We’re in Hawaii, buying groceries. The produce section is lined with photos of the local farmers who grew the fruits and vegetables. Some of the fruits and vegetables, anyway. Actually, not that many. Even here, in the independent natural store full of local products, beneath the signs extolling the importance of eating locally, most of the food is imported from the mainland.
Hawaii imports 85–90% of its food, but there’s a movement to shift that balance. The financial and environmental costs of transporting food from the mainland are one reason for the local food movement, but health is just as important a reason to push for equitable access to fresh, healthy, affordable food.
We just missed a festival celebrating and promoting breadfruit and other traditional, climate-appropriate food crops. Urban agriculture programs are helping people grow fresh food in backyards and community gardens. In Hilo, we saw parking strips along the main thoroughfare planted with edible plants for anyone to harvest, and fliers announcing local seed exchanges and gardening classes.
Another thing that supports local food: tourists who ask for it. Umbrella drinks with an ocean view are fun, but given a choice, I’d rather put my tourist dollars towards independent businesses supporting a healthy food system for the people who live here. (Also, the food is better than at the umbrella drink places.)
While trying not to be too obnoxious, I’ve been asking waiters and shopkeepers where ingredients are sourced, or if they can recommend dishes made mostly with local ingredients. A few don’t know or care, but most seem pleased that we’re taking an interest. It’s almost impossible to completely avoid imported food — especially since we only have a kitchen for a small part of our trip — but we’ve had some interesting chats, and some incredible food.
At the market, we pick up locally grown sweet potatoes, yacon, carrots, eggplant, and locally brewed beer. We also buy imported almond milk, wine, and cheese, plus bulk-bin oatmeal, couscous, and lentils of unknown provenance. Local fruit and macadamia nuts from the farmers market, where I amuse the woman by buying a bag of longan and only then asking, “and what are they called?”