Posts Tagged ‘locavore’

3 lb. bag of ginger sold at Costco

My love/hate relationship with Costco continues.  I am recently guilty of buying two gallons of OJ because it was less than the price of two, 1/2 gallons, at KTA.  Now I’m giving 2 of the four 1/2 gallons away so it doesn’t go bad.  The Little Green Book of Shopping by Diane Millis says something like 30% of food is wasted in the UK and US. That’s a bit excessive.

In a tweet last summer I ranted,  “Costco is selling Mexican(small logo) mangoes distr. in CA (large print) in PLASTIC & cardboard in Hawai’i- PROTEST!!” What I couldn’t include with only 140 characters, was what I said to the unfortunate frazzled Mom  standing next to me who wanted to buy them. “Are you really going to buy mangoes from Mexico during mango season in Hawai’i?”  I asked incredulously.  She didn’t appear to be a wholesaler, judging from the contents of her cart.  She said something about their tree didn’t have any, which is plausible. We only got a couple dozen up in Holualoa, it’s been so dry.  Still, it seems a weak reason to buy produce from 2500 miles away when better quality of the same item is available down the street.  But who has time to go down the street when you are looking for healthy snacks for a Cub Scout meeting, as this innocent consumer was?

The packaging was just so over-the-top, it triggered  my Joan of Locavore ire.  First, the misleading labeling, graphically designed to disguise the foreign origin of the mangoes.  Then, the plastic space bubbles–individual depressions in the plastic for each mango, and surrounding that a cardboard retro-flat crate.  It’s cheap enough with all that packaging expense that they are bought “wholesale” at Costco and resold at the Kona Farmer’s Market on Ali’i Drive to unsuspecting shoppers assuming they are local.  Yes, I fact checked.  This is so wrong on so many levels.

All that is to say I have some negative feelings about Costco.  The positives are obvious; price, return policy, and they do sell locally sourced goods, including local  produce (even organic).  That’s how I found out the good news about the ginger.

A previous blog mentions Ken Love‘s story about ginger.  He wrote an excellent article about the real problems with mislabeled produce: http://blogs.hawaiibusiness.com/2010/10/08/hawaiian-ginger-product-of-china/.  Ginger is one of the scary stories with roots from China, North America, and Hawai’i in the same bin at the grocery store.  I had to put on my glasses to find out the Costco ginger was local.


It looked local, but the display didn’t mention local produce or Hawai’i grown.  The brand, Christoper Ranch from California, is famous for their garlic.

So good things are happening, even if it’s not obvious.  Ginger growers in Hawai’i have found a way to sell their produce to a larger market.  Hawaiian ginger is making a name for itself in the world.

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The most useful blog in my world is Hawaii Agriculture. They keep current, and really cover the field (and sometimes stray into the ocean and forest.)  A recent post alerted me to potential perils in the produce section: http://hawaii-agriculture.com/hawaii-agriculture-blog/west-hawaii-today-features-food-sustainability-a-kona-vores-dilemma, right here in Kona.  The issue is produce that isn’t local, being sold as such,  sometimes mixed into the same bin with local produce.  Talk about a hot topic for local farmers!

But I was just thinking about what to cook for dinner while shopping the next day at my favorite local natural food store, Island Naturals Market & Deli.  I like them so much I kind of felt bad about writing  this post, but hey, as ye show, so shall ye reap.   I found some gorgeous organic courgettes.  No price, no problem, friendly Produce Man is 6 feet away.  He dug around and put up the tag.   The price for not going to the Farmer’s market, $2.99 a lb, but they are deep green, and gorgeous, and . . . they’re from MEXICO???

Trying to stay off my soap-box, I  said to Produce Man as innocently as I could, “the tag says ‘Mainland,’ but the labels say they’re from Mexico (organic at least).”   He stuttered a bit and said something about only having “local” and “mainland” tags, and admitted there was a problem with about four of their products.  I couldn’t help saying, “Hawaii’ is my mainland, by the way, but the point is Mexico is a foreign country with different standards for organic.”

“I’m from Sweden,”  he smiled, ”  I see your point, and I hope by the next time you come in we’ll have that fixed.”  He could have argued that there are more Kona area residents native to Mexico, than are native to any other of the “States” not on the West Coast.  Like I said,  Produce Man is a nice guy. Now that I’ve done some research, it looks like Mexico’s standards are ok.  STILL!   I had to go back the next day as it turns out, and the signs remained the same– but that’s not much of a grace period for corporate policy changes.

A few days later I’m at my favorite conventional supermarket, KTA.  The same cute Mexican courgettes with the yellow label (my phone camera doesn’t have a flash) are in the organic produce section.

the pretty courgettes from Mexico

The nearest origin tags say “product of USA.”   KTA has tracks on the shelf edges to put the tags on, and they don’t specifically reference the item they refer to.   So, I just turned the “product of USA”  label over.

Back to the Hawaii Agriculture blog.  What about local-not-necessarily-organic  vs organic imports? The BBC writes in a great little article, “Local food is usually more “green” than organic food, according to a report published in the journal Food Policy.”


Safeway’s label takes the cake for localwannabe:

product of Kenya

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Most people under 60 don’t even remember ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation. It was famous for the twin orange and white banded smokestacks of the mill.  They were the only thing you could see on the entire ‘Ewa side of Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor) from Honolulu.  Sometime in the last twenty-five years they were torn down.  My Dad was the manager during its last decade of existence as the ‘Ewa Sugar Co.

A pretty nice house came with the job.  It was a gracious old two-story colonial on a couple acres of beautifully landscaped yard.  White, with dark green shutters, guest house, and a cottage.  Other structures included a poultry yard, mother’s orchid and anthurium hothouses, a laundry yard with clothes lines and a big sand box for my sister Mapuana and me.  We had patches of  banana, papaya, sweet potato, cherry tomato, watermelon, and spinach–besides the large herb and vegetable plots.  Even some of the garden flowers were edible, like nasturtiums (eaten only when Mapuana dared me or I lost a bet.)  Finally, but importantly, there was a dilapidated Quonset hut which was my dad’s “ham radio shack.”   Pure Manspace.

Sounds idyllic, and in many ways it was.  Not only my birthplace,  ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation imprinted the fundamentals of the s word on me:  sustainability. It was just normal life then.

As you can probably guess, my parents were not hippies, and no one had heard of a locavore.  But we did live in large part off our land, and local goods. My brother, was (and still is) a cowboy.  We would get a side of beef at a time from him. Besides what we procured on our own, our greater community rounded things out.

Mr. Ornellas was our source for pigs.  Mom would take us out to his place, thick with corrugated iron, and choking  hauna (stink) smell.  Never mind, she would talk story forever, and then pick out the lucky bugga for the imu.

The beekeeper kept his hives in a kiawe thicket. His odd costume and smoker for chasing the bees fascinated us.  Along with the bottles of honey, we also got a few combs.  Mapuana and I just tore off chunks, sucked out the honey, and chewed the wax like gum.

The milkman came to the kitchen door and replaced the empty milk bottles twice a week. Mapuana and I were the morning egg gatherers, but when our chickens weren’t laying enough eggs, he left some of them, too.

There were other plants which ended up on our table in some form: Meyer lemons, chili peppers, poha, starfruit, lychee, macadamia nut, coconut, Suriname cherry, limes, figs, guava, and one big Chinese mango; great for chutney and shoyu mango, but not the best eating. Mother spent days making pickles and relish from cucumbers we grew, jams, jellies, and chutney.  We even made our own mango and poha ice creams, unbelievaby delicious. Mapuana and I made shoyu mango with green mangoes.

Mother took us on outings for other specialties. Catching ‘opae in the ditches out toward Ma’ili was a favorite. We brought them home and put them in the outside cast iron bathtub (mostly used for washing dogs and freshly killed chickens.)  Soaking overnight in clean water flushed the mud out of them. Mauka hikes up Palehua meant mountain apples and liliko’i. Makai outings meant fresh ogo salad.

We shared what we had, as did everyone else, and all lived pretty well.

Even when we went to the grocery store we bought local brands.  ‘Ewa Shopping Basket, the general store, was a block from our house.  It carried a little everything. Along with supplemental produce, fresh meats and fish, we could buy dry goods, fishing supplies and Icees. We purchased only C&H sugar, of course. Meadow Gold dairy products, which back then came from Lani Moo and her pasture pals on the North Shore. Coral (Bumble Bee) Tuna. Aloha shoyu. Dole and DelMonte. Love’s bread.  S & S saimin. One Ton Pi and Lay’s potato chips.  It wasn’t a political statement; we knew where it came from, and local was just better. What happened in the last 30 years?  Grasses from the Americas, Japan, and China, are somehow greener than ours? Of course not. Globalization, efficiencies of the “free market” – where trade agreements and subsidies, thoroughly obfuscate true costs.

The Shopping Basket’s fish supply was limited. Grandmother lived on the water, so sometimes fishermen would stop by and share.  Sometimes it came from the hallowed Kalihi hall of Tamashiro Market.  We only went there on special occasions, and if there were other town errands to do since it was a long hour’s drive into town.

Once I remember a boy about my age, shyly (well I was anyway) watching the live prawns (?) wiggle around in their giant glass tanks. The tanks were well within child’s reach. The cute boy with curly dark hair stretched his hand over the tank, giving my freckled face a daring look.  Not to be outdone, I reached to grab a nice big one just behind its pincers. Quickly he pulled my hand away.  I hadn’t seen the even bigger guy below my target with claws spread.  We smiled, and then mother called me to the checkout line.

Thirty-something years later I met a man who lives in Holualoa, who told me the same story, except the prawns were bigger. That would be Joe, and we’re still friends.

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