After years of studying farmers and food producers in the Hawaiian Islands for post-doctoral research, Clare Gupta dreamed up a book project with her friend and fine art photographer Gillian Bostock Ewing to portray these individuals and their inspiring work.
"Nourish: The Revitalization of Foodways in Hawaii" captures the heart of what motivates the men and women on these islands — that nourishment stems not only from calories and nutrients, but also from a deep-rooted connection to the land, sea and beings, past and present.
Foodways are the cultural, social and economic practices connected to the production and consumption of food. It's a term that encompasses more than just the literal pathways through which food is produced. It is a concept that we use to draw attention to the intersection of food in culture, traditions, and history. In Hawaii, these intersections have evolved dramatically over time.
The images in this book present a portrait of how food is produced, prepared and consumed in Hawaii today. The essays, written by food scholars and practitioners probe deeper into how Hawaii’s unique history shapes its food traditions and what new pathways towards a vibrant local food system are emerging. We believe strongly that together, the images and essays in this book make visible the spaces of possibility for re-inscribing shared community values into food, both in Hawaii and beyond. These efforts offer inspiration and hope as we seek to create a more sustainable and nourishing planet.
Intended release date for our book is December 2017.
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Clare Gupta — Co-author
Gillian Bostock Ewing — Co-author & Photographer
Brian Scott of Boon Design — Book Designer
Marc Weidenbaum of Dstl.info— Editorial Support
Authors: Malia Akutagawa, Emalani Case, Twilight Greenaway, Ualani Ho‘opai, Juliet McMullin, Albie Miles, Mary Mostafanezhad, Nancy Redfeather, Richard Spiegel, Krisna Suryanata, Mehana Vaughan, and Aiko Yamashiro.
Farmers & Organizations: Una Greenaway of Kuaiwi Farm, Nancy Gove of Pacifica Hawaii Gourmet Sea Salt, Ken & Roen Hufford of Honopua Farm, Kahealani Kaaihili of Mokuwai Piko Poi, Ka Honua Momona Fish Ponds, Ravi Kapur of Liholiho Yacht Club, Uncle Kama of Molokai, Dash & Erika Kuhr of HIP Agriculture, Jill Mattos of Hawaii Big Island Beef, Shannon Shultz of BEEing Aloha, Dick Thretfall of Hawaii Island Goat Dairy, and Earl Yamamoto of Best Farms.
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The following interview with Clare and Gillian was recorded June 2017. Read on to learn about their experience making the book together.
Q: We’re here to talk about your work on Nourish, how you came to focus on Hawaiian food, and what a reader can expect from your book. Let’s start with the basics: who are you, what do you do, and if you have a personal connection to Hawaii, what is it?
Clare Gupta: I work at University of California, Davis, and I do applied research on food and agricultural policies. My previous work was looking at the food movement in Hawaii, which is how I came to make this book. I’m a San Francisco resident.
Gillian Bostock Ewing: I’m an artist and photographer, and a new mom, and I love to cook, too. I live in Moss Beach, which is just south of San Francisco.
Q: What history did you have with Hawaiian food before starting this project?
Clare: I started with a tourist’s perspective. I had a general sense of Hawaii regional cuisine: tropical fruits, fish, luau food, and so forth. When I started my post-doctoral work in 2012, I lived in Hawaii for about two years. During that time I really got to see what the local food system actually looked like, because I was both studying it and living it. That gave me a much richer perspective on the diverse range of initiatives that were promoting local food and local agriculture, and got me thinking about not only food for tourists, but also food for the island population, which depends a lot on imports. The work I did those years got me interested in writing about it not only for an academic audience but for a broader, more popular audience, and that’s where Gillian and I dreamed up this idea of the Nourish book.
Gillian: I’ve gone to Hawaii a handful of times, and this project really stems from Clare’s work. I find it thrilling because I’m very interested in where food comes from—produce and ingredients, and so on. This project gave me the opportunity to have Hawaiian food that you’re not exposed to as a tourist. Before this, I’d never been to a Hawaiian’s home, to their backyard to eat, for instance.
Q: Do you have a few early childhood memories of Hawaiian food?
Clare: The ones I have are more touristy, like fruity tropical drinks, and going to a luau as a little kid, and having roast pig. I have a distinct memory of having poi for the first time, the traditional Hawaiian food that’s pounded from the taro root. In fact, a number of essays in the book highlight the importance of taro to Hawaiian cuisine and culture. I recall being a little unsure of it. It’s definitely an acquired taste. I think it wasn’t until I was living in Hawaii that I saw what food looks like for everyday Hawaiian people—which is to say, not eating at a resort or a restaurant.
Q: When someone comes to your book from a tourist perspective, what will they find most familiar before venturing into unfamiliar subjects?
Clare: I think the diversity of produce, in particular tropical fruits, is familiar to people’s perceptions of Hawaii—fruits like mango, pineapple, and coconut.
Gillian: Kale is grown on a lot Hawaiian farms, and avocados are very popular. What struck me was the diversity of subspecies, of sub-varieties of produce—the different avocados, the different kinds of bananas. The farms we went to had so many different fruits, and we just walked around and tasted it all, as fresh as could be.
Q: Were there any fruits that were particularly photogenic?
Gillian: There’s a “tree tomato” or tamarillo that I thought was really beautiful. It looks like an oblong plum, but when you cut it open, it’s bright orange on the inside. They're pretty spectacular. I really loved the Surinam cherry, too.
Q: Who is the audience for this book? Equal parts academics and food connoisseurs?
Clare: I am hoping to reach beyond my usual academic audience. It’s hard to imagine who isn’t interested in Hawaii as an intersection of culture, geography, and food. It’s a really rich, complex history, and there are current political and social realities that shape how the food movement has come to be the way it is, and how it is currently changing. The photos illustrate what this looks like visually, and then the writing delves deeper into the social, economic, and environmental context in which food is grown and consumed.
Gillian: I think more and more the reason my friends are interested in their food and where it comes from is as a sort of microcosm that represents the larger food system of the world. People are trying to get closer to their sources, and break from the mysterious “monocrop” food system that is in place. Outside of Hawaii, I’ve seen more and more interest in Hawaiian culture. I am thinking about how there’s an international awareness of California food, and there’s also a growing interest in this magical place we call Hawaii.
Clare: I would add that what’s interesting as well, is this intersection between a growing interest in local healthy sustainable food and the resurgence of Hawaiian culture, in terms of reviving Native Hawaiian cultural traditions. And, of course, a lot of those traditions revolve around food. In the past, Hawaii was this thriving complex of islands that was self-sufficient and able to produce enough food to sustain its whole population in relatively healthy ways. It’s a fascinating place to look at the intersection of the local food movement and broader political movements, which here means Native Hawaiian sovereignty, rights, and culture.
Q: Are there notable current political hot points?
Clare: There is a small but strong sovereignty movement. A small group is advocating for reconstitution of the Hawaiian kingdom and complete sovereignty, but then beyond that smaller group there is broad interest in Native Hawaiian ways of looking at the relationship between people and their environment. Not that everything was perfect in pre-colonial culture, but they were able to be sufficient and live off the land in a way that is not the case today. There’s interest now in figuring out those practices that have been lost or erased during Hawaii’s more recent colonial history. We’re never going to go back to the way it was before, but the book explores what we can learn and draw from its traditions, to make Hawaii today a healthier and more equitable place to live.
Q: Are there key leaders in the food movement in Hawaii at this time?
Clare: Yeah, there are quite a few. That’s what I was most inspired by in my research. Much of my research was interviews with the leaders of the local food movement, and the Native Hawaiian movement, and talking with them about their work and what they were doing. There aren’t just two or three key figures. There’s a whole network of people working together. Another interesting thing is the whole geography of Hawaii. There are several different islands, each its own microcosm of activism.
Q: This is a photography question, as the book is so rich in images. How does the light in Hawaii differ from, say, Northern California, where you live?
Gillian: I would just say it’s more about the different colors than it is about the light. They have bright days and foggy days there. The colors, though, are different. It’s so rich. You get blown away by the vibrancy of the landscape, and the people.
Q: Talk about how you chose to shoot the food.
Gillian: I photographed on a farm, so the food is all on the land or in the hands of the farmers, who had just picked it and they’re showing it to me. It’s very much a matter of bringing the viewer with me on this trip. That’s what I aimed to do. There are also portraits, and then shots of what the farmers’ lunch is like in the shed, when they eat together before going out to continue their work.
Q: Have any Hawaiian foods become staples in your homes?
Clare: One of the essays is by a man who started a honey company. I love honey in general, and I love his honey in particular. We even gave out some of his honey as a favor at our wedding. I always have Hawaiian honey in my pantry. My favorite parts of Hawaiian cooking are the produce—the fruits and veggies. That’s not something you can reproduce outside of Hawaii.
Gillian: There are several things I wish I could have access to more regularly. I love Macadamia nut butter. It’s so good, and I can’t find it anywhere. I agree about the honey. I bring a jar back, and it’s gone in two weeks. The bananas just taste different there, and the avocados, too. It’s all quite specific.
Q: How would you describe “Hawaiian food”?
Clare: That’s a hard question to answer. I think the classic Hawaiian foods you think of are the ones that came about in the colonial period, and then in the 1960s and 1970s as canning and shipping became forces—things like Spam. One of our interviews addresses how hard it is to define Hawaiian food because it means different things to different people. Tourists think of pineapples and piña coladas. Locals think about more recent 20th-century amalgamations of Asian food and Native Hawaiian influence, plus mainland American food—noodle bowls, for example. Then there are ancient Hawaiian foods, pre-colonial crops like taro and breadfruit, and there’s fish, obviously, and bananas. There are different layers of Hawaiian food, and depending on whom you ask, there is a different connotation.
Q: Another question—how much are you trying to disabuse people of assumptions, and if you are doing that, how do you navigate it as an editor.
Clare: That’s a good question. I hadn’t thought about it in terms of disabusing assumptions. I’ve thought about it more in terms of providing a broader picture of Hawaii. Our book isn’t saying “Everyone has the wrong idea about Hawaii.” It’s more that people have a limited perspective that doesn’t capture the intricacies of what Hawaii’s about. It has a history we can learn from, like Gillian was saying—ideas we can apply to our own locavore interests, whether we’re in California, or anywhere else where people are interested in more sustainable systems.
Q: So it’s not about disabusing. It’s about exposing a broader matrix of perspectives to which the audience may not be privy already?
Clare: Yeah, exactly. Then as an editor I think the question I had to wrestle with is what is the right collection of stories and images that can help illustrate that complexity? I didn’t want to fixate on the negative stuff, but modern Hawaii isn’t a perfect place and we couldn’t ignore that. There are health issues, and poverty. It can feel doom and gloom, but the book strikes a balance. It’s a realistic portrait of what’s going on, and of the open opportunity ahead as well.
Q: What was the best part of producing Nourish together?
Gillian: For me, it was being able to witness the interconnection between food, land, and community on Hawaii. There is a general sense there that food is not just about nourishing ourselves, our body, but also about the nourishment of the land, the soil, and the natural life that abounds there. These two things go hand in hand. This intimacy, perhaps due to the geography and isolation of these far-flung islands, was very compelling to me. On a personal note, it was so wonderful to work with Clare after being friends for so long and to get a peek into her world as a researcher and scholar. I got a closer look into not only how Hawaiian residents live but also what Clare’s life passions are all about, and that’s a true gift for a friendship.
Clare: It was really special to work with a friend on a collaborative project that melds our talents and skills in a creative way — such a treat! And also to see my research come alive through Gillian’s brilliant photographs, and the thoughtful essays that accompany them.