The Free Range Gourmet Free range thoughts on the finest ingredients, cuisine, and fine dining in Hawaii.

Range Gourmet

  Local Hawaii ingredients used with an international flair

        ^BNanette^K^H (Gone but not forgotten) 1946-2020


Sunday, July 19, 2009


A slippery conundrum

by Larry Geller

Unagi_Kabayaki-2005-08-28 - WIkipedia GPL License Today, July 19, 2009, is doyo no ushi no hi in Japan, a day in summer for eating eels, or unagi.

It’s a tradition going back centuries. On this day in Japan it’s an imperative to eat unagi for lunch or dinner. It’s said to be “stamina ryori,” or health food, and doyo no ushi no hi is aimed to occur at about the hottest time of the summer in Japan. There may be more than one in a given year.

There are plenty of eel restaurants to accommodate the demand. Some lunch stands come to resemble a rush-hour Tokyo subway crush as people line up for their unagi-don (eels on rice) or kabayaki (broiled eels served in a lacquer box, pictured).

The cooking process involves steaming and grilling, producing a product that is just short of addictive. In Osaka, eels are grilled without steaming and served between two layers of rice, a dish called mamushi, which foreigners often confuse with the poisonous Japanese snake whose name is a homonym. Which style a person prefers is often a matter of which they were imprinted with as a child.

The sad truth is that the demand in modern Japan exceeds the local supply and so for this day, inferior imported eels crowd out the higher-quality domestic product too often. The expense-account crowd doesn’t have a problem, though. The finest (and most expensive) eel restaurants are reserved a year or more in advance, and this is assuming that you qualify to eat there, anyway. The un-connected need not even apply.

Buying frozen eels in Hawaii presents a similar problem. The Chinese import is cheaper at Don Quijote, but the Japanese eel is fatter and better prepared, but more costly. They also have tiny bottles of sauce to go with the eels, but for some reason don’t keep them nearby the freezer holding the eels.

Don Q is missing the boat by not publicizing the day, incidentally.

One story of the origins of doyo no ushi no hi is that business had not been going well for a certain eel vender due to the hot weather. So he sought out scholar Hiraga Gennai, perhaps one of history’s earliest marketing consultants. Gennai is said to have advised  him to stick up a sign declaring the day as “eel day” with his name on it, and the rest is history. Other eel shops followed suit and the popularity of unagi soared.

The modern-day conundrum is that the wild eel population is in decline. The Monterrey Bay Aquarium has put eels on their “Avoid” list. Farmed eels are very problematic, with waste product issues and (because they eat other fish) depletion of wild fish populations is an issue also.

What to do? For now, we have cut out our eel habit completely, except on this day. If conscience overcomes the taste buds tonight, we may give it up entirely.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Obama’s garden, our food, swamped in toxic sludge residue

by Larry Geller

Remember Michelle Obama’s great idea to grow a White House garden and keep it organic? She even resisted pressure from the pesticide lobby to spray their poisons on it.

Unfortunately, something happened on the way to the realization of the First Lady's good intentions. Recently the National Park Service discovered that the White House lawn, where the garden was planted, contains highly elevated levels of lead -- 93 parts per million. It's enough lead for anyone planning to have children pick vegetables in that garden or eat produce from it to reconsider their plans: lead is highly toxic to children's developing organs and brain functions -- however, it's below the 400 ppm the EPA suggests is a threat to human health. [Huffington Post, The Obama Organic Family Garden: Swimming in Sludge?, 7/1/2009]

It seems that the White House lawn was contaminated with sewage sludge, promoted as safe fertilizer.

Worse, as you’ll read when you click on the link above, much of our food supply is similarly contaminated with lead and heavy metals by an industry that just wants to get rid of its crap, nevermind that it poisons children and big people.

Ok, a bit more, to encourage you to read the entire article:

So what is sludge, really? A stinking, sticky, dark-grey to black paste, it's everything homeowners, hospitals and industries put down their toilets and drains. Every material-turned-waste that our society produces (including prescription drugs and the sweepings of slaughterhouses), and that wastewater treatment plants are capable of removing from sewage, becomes sludge. The end product is a concentrated mass of heavy metals and carcinogenic, teratogenic, and hormone-disrupting chemicals, replete with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There are some 80,000 to 90,000 industrial chemicals, including a host of dioxin-like deadly substances, which are allowed to be present in sludge under current EPA rules. What's worse, there's no way of knowing which toxic chemicals and heavy metals are entering the wastewater stream at any given time or in what concentrations. Sludge is always an unknown quantity, and therefore, assessing whether sludge is safe to use for growing food, is -- in practice -- impossible.

Farmers who care about what they grow know this, and -- despite the best efforts of government and the sludge industry -- growing food in sewage sludge is prohibited under the federal organic regulations. Still, sludge is still widely used as a cheap alternative to fertilizer, and unless you're buying organic produce, it's impossible to know if the food you eat was grown in it.

(Thanks to Viviane Lerner for pointer to this article)

Monday, July 06, 2009


We need this in Hawaii--NY Times: Street Farmer

by Larry Geller

Check out this July 1, 2009 article from the New York Times Magazine, Street Farmer, describing the achievements of Will Allen, a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award winner:

Like others in the so-called good-food movement, Allen, who is 60, asserts that our industrial food system is depleting soil, poisoning water, gobbling fossil fuels and stuffing us with bad calories. Like others, he advocates eating locally grown food. But to Allen, local doesn’t mean a rolling pasture or even a suburban garden: it means 14 greenhouses crammed onto two acres in a working-class neighborhood on Milwaukee’s northwest side, less than half a mile from the city’s largest public-housing project.

Of course, Allen uses worms, but there’s much more to his methods, and I think we need to learn this in Hawaii:

With seeds planted at quadruple density and nearly every inch of space maximized to generate exceptional bounty, Growing Power is an agricultural Mumbai, a supercity of upward-thrusting tendrils and duct-taped infrastructure. Allen pointed to five tiers of planters brimming with salad greens. “We’re growing in 25,000 pots,” he said. Ducking his 6-foot-7 frame under one of them, he pussyfooted down a leaf-crammed aisle. “We grow a thousand trays of sprouts a week; every square foot brings in $30.” He headed toward the in-ground fish tanks stocked with tens of thousands of tilapia and perch. Pumps send the dirty fish water up into beds of watercress, which filter pollutants and trickle the cleaner water back down to the fish — a symbiotic system called aquaponics. The watercress sells for $16 a pound; the fish fetch $6 apiece.

Hawaii imports upwards of 90% of its food from the Mainland. It’s generally admitted that we cannot be fully sustainable… but maybe we need to re-think that.

Here’s a video…

And a related article.

So. Who in Hawaii can get the ball rolling and bring Allen’s knowhow to our state?

(Thanks to George Fox for suggesting this article)


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