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Food Education:

Chicken Kabobs

Chicken kabobs with fresh mango sauce, made for Waipā Foundation's 2015 mango festival. Nalani Kaneakua photo.


“I was a director at Waipā Foundation for many, many years,” Kaneakua recounts, speaking of the program two ahupua‘a down from Hā‘ena, “and one of the programs I developed was using the program kids that was already there were coming in and out of the kitchen because I was doing other events. And microwaving their foods. I’m like ‘Wow, what are you guys eating?’ It was like pizza-pockets. OMG, every day they’re coming in with their saimin, and I’m like, ‘These kids are eating crap here.’ So we’ll figure something out. I said, ‘We’ll make it fun.’

"All these kids come through for years, and some of them don’t know how to turn the stove on, they didn’t even know how to use a knife. I was like, ‘What? You guys are local kids, we all grew up cooking our own food.’ But they didn’t. That was about five years ago, so I put a team together after two or three years, and we took a whole bunch of recipes and we created a cookbook. And then I got like five strong kids from the program and we created a Waipā team and we started competing just on the local level—a recipe contest.

“By then they’ve already have had their life skills honed: they knew how to turn the stove on, they knew how to boil water. Some of them were really pretty promising. I was thinking ‘We got some future here,’ But some of them are like ‘Whoa!’ So we entered a bunch of competitions. We took breadfruit and we made humus. That’s kind of popular now. We did like a carpaccio of breadfruit. That would be the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Poipu. And then we entered the Coconut Festival one year when Food Network just happened to be there, and the kids won everything. It was really more of a team approach to health that we got them together.

“We cooked a dish called ‘cocomari’: we took soft meat from the coconut and marinated it just like calamari—fresh dill and garlic and a little patise, whatever, and then we breaded it and it tasted exactly the same. And they’re like ‘What? No way, coconut?’ That’s my original. So it was kind of keeping them in their comfort zone: they love calamari, but getting them to eat something more healthy. It was vegan, it was accessible, using our own resources, it was bountiful, and yet you didn’t have to just eat steamed ulu. You could do a whole bunch of things. So that was that whole idea with the kids in Waipā. We had a good time. We wanted to go to the national level but they’re too young. But it continues to be a passion for me. I’m always learning.

“We did a program with the Roots Café on O‘ahu.. Also I did a program here with families of Ni‘ihau—extended families from the west side school. Koloa Ni‘ihau. Again, the kids were coming to school with soda, a couple things of musubi, dry saimin, and they were eating a lot of candy and stuff. And it was totally crashing them throughout the day in class. I mean literally, they were like Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! And then zzzzzz. And so for I think maybe eight weeks, every Friday we’d go down there and we’d cook a good meal. And they would make it part of their class project toward the end of the week before we got there: go find out how much sodium there is in a slice of Spam, whatever, and do little presentations.

“I take Hawaiian food or Hawaiian-used food. So why potatoes where we got taro? Why potatoes when we have ulu? Why this when we have that? So it’s just about using similar ingredients here and create the same dish.

“I teach here at Anahola once a week during the school year—vocational—I teach cooking, so we have a culinary program. Because the kids, the upperclassmen come to school without food, and although they live right in the community, they’re hungry. And because they’re hungry, they don’t want to listen. They don’t learn, they don’t want to do anything.

“So they look forward to every Friday, because I have a small team that I selected and we cook for them with what’s been donated to us, what we gather, what some of the other communities bring in, the farmers, whatever we garden, so they look forward to it. And kids get to learn life skills, they get to prepare meals. Sometimes they just kind of got out of their classes and they’re like ‘Auntie, we’re going to cook today.’ They have a solid meal at the end of the day and you can tell some of them will take a little more, they want to, and I’m like ‘Hey, take that home to your family.’ So all of that is really, really important for me that food ties into education, ties into productivity in the work place, and even on a health benefit level in your own home.

“I say, ‘I cannot conquer the world, I can only help myself—which I do—and my family,’ they’re like ‘Oh my god let’s go to mom’s!’ And then my neighborhood, I just cannot stretch right out from the community, and hopefully they get it, and they get it.

“Sometimes I run into kids and they try to hide their little Happy Meal. I’m like ‘Hey, whatevers.”’ I think people are afraid. People are so easily influenced, the society and the way it’s changed, that they forget where they came from and their connection to food and culture and land: land based, community based. This is kind of where this school is heading. It first started off being very community based, ‘āina based, and the teachers that they were bringing in were not used to that kind of teaching. They were just textbook, classroom. So they went from outdoor teaching to back into the classrooms, so now we are trying to re-identify the whole mission and vision for this school. We’ve got to get the kids back out because they learn more, their grades go up more. They’re more active, they’re more healthy, because of the foods. They can’t sit in the classroom, they get fatigued, they get tired, they get restless.

“But you get them out where they have good food in their stomach and they’re outdoors, they got fresh air, they got their hands in the dirt, and they forget about all that, and they are learning at the same time.

"It’s Western influence: they like the fast foods, the fast cars, they like ‘click this and turn that on and push that.’ Technology is great if it’s used in way to benefit you. All the kids are running around right now looking down at their phones. All these stupid games....It’s okay, but learn to put it down.

“I have a grandson that walks with it, but I’m like, ‘No, not in tutu’s house. Go out in the yard. Let’s get to the beach.’ I think they’re losing all of that. People just don’t care—they don’t care what they eat, they don’t care how they eat, it’s cheap. That’s most of what I get is ‘It’s cheap, it’s fast. I don’t have time to cook.’ I make time to cook.

"My niece said ‘Hey auntie, I got tons of starfruit coming off the tree.’ ‘I’ll be right there.’ All plans stop, I don’t care if the President showed up and I’m supposed to feed him, I’m going to go and get star fruit because when it’s offered to you, and it’s free, come get it, all I do is make her a big old jug of juice in return, you know. She’s happy, I’m happy, they don’t eat the fruit, it falls to the ground. I feel like the food narc, I’m driving around and like, ‘Are you picking your mangos? They’re falling on the ground, you know.’ ‘Oh, help yourself! That’s all rotting!’ ‘No, my horse will eat it.’ I’ll get the good stuff, and I think about my animals, and I think what I can do with what I have left.”


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