WRITTEN BY JESSICA ROHR
We invite a community member to Talk Story and share a personal experience related to our issue theme.
Growing up, we had a thing at my mom’s house called, “Fend for Yourself Night.” It always came unexpectedly and way too close to dinner time. Amidst all the fast food, candy, and processed junk we ate, we were lucky enough to have dinners cooked from scratch on the regular – except on Fend for Yourself Night, when all bets were off. I loved cooking and relished the challenge to use the latest techniques I had learned from watching Great Chefs of the World or Yan Can Cook. This usually manifested itself as me putting on a chef’s hat and splashing balsamic vinegar and random herbs onto mac ’n cheese. It was a start, but no where close to what I eventually came to understand as Fending for Yourself.
The importance of this concept became apparent recently, just before Hurricane Lane was expected to hit, when I opened my pantry to take inventory. Although I’ve been called a fatalist, I tend to under-prepare for potential natural disasters, perhaps as a subconscious objectification of real threat. I want to believe we will all be okay, that the mainland will bail us out, or we will all get by and get back into our college beach bods just in time for the ice cream aisle to be restocked. This is called denial.
What I know is there are simply too many people, too much imported food and too much reliance on infrastructure, technology, and fuel for all of us to be okay if we do experience the worst of the worst. I contemplated this reality during Hurricane Lane while staring at my chest freezer full of food, and wondering why I had sold my generator last year; it could have kept my potential, new best friend alive through catastrophe. My concerns were muted the following day when not a single drop of rain fell at my house, however the impacts of the threat lingered. Shelves had gone empty almost instantly and the docks remained closed for days. What would have happened if serious damage to our main ports had occurred?
This is really just one scenario of many that has the potential to affect our food supply. Climate change is predicted to completely alter suitable farming zones and leave our agricultural industry vulnerable to food shortages. Drought could prevent anything from growing, and our lack of attention to protecting healthy top soil is a recipe for disaster in and of itself. But regardless of the doomsday models, I have to believe in us. Believe that supporting our local agriculture will increase our food security, believe that our islands have the ability to feed us if we just encourage them too, and believe that big changes are happening to support the people that harvest our local food. That being said, I’m prepared to fend for myself.
I started this preparation after discovering that my post college job didn’t support my KCC farmer’s market weekly budget, so I began a journey to produce my own food. I started with a garden, added an aquaculture system, learned to forage on hikes, and started my search for fishing and hunting mentors. This was an exhausting process that I relentlessly pursued and often failed at. Along the way I picked up skills here and there, and made friendships with amazing people that showed me how possible it really was to fend for yourself.
I suppose not everyone wants to know their food source as intimately as I do, but in the event of a catastrophe you may wish you’d known how to use a three-prong to spear a fish, known how to fillet that fish, and known how to build a fire to cook it on. You may want to own a weapon and learn to hunt one of the invasive species (like axis deer or wild boar) that over-populate many of our islands. You may want to know how to dress and cure that meat. You may even want to get a pressure canner and learn how to preserve food for up to a year. You may want to do this in the event of a catastrophe or you may want to do this just to truly value your food and connect with your local food sources. You could even just grow some sprouts for a start, definitely the least green-thumb-necessary gardening you could choose (I somehow still failed at this in my first attempt).
If tasking yourself with all of that doesn’t seem likely, you will be happy to know that there are people doing these things for you, and you can support them so that they grow and have the ability to produce more food. These are the ranchers, the farmers, the fishermen, the hunters, and the people producing food that isn’t reliant on imports, fossil fuels, feed, or chemicals. One thing we all know about Hawaii is that community is strong here in the islands. When people are in need we will come together to support each other and share what we have. If we continue to increase our personal self-sufficiency and challenge ourselves to go above and beyond the supermarket model, we can get there. Volunteer at a farm, grow a garden, learn to hunt, go dive, make friends with a fisherman, and support your local food providers. Let the threat inspire you. [eHI]
JESSICA ROHR is the owner of Forage Hawaii, a local meat purveyor, O’ahu-based. She grew up on O’ahu and Colorado. Jessica is an avid fisherman and slow-food lover with an endless curiosity about everything food related.