Archives for posts with tag: hawaii
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Look at those hard lines and rice filler – the Spam musubi was made to be turned into a flag. Challenge accepted.

As one component of the final project for my AMST 202 class at Honolulu Community College this semester, students were asked to create a food flag.

And as I’ve mentioned in this past blog post, I love food flags! A flag is a symbol of national identity – we salute flags, we sing to flags, we preserve flags, we as nations plant them in conquered territories and raise then when we’re wounded. They become a symbol that imagines us as a shared community. And yet we accept them as an arbitrary arrangement of symbols. Flags are bestowed upon us by nations and we accept them into our families.

But what if we created our own? What would it look like?

After demonstrating a family recipe and mapping where they eat, buy, and produce food on the island, students were asked to construct a flag out of ingredients familiar to them:

I want you to create a Food Flag using foods that you argue reflect Hawaiian/ American/hapa food culture. This needs to be based off of a particular flag: the Kanaka Maoli flag, the American flag, Hawaii’s state flag, or a fusion. A food flag is when you reproduce the colors and patterns of a flag using actual food as the building blocks. For this, put some thought into why you’ve chosen the ingredients you’ve chosen. How are you using these foods to support an argument about Hawaiian/American/hapa food culture? How have you visualized some sort of critical analysis? Get some insight into what the heck a food flag is here and here.

Their results were fantastic. Here’s a sampling of their creativity which reveal how they similarly and different position their ethnic and national identities:

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Ed made the Hawaii state flag out of a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese ingredients to represent the different ethnic heritages of he and his wife. Here you see rice, Okinawan purple sweet potato, and sliced Portuguese sausage.

 

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Jacques spent his youth in the Philippines where he mostly ate meat and rice. For his US food flag he chose turkey bacon and rice because she said that when he was losing weight as a young adult in Hawaii, that was just about all he ate. The blue jello and Cheeries reflect his American processed food fusion.

 

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James had a killer idea to take photos of foods he eats and make them into a Hawaiian state flag. Here you’ll see an assortment of big mainland brands popular here, like Budlight, along with rice, ramen, cookies, eggs, and more.

 

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Because Tisha’s family is largely Japanese, this Japanese flag is made out of rice and ahi tuna which are staples in Japanese/Hawaiian fusion cuisine here on the island.

 

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Elisse made the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) flag out of egg, Spam, and ti leaves (pronounced like the drink “tea”) which are used in Native Hawaiian recipes like lau lau.

 

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Last but not least Alan uses the Hawaiian state flag to showcase an assortment of staple food items here that are essential to every local Hawaiian dinner serving plate lunch. From the bottom you’ll see red Redondo wieners (it seems like the more dye, the better here), macaroni salad (mainlanders watch out – it. is. the. best.), some pastele stew, rice, poi made from ground taro, poke (pronounced “pokay”), and the top stripe is haupia. For the green on the seal you have lau lau. These foods are not cheap! Alan said he spent about $40 to orders of all of these dishes that he shared with his family.

My food flag was one I usually make every July 4th – I call it my July 4th cake. We inhaled it collectively before I could take a photo, but here’s the gist: 1) Take a box of white Duncan Hines cake mix, 2) Make some whipped cream from scratch for icing, 3) Decorate with red and blue fruits to make the stars and stripes. This could be its twin:

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I shared how the cake represented America to me:

  • a box of white completely processed, super sweet, completely unhealthy, and taking no time to cook. There is something that has always intrigued me about its supernatural bleachy whiteness that seems to claim perfection in the most inauthentic way.
  • the fruits are from Mexico and Chile – foreign countries that the US colonizes through trade agreements to get us our berries for cheap all year around
  • the dairy in the whipped cream is the only ingredient from the US, yet represents something that’s completely unhealthy, the dairy industry being toxic to the environment and animal welfare, and yet framed as a staple of the American diet in advertisements
  • and finally sugar – one of the culinary roots of slavery and the colonization of Hawaii that is now killing poor Americans and poor Pacific islanders who are addicted to its immediate high and low cost. Sugar is in every processed food. Sugar is America. Sugar is death.

Layer them together and you have a deliciously unhealthy dessert that you eat chilled on a hot Independence Day (hypocrisy intended). It is about as far away from local food and a melting pot as you can possibly get.

What would your food flag look like? What do the foods you eat say about your ethnic and national identity?

This past week I toured Kahumana Organic Farm on O’ahu as part of my broader research on urban food studies as well as prep for a student tour for my American Studies class. As part of our tour and tasting, I was guided by my friend and farmer at Kahumana, Rachel LaDrig — a Michigan native who has worked at the farm for a year specializing in tours and volunteer coordinating.

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Rachel showing off the farm’s aquaponics system where a giant happy toad is swimming underwater.

Rachel gave us an overview of the farm’s social justice and business initiatives within Hawai’i’s current context before letting us graze on tasty greens and fruits as we strolled through one tiny part of the farm.

Here are my takeaways that I hope you take back to your community:

1. Farms are cities. Kahumana Organic Farm is way more than just a farm — it’s a movement to center farming in communities by connecting food, the environment, health, and society. Although I visited the tour center in Wai’anae, the farm includes other fields, markets, and learning centers across the island.

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A photo I took of the farm’s backdrop, Lualualei Valley, while on a tour at Kahumana. No filter needed – pure beauty. For more info on the politicization of this important agricultural valley in Hawai’i’s politics, click on this photo.

Each campus is part of a larger holistic approach to resolving issues of homelessness, disability, and poor health plaguing the island. The farm runs a transitional housing program in Wai’anae where one of the highest concentrations of native Hawai’ians left have some of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. Well more than half of Wai’anae’s population lives below poverty level. Additionally, Wai’anae is home to a large portion of Hawai’i’s disabled and differently-abled citizens that are lost in the education system as well as a quick and pretty tourist-driven society. Learning centers provide opportunities for people with learning disabilities to engage with food and farming and learn skills with the hope of gaining stable employment in the agricultural and food service industries on the island.

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An example of one of many events, volunteer days, celebrations, and workshops held at Kahumana Organic Farms.

The farm’s message of organic and holistic approaches to food also attract more well-off agri-tourists who dine in the restaurant, sleep in the retreats, and take yoga classes alongside the farmers and others from the Wai’anae community. The farm would not grow without everyone working together, producing together, consuming together, and supporting the integrated mission of community sustainability. Yet the farm cannot resolve these demands on its own.

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These nuts are clearly having no fun.

 

2. Farmers are everyone. Quite often in American society and history, we envision the farmer as an older white male. This image stems from the idea of the yeoman farmer – what Thomas Jefferson idealized as the self-sufficient man farming to suffice his family’s needs. Jefferson argued that the future of the republic depended upon supporting the yeoman farmer as the backbone of America.

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This image of the white heterosexual older male family man farmer was reinforced through the arts during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression that mourned for their loss, yet the image persists today.

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Doubt me? Do a quick search for “farmer” and “America” and you’ll find mostly white male farmers despite the significant rise in young farmers and urban gardeners of color in the US.

Yet Rachel at Kahumana reminds us that everyone is necessary to farming because farming is everything. Farmers pick crops, plant seeds, and water gardens, yes, but they also deliver crops, cook and sell food, plan routes, give tours, and teach about farming. Kahumana excels because it dismantles the single farmer by revealing a kaleidoscope of farm work that necessitates an entire community of support and, in doing so, supports the entire community. Farmers are every gender, every sexuality, every race and ethnicity, every status of citizenship, every income level, every level of education, and a range of abilities.

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A photo from a recent work day at Kahumana celebrating parents who brought their keiki to the farm to help work.

 

3. Farming happens every day. Being raised in South Georgia, I was reminded constantly of how life revolves around the harvest. Our school schedules break for the summer to allow kids to lend helping hands in the fields, our bus routes drive along the fields to pick up farmworkers’ kids… Yet we live in a world of immediate gratification. Our diets and culinary interests are no longer dependent upon the seasons or climates. Grocery stores have enabled us to buy whatever vegetable we want at any time. In a place like Hawai’i where the growing season is year round, farming happens every day.

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See more cool photos of Kahumana Farms from their Facebook site by clicking on this photo

Because Kahumana produces green mixes for more than a dozen restaurants on the island, every single day seeds are planted to grow that mixture, every single day farmers weed and water and clear bugs, and every single day farmers plan to sell their products to restart the cycle all over again.

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A seemingly boring board that is the brain stem of the farm. What you don’t see is a huge grid matching the farm’s products with the multitude of restaurants the farm serves. On the left you can see just a smidgen of today’s prep lists of the foods being collected for restaurants on O’ahu like Juicy Brew and Fete. Go eat Juicy Brew. Right now.

Federally-supported big agriculture over the past century that has pushed monocrops, GMOs, and technology-driven production have made food cheaper by using immigrant and domestic low-paying farm labor, mass production technology and machinery, yet they’ve also alienated us from the process of food production as central to community sustainability. Making farming an everyday practice that requires everyone’s participation equals resilience.

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The secret world beneath the leaves. Papayas are some of the hardiest plants Hawai’i has that offer a full year growing season. Due to Hawai’i’s long history of agricultural colonialism that began with sugarcane and pineapple plantation labor in the 1800s, getting access to local, small-scale, organic fruits is a huge political issue on the island. To learn more about Hawai’i’s Center for Food Safety, click this photo.

Kahumana Farms is one of several organic farms in Hawai’i and part of a growing movement of food-centered community building to support the health, well-being, and stability of Hawai’i’s kama’aina. And when you eat local, you’re able to taste how the local climate makes foods taste radically different from one zone to another.

Pro tip for those going on the Kahumana Farm tour, get Rachel to let you sample the different greens straight from the field – you’ll experience a spectrum of tastes from spicy like wasabi to mustardy and refreshing.

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Rachel harvesting a sampling of different greens for us so we can try what goes in to their famous best-selling greens mix they sell to restaurants on the island.

Find an organic farm in your community: https://www.localharvest.org/organic-farms/ and explore others when you travel: http://wwoofinternational.org/ And share your ideas for making organic farms the center of sustainable communities, families, bodies, and environments!

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Click on this image to learn more about the work of Hawai’i’s Center for Food Safety.

 

This semester I taught an online graduate level course on American culture to a mixed nationality group – two students from the University of Hawaii studying abroad in Tongji, China, and four students from Tongji who are about to study abroad in Hawaii at UH next year. Food became a way for us to talk about the similarities and differences in histories of colonialism and contemporary experiences with families, relationships, celebratory customs, and dining out within the US and between the US and China. The discussion was also a way of celebrating the friendships that the students had made, and to share in their excitement of venturing to Hawaii next year.

After discussing the importance of food and rituals for Thanksgiving, I assigned a small food studies project. First the Chinese students read an essay by Rachel Laudan on food in Hawaii that focuses on the archipelago’s food culture as a mix of agricultural, colonial, and multi-ethnic influences. Next, students wrote a response putting Hawaiian food into conversation with their own assumptions about American food (since none of the Tongji students had been to America and neither of the Hawaiian students had really been to mainland America). You can read more of Laudan’s work on Hawaiian food in her book The Food of Paradise. Additionally the two US students wrote a longer critical analysis of their family’s food culture, focusing on how race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, and other factors influence what their family eats, where they shop, where and how they dine, and how students’ own food preferences might differ from their parents’.

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One of my most favorite Hawaiian foods has been Spam musubi. You’ll find these in plastic wrap often near the counter of a 7-11 for about $2. The Spam is sometimes cooked in sweet Hawaiian teriyaki sauce that contrasts the overpowering saltiness of the canned meat, is balanced by the ever so slightly savory rice, and is held together by the seaweed wrapper. These make excellent beach food snacks if you’re on the go, are cheap and easy to make at home, and can be adapted! I’ve had excellent versions with egg inside or fried shells outside, in fancy food trucks and at the gas station. In this Texas-style adaptation, the musubi includes pickled cactus and Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce: http://www.star-telegram.com/living/food-drink/article79844007.html

Second, students were asked to share a picture and recipe for an essential dish served at an important family celebration. Taken together, that class meal included the following items:

  • jiaozi, pork and cabbage dumplings
  • Mahi Mahi green bean casserole
  • zongzi rice dumplings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waaJ_prlZNk
  • pecan pie
  • braised prawns
  • and cold oven pound cake
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Zongzi – some amazingly fantastic street food in China

Additionally another student from China shared a list of foods typically served in his family at a spring festival:

Appetizer

Braised Plate (Beef/Oxtongue/Gizzards/Chicken Wing Tips/Chicken Claw)

Salad Dried Bean Curd with Coriander

Steamed Chicken with Chili Sauce

Main Course

Glutinous Rice Meatballs

Stewed Meatballs with Brown Sauce

Steamed Weeverfish

Boiled Chinese cabbage

Braised Pork With Preserved Vegetable

Stewed Duck in Beer

Steamed Pork with Rice Flour

Braised Pork Feet

Hot Pot with Pig Blood and Tofu

Soup

Steamed Fish Cake Soup with Cuttlefish, Chicken and Tendons

Stable Food

Dumplings

Rice

Dessert

Milk Bun

Spring Roll

Fried Corn Cake

With my southern background, I mostly geared our conversations toward the kaleidoscope of American culture – prodding students to identify and analyze why common assumptions about American culture (like frontier films or fast food) are both grounded in fact and not representative of the whole country. I sought to prove to the Tongji students how, due to gender, class, race, and region of origin, how my experiences in the South differed from those of my Hawaiian-born students, revealing many different sides of American culture. And now that we have a collective epic family meal, we have something to plan for next fall when the students are feeling homesick for China and excited for touring the US.

Today I want to share my contribution to the collective class meal – the South Georgia cold oven pound cake.

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Cold oven pound cakes have a crunch top layer on top, and can be identified from other traditionally moist pound cakes from their intentionally busted crackly tops.

Food in the South is either and all together, sweet, salty, and fatty (fat is a whole food group down here). An example of salty would be dark leafy collard greens boiled in broth with salty ham bits. An example of sweet would be sweet potato casserole, which is boiled sweet potatoes mixed with sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar, topped with toasted marshmallows. And example of fatty would be biscuits made of lard and covered with butter after baking. An example of sweet and salty and fatty would be our barbecue which often includes salty smoked pork or fatty ribs covered in like a brown sugary sauce.

You can tell we have high, high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, but it doesn’t really sway us. My grandmother is nearly blind and can barely walk due to health problems. She takes insulin for her diabetes – and yet she still eats half a slice of pie after taking insulin. This doesn’t mean that everyone eats this way in the South, as my parents reacted to this by raising my siblings and me to eat low fat or sugar free foods that were often processed – perhaps just as unhealthy as the full fatty Southern versions.

Frequently at a Thanksgiving my family would serve turkey, cornbread stuffing (like a slightly soggy savory bread casserole dish), gravy and cranberry sauce (not actually a sauce but more like a cranberry-flavored gelatin that is super sweet and slightly sour and what you’re supposed to dip the stuffing and turkey in), sweet potato casserole, collard greens, and maybe some other additions like homemade macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, a light broccoli salad, and/or a green bean casserole.

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Traditional Southern-style cornbread dressing is soggy, made from baked corn bread that is crumbled into silt and covered with cooked veggies, cooked eggs, and broth. Don’t forget the poultry seasoning – the distinct flavor of this dressing.

We’d always have at least one type of bread – usually a sweet store-bought roll. And for dessert we’d serve pumpkin pie, maybe pecan pie, and pound cake, although there might be other additions. Generally you eat dinner at about 4:30/5 and then eat a second plate at about 7:30ish whenever your food has settled enough to eat more. And then a 9:30ish dessert sampling. By the end of the night, you should be walking funny or grunting from the discomfort of eating so much. It’s a masochistic ritual.

These are all very normal southern foods but a family favorite connected with my hometown is my grandma’s special cold oven pound cake which is the recipe I’d like to share for this course. To be frank, it’s called a pound cake because historically it included a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of eggs… And it tastes pretty much like a cake version of a shortbread cookie which is made of those ingredients. Normally pound cakes are pretty moist and dense, but the cold oven technique popular in Southwest Georgia where I’m from requires you don’t preheat the oven but put it straight into a cold oven when you go to bake it, creates an effect in which the outside of the cake is crunchy. Some people think it makes it too dry. I think they’re crazy and can’t stand pound cakes that are too soggy. This is clearly a preference thing, and because I grew up with only one type of pound cake, I favor the Southern style.

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Recipe for cold oven pound cake taken from Paula Deen (who is from my hometown, is a world-renowned Southern cook, and is known in American popular culture for making super fatty food and being racist to African Americans. For more on her and how racism is perceived as “accidental” and therefore tolerated in the South, read this essay by author Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/the-guileless-accidental-racism-of-paula-deen/277153/.)

For the original link to the recipe, go here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/southwest-georgia-pound-cake-recipe.html.

Also, you’re supposed to bake this cake in a Bundt pan that creates a whole in the middle. My grandmother ALWAYS chops up an apple and stuffs the slices in the whole or just throws them into the container covering the cake. This makes the cake smell like apples and also adds moisture to the air which the cold oven pound cake needs since cakes normally progressively dry out. Because this cake will last a few days, you’ll need to add more apple slices or replace them as they dry out every day or so.

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No one on the internet is putting apple slices into the cake hole after it is baked. This is a missed opportunity….

Side note: I grew up with a family tradition to eat certain foods on New Years Day for luck. I haven’t many people that follow this tradition so I wanted to share. For this meal each food is supposed to represent a source of good fortune in the upcoming year. The meal includes black eyed peas which are supposed to represent coins for money, collard greens to represent good health, and ham to represent strength, although no one can ever seem to remember what anything means except for the black eyed peas. I remember this being the one day that my mom would pressure my siblings to eat their whole plate otherwise they would have bad luck.

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Eat ya peas and greens!  Gotta make all that coin this year!