Sustainable America Blog

The Eat Local Challenge

Each month, Sustainable America invites a guest blogger to post on a topic related to food and fuel. This November, as harvest season draws to a close, we ask Cherub Silverstein to write about the eat local movement in Hawai’i in partnership with Kanu Hawai’i. Cherub is an educator working to bridge the worlds of education, sustainability, healthy food and agriculture. She works for a non-profit community health clinic, Kokua Kalihi Valley, teaches in the School of Education at Hawai’i Pacific University, and sits on the board of the Hawai’i Food Policy Council. Kanu Hawaii is a Hawaii based non-profit focused on grassroots change at the community level, focused on issues around local food production, energy independence and waste reduction.

Food. We eat it everyday and couldn’t live without it for long, but still our relationship with food is like a relationship with a distant cousin in-law – we just don’t know all that much about it and the systems related to it. From this and other community concerns came the idea for Kanu Hawaii to launch an Eat Local Challenge [ELC] in 2009.

Kanu Hawaii is a non-profit whose mission is to empower people to build more environmentally sustainable, compassionate, and resilient communities rooted in personal commitments to change. Engaging the community in learning about and participating in their local food system is one way to rebuild sustainable, compassionate and resilient communities around the globe, starting here in Hawaii.

Food issues should concern everyone, as everyone is a consumer in the food system. When communities have a solid relationship with their food systems, there is increased community engagement, increased awareness of health and environmental issues, and increased awareness of the global and local political issues embedded in the food system. All of this leads to increased food security, and for islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, nothing could be more important.

The Kanu Hawaii ELC aimed to engage the community in conversations related to the local food economy while creating venues for palpable action to support the movement. The ELC engaged people by providing them with the opportunity to expand their knowledge of food and by asking for personal commitments ranging from eating at restaurants that featured local items to learning how to grow your own food. Other commitments asked participants to eat 100% locally sourced food for one meal or for an entire month – one woman ate completely local for 60 days!

The ELC ran from 2009 to 2011 and we expect it to run again in 2013. Engagement grew 300% in two years, with over 3,000 participants in 2011. People are clearly looking for this kind of experience and empowerment around their food systems. If enduring change is to happen, it is important to remember to go beyond voting with your fork and your wallet. It is imperative that people also consciously engage with their food system and share that engagement with their community.

Kanu Hawaii’s community outreach took different forms, we did everything from hosting public forums with local foodie celebrities to cooking and home gardening workshops and farm tours. The ELC worked with local businesses to offer incentives and helpful tips for shoppers. Restaurants engaged by featuring local items on menus, often with precise descriptions of farm or farmer – giving credit where it is due. This simple act of acknowledging the farmer is an important aspect in linking food to community.

The Eat Local movement is flourishing around the country. Ultimately, it is rooted in a deeper movement of people craving connection and community, people wanting to understand themselves and their history. Eating local positively affects individuals and has a ripple effect for the community. People eat healthier, and consume fewer refined foods. People are giving back to their community both through sweat equity and the economic effects of money going directly to local farmers and businesses. Through the exercise of creative, community-based campaigns like Eat Local, people can finally feel that they are valued and critical participants in their food system.

To learn more about Kanu Hawaii or the Eat Local Challenge please visit our website.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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