the “Seafood Watch” list: Farmed in the U.S., Pacific white shrimp from Thailand or tiger shrimp from Southeast Asia in verified farms. The problem is that most package labels simply list the country of origin, not the specific farm, or if it’s verified. I guess I’ll have to keep my eye open for those farmed shrimp from Thailand.

And because all forms of this fish are either a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative,” including fish from China, I should increase my consumption of … tilapia. Growing up in the 50th, no self-respecting Hawai‘i resident really considered tilapia a food fish.

When you saw a specimen, you were simply reminded of possibly the only fish that could live in the Ala Wai Canal or the fish used to keep the State Capitol ponds algae free. It also doesn’t help when “Dirty Jobs” featured them in a “processing” tank. But they can help to “clean” the underwater environment, are a good source of protein, and someday will be the fish of the future.

And finally, instead of simply looking for preferred “Seafood Watch” choices, we should also lower our consumption of seafood on the “Avoid” list, including Bluefin tuna and Japan yellowtail, or otoro and hamachi at the sushi bar. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean a big change for me, as the price of either fish means I hardly consume them at all. Tilapia sashimi, anyone? With a touch of Ala Wai umami?

Magnetic Cooking
Another means of prolonging the usable lifetime of Mother Earth is by reducing the production of greenhouse gases by cooking with magnets. Well, not really magnets, but by using induction cooking, which basically uses magnetic energy to excite molecules and everyone knows that excited molecules create … I know you know it … HEAT! It’s almost like two humans who are excited by one another, they cause a LOT of heat. It’s kind of the same principle. But unlike traditional gas fired or electrical burners that waste at least two-thirds of their energy simply heating the surrounding air, induction cooking is at least 80 percent energy efficient, which means less energy consumption and less greenhouse gas production. I mean, just cooking beef in the traditional manner, never mind that those inconsiderate bovine release their fair share of greenhouse gases in the form of methane farts, is enough to raise global temperatures to unsafe levels! So for your first pot of ozoni this year, how about cooking it on an induction cooker with loads of sustainable vegetables.

The only caveat to induction cooking is that your cookware needs to be induction compatible. The simplest way to determine this is to look at the package labeling. If it isn’t listed on the labeling, just place a magnet on the bottom of the cookware. If it sticks, it’s induction compatible. Cast iron, induction compatible! Aluminum, no. Copper, not so much unless it’s only a thin coating with more steel. Stainless steel, variable. Look for the labeling or do the magnet test.

Bamboo utensils. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Bamboo utensils. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Going Green
Another way to conserve is by using sustainable products, and one of the most sustainable is probably sitting right at your home entrance right now as the primary component of your kadomatsu; bamboo. Growing anywhere from one to four feet every day, it almost seems like we can’t overuse the product. And since it’s part of the grass family, it doesn’t require a lot of soil tilling, fertilizers or pesticides to propagate. Not only is bamboo shoots or takenoko a vital part of Japanese cuisine, it can create the implements used to indulge in said cuisine, as chopsticks, forks, plates, bowls and cups. Bamboo also makes great cutting boards for your kitchen as well as beautiful kitchen cabinets and flooring. And the more bamboo “wood” products you use means less consumption of those other woods, including redwood, oak and maple, which takes years if not centuries to reach a harvestable size.

Grilled bamboo. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Grilled bamboo. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

So for your first meal (or side dish) of the year, slice either fresh or canned bamboo shoots on your bamboo cutting board and quickly grill over an open fire. Top with shaved bonito flakes and chopped green onions then enjoy served on a bamboo plate along with bamboo chopsticks with some sake poured in a bamboo cup! Along with your contribution of utilizing sustainables, you’ll also be assisting that other New Year’s promise of losing weight as takenoko have very little calories, it’s mainly water, fiber and flavor!

So let’s all do our part this year (and in the future) to be good stewards of the earth. Protect the globe now and for future generations. Malama ‘aina (take care of the land). And once again, may this little orb experience more peace and tolerance in the New Year and may we all be blessed in 2014 with health and happiness and above all, peace of mind. Shinnen akemashite omedetou
gozaimasu! (Happy New Year!)

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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