Or more accurately, as I previously stated (in the article entitled “Support your community”? in the Jan. 1, 2016 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly), I have been attempting in this Year of the Monkey to buy la vida local.
Well, it originally sounded easy, but after my first attempt, it makes me seem more “loco” (crazy) than “local.” Just two days into the new year, I felt the pain in my wallet when I purchased locally laid eggs. Ka Lei brand large eggs cost $5.99 per dozen versus the Safeway house brand, which was $1.99 per dozen on sale. And it didn’t make matters any easier when the woman in the checkout line ahead of me purchased three cartons of a dozen Safeway eggs and actually spent 2 cents less than I did for one carton. I had to constantly remind myself that “eggs are just one product.
The Land of Perpetual Sunshine
Isn’t the 50th the land of sun and surf? And with those balmy breezes and perpetual sunshine, we should be able to grow anything and everything, right? Not exactly. I’m not sure if the perfect growing conditions also foster the growth of critters that also consume the produce, or if our volcanic soil only favors the growth of certain plant species, but it’s nowhere near the cornucopia of produce you might imagine. We do grow our share of cabbages, from the head and napa cabbage, along with most ethnic varieties, like mustard, bok choy and choy sum. We also have our fair share of tropical fruits, from mango, lychee, pineapple and papaya, to the exotics like rambutan, longan and dragon fruit. There’s also several varieties of beans, from the green to long to winged beans as well as spinach, kale, corn and green onions. And there are local farmers growing heirloom tomatoes to die for. But there’s no fava beans, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts, and there’s a serious lack of grains and legumes.
Still Searchin’ for Proteins
Hawai‘i does have its share of the bounty of the ocean, but you have to visit more than your neighborhood supermarket. About the only local catch you’re likely to find is yellowfin tuna or ahi. And even then, you have keep a wary eye open to make sure it’s caught locally. Most of the ahi sold in supermarkets is caught elsewhere in the Pacific, and it’s usually either previously frozen or has been treated with carbon monoxide to maintain that vivid red hue. Other than Kauai amaebi (sweet shrimp) or Kahuku raised prawns, most shrimp products weren’t harvested anywhere near the 50th and the local varieties usually aren’t sold en masse to the public.
I did find one source of locally raised poultry in the 50th that’s actually available at the local farmer’s markets throughout the state. J. Ludovico Farms pasture raises chickens in Haleiwa selling whole birds for about $5 per pound, more than double the price of the next closest local purveyor, 50th State Poultry, but 50th State Poultry simply processes the birds locally, which are all mainland raised. And don’t even compare prices with the Foster Farms of the world.
And as I previously mentioned, there are local pig farmers who produce very tasty end products, but none sell directly to the public unless you’re able to butcher a complete animal, which most of us aren’t remotely able to accomplish. Supposedly, Hawai‘i does produce a significant amount of locally raised pork and some of it does make its way to the public markets, but it isn’t advertised as locally grown or locally produced, which would facilitate its entry into my personal kitchen. So for now, I simply look for non-swine protein alternatives.
The one mainstream protein that’s both locally raised and available to the public is beef. Whether it’s from Kualoa Ranch right in my backyard, the slopes of the Kohala Mountain or Mauna Kea or the fertile slopes of Haleakala, locally grown beef is served at many island restaurants and even available for sale to the public. Because the 50th doesn’t produce any feed grain and shipping cattle feed is a very significant cost, many ranchers are finishing their cattle on grass instead of grain. I’ll agree that grassfed beef isn’t as tender as grain fed, but it does possess a beefier flavor in the end product. The one setback is the Mrs. and I don’t really consume a lot of beef. We mainly consume animal proteins in the form of seafood and poultry with some porcine thrown in to the mix, but only rarely indulge in beef. And when we do partake in beef, it’s usually as steaks, but because grass-finished beef doesn’t attain the same degree of marbling as grain fed, I feel that either low and slow braising or ground beef applications suit locally-raised beef to a tee.
Because there’s a movement to purchase and consume local, the weekly farmer’s markets obviously get a lot of business these days. However, you do need to ask the purveyors where their products are grown and sometimes draw your own conclusions as to their source of origin. For instance, there are several vendors selling peeled garlic cloves in pre-bagged portions or “baby” carrots that are machine whittled to the size of your pinkie. When asked, most of these vendors will state that these products are locally grown. However, I’m not aware of any garlic production in the 50th. They almost appear to be the same product as the Christopher Ranch garlic sold in gallon bottles at Costco or Sam’s Club. And while our local farmers do grow carrots, I’m pretty sure they don’t machine whittle those carrots to resemble baby carrots, the same type found at most supermarkets or Big Box clubs. And I’m definitely sure local farmers don’t wrap their cauliflower with Dole Foods wrapping …
Just Small Adjustments
So over the past month, I’m now a lot more aware of food products grown or raised in the 50th. To purchase and consume local just takes a little adjustment here and there. Don’t just reach for the cheapest, first look for a local alternative. If there are no local alternatives, then reach for the product that makes the smallest ecological footprint. I know there are products that I’ll continue to purchase because they simply aren’t raised or caught here, like salmon. But even with salmon, I’ll look for U.S. farm-raised or wild caught. And though the 50th does produce that vital nectar of the fermented grape, I’ll continue to purchase Golden State and European wines.
The following recipe can be used as a side dish or in the case of our household, our usual brown-bagged lunch. The only product not grown here is the garlic and olive oil, though I could have used macadamia nut oil, which is a Hawaiian specialty oil. I also bended my own rules with the Noh seasoning. While Noh Foods is a Hawai‘i-based company, their manufacturing plant is now in Torrance, Calif. That means you can use it as a “local” product.
Local Pohole (Portuguese-Style Greens)
1 medium head cabbage, cored and sliced
1 small purple cabbage, cored and sliced
1-2 large bunches of kale, stemmed and sliced
1 Maui onion sliced with the grain
3 cloves fresh garlic, sliced
1 Portuguese sausage (linguica) sliced on the diagonal
1 package Noh’s Hawaiian Style Portuguese Sausage Seasoning Mix
Brown the Portuguese sausage in a little olive oil then add the sliced garlic after the sausage starts browning. Once the garlic starts to brown, add the sliced vegetables and cook on medium until the cabbage and kale start wilting. Sprinkle Noh’s seasoning and toss the vegetables, then cover and cook until the vegetables are cooked to your preferred “doneness.”
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 email@example.com.