Category: Talk Story

Talk Story – Winter 2022

IT IS THE YEAR 1903 and a Matson Liner that departed from San Francisco four and a half days ago tucks itself into a dock at Aloha Tower. Streamers fly through the air and each passenger who departs with their trunks and hat boxes in tow is greeted with an “Aloha” and a fresh lei. 2,000 visitors come to Hawai‘i in this year and in this fashion. Many save their lei and as steamships pass by Diamond Head on their way back to the continent, visitors symbolically throw their lei into the sea in the hopes that they too will return to the shores of Hawai‘i.

In 2019, nearly 10.5 million tourists visited the islands. It is no longer possible to greet each one with fresh lei, which in its essence is the most iconic symbol of aloha. Some visitors pre-arrange a paid service of lei greeters at the airport to reenact the pomp. They yearn for “the aloha spirit” that represents Hawai‘i; some have traveled across the globe to experience it.

Saturation is the word which describes 10.5 million tourists in one year to remote islands of less than 6,500 square miles combined. If Hawai‘i’s economy depends on tourism and that tourism is in many ways dependent on the aloha spirit, what happens when our hospitality industry cannot keep up with the demand? The days of long-standing careers in hospitality have, by and large, transformed into a service industry of high turnover rates and workers forced to keep multiple jobs to provide for themselves and their families. There is a big difference between the two: hospitality involves personal interaction, service is merely performing duties.

In 2019, there were 216,000 workers in Hawai‘i’s tourism industry. They were working in restaurants, hotels, bars, as Waikiki Beach Boys, as traditional Polynesian dancers at lū‘au, as taxi drivers, in curio shops and car rentals agencies. We cannot continue to consider our workers in the vast industry of tourism as dispensable and neglect to pay them a living wage while also expecting them to emit aloha to our islands’ visitors.

This begs the question: has the heyday of aloha in Hawai‘i’s hospitality industry come and gone? Has the weight of our tourism economy become too heavy for the cultural and social intricacies of aloha to thrive? When stretched too thin, genuine aloha becomes nearly translucent, and ABC Store Hawaiian shirts and plastic lei takes its place.

Aloha cannot be directly translated. It means an abundance of things beyond “hello” and “goodbye.” It’s the Hawaiian word for love, compassion and kindness. It is a feeling. In hospitality, for one example, the aloha spirit is felt when the server at your favorite local joint knows your name (and your drink order) and takes the time to talk story table-side. It should be remembered that hospitality is not just for tourists to the islands, but for locals too. In the internet age where “local haunts” are flaunted across travel blogs and long lines appear at tucked away gems, how will the aloha prevail? Aloha is not compatible with lightning fast service and impersonal exchanges with unfamiliar faces.

Despite it all, aloha is alive and well across the islands of Hawai‘i. Men and women still gift each other lei, sometimes for no reason at all. Beers are clinked, meals are shared, beach pā‘ina carry on. Shakas get thrown, story gets talked, backyard mangoes are left on neighbors’ doorsteps. Those who understand the significance of aloha in Hawai‘i will continue to perpetuate its values.

But let us also take better care of our hospitality workers, considering that our state’s economy rests on their aching shoulders. Support your local lei maker and the mom-and-pop general stores, and please, tip your server. Let us be more patient with the tourists in their rental cars, give them directions when they look lost on the sidewalk and help them pronounce Hawaiian words when they struggle. That is spreading aloha. Let us say the word aloha more, to our friends and to strangers, and really mean it. We can be the aloha we wish to see in Hawai‘i’s hospitality industry.




ON A RECENT VISIT TO THE MAINLAND, someone suggested buying groceries at the Dollar store. As a long-time food writer and avid supporter of local farmers, I was dumbfounded. Another friend then described how there are no grocery stores near where she lives and farmers markets are few and far between. 

It got me thinking how very fortunate we are to live in Hawaii. Yes, it’s true that (too) much of our food is imported. Yet Hawaii’s agricultural industry is a key part of our local economy. The Aloha State leads the nation in production acreage of macadamia nuts, papaya, passion fruit, taro, coffee, pineapple, bananas, and ginger root. And the number of farms in Hawaii continues to grow, increasing 5 percent to 7,328 farms in 2017 compared to 2012, according to USDA Census of Agriculture data. 

Living on Hawai’i Island also known as the Big Island, there are nearly half a dozen farmers markets near me where I can get fresh local produce. When I go to a local restaurant and ask where the beef is from, more often than not they can name the specific ranch – and it’s local and one I personally know. 

It’s this ability to know where your food is from as well as explore local farms and learn how food is grown, harvested and made, that makes me so excited for the seventh annual edible Hawaiian Islands Farm Day on Saturday May 16, 2020 – #EHIFarmDay20. This is a statewide social media event in which anyone can participate. You can even participate in other parts of the country – or the world. Every year I make it a point to visit a local farm, go on a farm tour, and/or shop at a farmers market. For me, it’s an opportunity to ask myself, ‘What do I want to learn this year? What foods do I want to explore?’

It’s super easy to participate in #EHIFARMDAY20. All you have to do is invite family and friends to SHOP at a farmers’ market, VISIT a farm, TAKE a farm tour, THANK a farmer, and SHARE what you experience on social media using the hash tag #EHIFarmDay20. 

Making it even easier – you can find the HAWAII FARM GUIDE inserted in the 2020 Spring issue or on the edible Hawaiian Islands website. 

During past Farm Days I’ve gone to local farmers markets and talked to different vendors. If they could not name where the food was grown that they were selling– I didn’t buy from them. For the most part though, I’ve found local farmers to be passionate about the food they grow. They want to tell you how they grow their produce and what makes it special. 

Shopping at your local farmers market means the food is fresher, in season, and offered in greater variety. Knowing where your food is grown not only adds a sense of security about food safety but also keeps money in our local economy. 

Other years during #EHIFarmDay, I’ve gone on farm tours and learned how vanilla extract is made (so easy to make yourself once you know how!) and how turmeric is grown. I think the thing that amazes me the most is how chocolate is made. Last year I toured a cacao farm and I still find it incredible that those odd-looking cacao pods can create a substance as rich and delicious as dark velvety chocolate. 

To me, #EHIFarmDay is food adventure day. I can’t wait to go on another adventure exploring farms during this year’s event. What will you explore during #EHIFarmDay20?



THE WAY WE PRODUCE, consume and discard food is no longer sustainable. That much is clear from the newly released UN climate change report which warns that we must rethink how we produce our food — and quickly — to avoid the most devastating impacts of global food production, including massive deforestation, staggering biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change.

While it’s not often recognized, the food industry is an enormous driver of climate change, and our current global food system is pushing our natural world to the breaking point. At the press conference releasing the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, report co-chair Eduardo Calvo Buendía stated that, “the food system as a whole – which includes food production and processing, transport, retail consumption, loss and waste – is currently responsible for up to a third of our global greenhouse gas emissions.”

In other words, while most of us have been focusing on the energy and transportation sectors in the climate change fight, we cannot ignore the role that our food production has on cutting emissions and curbing climate change. By addressing food waste and emissions from animal agriculture, we can start to tackle this problem. How do we do that?

Livestock production is a leading culprit – driving deforestation, degrading our water quality and increasing air pollution. In fact, animal agriculture has such an enormous impact on the environment that if every American reduced their meat consumption by just 10 percent – about 6 ounces per week – we would save approximately 7.8 trillion gallons of water. That’s more than all the water in Lake Champlain. We’d also save 49 billion pounds of carbon dioxide every year — the equivalent of planting 1 billion carbon-absorbing trees.

What’s more, to the injury from unsustainable food production, we add the insult of extraordinary levels of food waste: nearly one third of all food produced globally ends up in our garbage cans and then landfills. We are throwing away $1 trillion worth of food, or about half of Africa’s GDP, every single year. At our current rates, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest carbon emitter after the U.S. and China.

To ensure global food security and sustainable food practices in an ever-growing world, we need to reexamine our food systems and take regional resources, such as land and water availability, as well as local economies and culture into account. To start, the United States and other developed countries must encourage food companies to produce more sustainable food, including more plant-based options, and educate consumers and retailers about healthy and sustainable diets. Leaders must create policies that ensure all communities and children have access to affordable fruits and vegetables. And we all can do our part to reduce food waste, whether it’s in our company cafeterias or our own refrigerators.

Technology also plays a part. Developed countries should support and incentivize emerging innovative technologies in plant-based foods, as well as carbon-neutral or low-carbon meat production.

Developing countries, on the other hand, face high levels of undernutrition, as well as limited access to healthy foods. Many nutrient-dense foods (such as fruits, vegetables and quality meats) are highly perishable, often making prices significantly higher than ultra-processed, nutrient-poor and calorie-dense foods. The high cost of nutrient-dense foods creates a significant barrier to healthy diets, as seen in urban Malawi and many other countries.

By promoting enhanced production of healthy and nutritious foods while also improving markets in low-income countries, we can lower prices and increase accessibility of healthy and sustainable diets. Politicians can also tackle systemic inequalities by redirecting agricultural subsidies to promote healthy foods, as well as investing in infrastructure like rural roads, electricity, storage and cooling chain.

Change must happen at every level if we want to build a better food system. International participation and resource-sharing can spread regional solutions across countries. And working for change at the ground level — among individuals, communities, local and federal governments and private entities — can help fight hunger and food inequality firsthand.

Yes, our food system is broken, but not irrevocably so. The challenges are enormous, but by understanding the problem and potential solutions, we can effect critical changes in the ways we produce, consume and dispose of food.

Kathleen Rogers is President of Earth Day Network. Dr. Shenggen Fan is Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and a Commissioner for the EAT – Lancet Commission.

Talk Story – How You?


We were not “yell-over-the-fence” neighbors. Another apartment and a trash chute divided us. But a brightly lit hallway illuminated a path that connected us morning, noon and night for a decade in San Francisco as we exchanged the modern-day version of a cup of sugar: food.






Our neighbor’s apartment was always unlocked with a cold beer waiting for us in the fridge. Venturing next door to borrow this or that led to an invitation to stay. Our friends slipped a beverage into our hands as they ushered us to their dining room table. The Giants baseball game or evening news murmured in the background as we recapped our day. A bottle of tequila sat in the middle of the table inside a ring of shot glasses for anyone interested in a celebratory toast just for the hell of it.

Fresh bread appeared followed by a block of feta, a dish of locally cured olives, and a bottle of good olive oil as our neighbors made us honorary members of their Greek family. Eventually, a casserole such as moussaka, or whatever they were eating for dinner that night, arrived before us as a napkin materialized over our laps. 

Our friendship was comfortable. I never thought twice about stopping by to ask for a cup of this or a pinch of that. It was not about that anyway; it was about staying connected. This daily dialogue taught me that an ongoing exchange of food between kitchens can deepen a friendship. 

Since I moved to Honolulu, the practice of “borrowing” ingredients and sharing food has multiplied tenfold, not just with my neighbors, but also with pals from all over the island, and strangers, too. Celebrating this connection is a way of life here. 

Friends show up to lunch with bags of homegrown mangos in the summer and pass around sandwich baggies of pipikaula at pau hana. During our first holiday season on island, I was amazed at the number of edible treats that we received: bags of cookies, candies, wine and pie. Even a plastic container of homemade spaghetti with meat sauce wrapped in a red and green bow. 

We started meeting friends for dinner weekly at the same restaurant – a place where regulars line the bar and everyone knows everyone. Every week, someone brings something: barbecue pork ribs from Chinatown, creamy smoked salmon dip, dried fish seasoned with crunchy sea salt, chewy balls of mochi, Chex Mix – you name it. 

This routine exchange of food invites us to elevate ordinary interactions to celebrations. We do not wait for special occasions to acknowledge our connection. We use food to constantly celebrate our time together, our collective abundance, and our essential interdependence as an island community.

It is less about what kind of food we exchange and more about the creation of an ohana through the act of sharing. By bringing food to gatherings, we celebrate the simple act of spending time together. “Borrowing a cup of sugar” from a neighbor becomes an excuse to check in so that we can build and strengthen our connection. 

Through our generosity with food, we also celebrate the abundance mentality that community can generate. Living in an environment where everyone continually gives to one another is largely what evokes the warm, fuzzy feeling that I have developed toward Hawai‘i. Abundance circulates: What you give comes back. The more you give, the more you receive. 

This interdependence feels more important to celebrate now than it did in San Francisco. Maybe it is because we are secluded on a group of islands, made jointly vulnerable by our separation from the rest of the world; that idea alone makes me appreciate my neighbors more. Knowing that my neighbor has an ingredient that I might need in a jam may seem trivial, but it makes me feel supported and safe. It invites me to regularly celebrate the idea that, “We are all in this together.” The more I contribute to and celebrate these powerful facets of our connection, the more I receive from it. 

So, do not be shy. The next time that you are short on an ingredient, instead of running to the store, ask a neighbor. The worst outcome is that they do not have it and you head to the store. The best outcome is that you spark a lifelong friendship. 

Do not wait for an excuse to celebrate. Connection constantly offers one of the worthiest excuses available. [eHI]

Sarah Burchard is a natural foods chef, freelance writer, event coordinator, marketer and certified health coach. She is an advocate for family farms and embodies the phrase: support local. In addition to supporting small wellness-based businesses, writing for local publications and hosting farm-to-table events she leads farmers market tours in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. 



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I READ AN ARTICLE RECENTLY that it started some 1.5 million years ago! Passed down from generation to generation, my quest for grilling perfection started about thirty years ago on a leased ranch in South Texas, around a family made fireplace which I helped to build brick by brick. At this hearth, I watched my Dad cook all the different game we killed. We had a very rigid family rule that if you shot it, you had to eat it – no waste. There was a wide range of game prepared around this hearth: venison, wild pig, nelgi, dove, quail, rabbit, and the occasional rattlesnake. (No, rattlesnake does not taste like chicken.) 

You really need to know your way around a fire pit to cook all the different types of game we had the opportunity to hunt. I loved all of them, but if you asked me which one was my favorite, I would have to say dove. That might seem odd at first, but I base it on the whole experience from start to finish — from opening day, to shooting, finding, cleaning, and the culmination of having a big family BBQ at the end of the season. This is where we shared all the funny, exciting, and sometime scary stories of the hunt – stories about jumping cactus, rattlesnakes and some pretty bad shots. In South Texas, if you have not been peppered by no. 8 shot, you haven’t been dove hunting enough times. 

While this was a fun and exciting time in my life, I also began to pick up that the real way to eat exactly what I wanted was to cook for myself. Embarking into my college life, I realized that if I was going to live alone, I needed to learn how to cook. My mom made me a cook notebook with all of my favorite recipes, which I still reference today. At that time, cooking was not a real passion, it just got me what I needed: dinner. Then I learned I could impress friends on the weekend with homemade beef stroganoff and pot roast. Cooking seemed to come easy to me, while friends and neighbors struggled with taste, consistency and quality. Of course, grilling on a college budget meant grilling hamburgers and hotdogs. Grilling hotdogs is a fine art of char and blistering without burning. You need the right temperature, correct distance from the heat, the ever-present flame and the right dog (Hebrew National). You can make many a friend if you can consistently and correctly do this. I also figured out that I could impress dates with homemade cooking – thanks Mom!

Over the next 20 years, I learned my way around backyard grilling. I was looking to be the best amongst friends and to do so, I learned how to use all four elements: earth for the meat, wood (mesquite) for fire, the right amount of air for the temperature, and sometimes the 4th element, water, for control. Once I get the fire to the desired state, which is always different for different meats, I begin to work with all five of my senses. 

I start with my eyesight, looking for that perfect fire, and I listen to the crackle for the right burn consistency. After I get the steak on, I go by feel, letting the fire breath around whatever I am cooking. When I flip the meat I take notice of its firmness. At this point I might add some more wood for a light smoky aroma. Now that I’ve used 4 of my senses, I figure out the perfect time to pull the meat. Finally, the best and sometimes most rewarding part of grilling is tasting the first bite! Each time I grill, even if it’s the same cut of meat, it will taste slightly different – that’s what makes tasting so rewarding. 

You can read all the cook books, YouTube the latest how-to-grill video, watch neighbors, and ask friends, but the real key is putting in hours, hours, and more hours on the grill. As many say, practice makes perfect, and this is so true when it comes to grilling. 

There is nothing better in my life than a beautiful, sunny, backyard day, with smoke gently rising and friends sharing stories and laughter while I grill. [eHI]

Sam Wilburn moved to the Big Island from Texas 9 years ago. He has a degree in architecture from Texas Tech but, in his heart, is an entrepreneur. He founded Hawaiian Volcano Sea Salt in 2011, and has since grown it into a successful small business.


IMAGE BY ALLYSON TAYS We invite a community member to Talk Story and share a
personal experience related to our issue theme.

A group of four women spark change within themselves and the community for lasting shift in our food system. Have you ever noticed an unmet need in your community, and asked yourself, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about that?” This is what happened to me and three of my colleagues/friends a few years ago as we gazed at the Central Valley of Maui, now fallow after Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) stopped mono-cropping sugarcane. Two of my friends, Kutira Decosterd and Sandra Hay, had just seen Oprah give her “Live Your Best Life” talk at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. During her speech, Oprah mentioned that all of us here on Maui were obviously living our best lives. “Really?” they thought. The beautiful environment and tropical weather may create an image of paradise, but underneath the rainbow we still have our share of problems.  

Hawaii imports approximately 85-90% of our food, which makes us particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and global events that disrupt shipping and other transportations of food. Many in Hawaii suffer from illnesses such as diabetes after adopting a “Western, fast-food” diet. While the tourism industry thrives, we wrestle with issues of homelessness and lack affordable housing for the people who live, work, and raise their families here. And don’t forget the climate change threatening our coastline at an alarming rate. 


When Kutira and Sandra walked away from Oprah they had an “aha” moment. Around that same time another friend, Charlotte O’Brien, and I were having similar conversations. We all knew a lot about agriculture and the methods, policies and infrastructure that supports it. We understood that cultural practices of long ago had sustained populations larger than ours is now. We saw that a marriage of new regenerative farming methods with ancient cultural practices could hold the key to a healthy food future. 

During a get-together one evening, we decided to write Oprah a letter asking if she would join us in our cause to inspire regenerative agriculture practices and grow food for local consumption in Maui’s Central Valley. Food grown in vibrant, chemical-free soil brimming with healthy microbes contains vital nutrients and minerals that we need to grow strong and healthy bodies. Microbial rich soil is also one of the foremost ways to achieve carbon sequestration, which reduces carbon emissions. We wanted to live our best life, and we thought food could be at the center of making that happen. 


By growing our food locally we can grow our economy. According to State statistics: for every 10% of food grown locally, $313 million is infused into our State economy. Growing food within the State enables the expenditures on food to remain in the local economy. We can feed the people and the economy at the same time! 

Regenerative farming practices will protect our water, reefs and air quality instead of poisoning them with toxic chemicals. Many new jobs could be created and our tourism and economy could thrive. This may seem idealistic, but statistics show that new, regenerative methods are proving to increase yield, boost nutrition, and sequester carbon, all while growing a healthy bottom line. 

Our letter to Oprah was never sent. We decided we had to be the ones to take action. I am not sure what we were thinking, never dreaming we would get as far as we have. But, much like a farmer when he gazes upon an empty landscape, our vision was birthed that day. 

We called our new company “Aina First.” A love of the land is at the core of the Hawaiian culture – when we honor the land that feeds us then we honor all life, and we all win. Our motivation and guidance created our tagline: Driven by Urgency, Guided by Nature, and Supported by Community. These three guiding principles keep our mission in focus. 


Together we stumbled through the dynamics of starting a business. We gathered experts from across the State and abroad and began negotiating with A&B to purchase the land. We reached out to the community, creating a coalition for local food production for the Central Valley. Our farm plan took shape and a Pro forma was created. Then on December 28, 2018 we learned that someone else – Mahi Pono, a division of Trinitas – had purchased the land. 

Perhaps this is the best thing that could have happened. We are now moving forward in hopes of leasing a large piece of the land, and our community outreach continues to inspire new ideas as we proceed with our educational series around the benefits of regenerative agriculture. We started with a vision to grow food for Hawaii and growing takes patience. There is a momentum that is flourishing here and with nourishment we will continue to grow our dream. IMUA! 

Susan Teton Campbell, author of Eating As A Spiritual Practice, The Healthy School Lunch Action Guide, and the Chef Teton Essential Cuisine DVD Series, resides on Maui. Susan is an active educator and community organizer for healthy food and regenerative farming practices. She teaches cooking, and coaches for health and longevity.



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).

Local Fisherman, Noah Joseph Katz searches the shoreline for bait fish.

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.