Denby Fawcett: The pandemic is altering Hawaii’s meals tradition

Eating has always been an obsession in Hawaii: lunch dishes, malasadas, Kim Chee, poke bowls, cracked seed, Korean fried chicken, as you call it.

But never more than during this COVID-19 mandate, staying home buying groceries, cooking meals and sitting down to eat has become the main activity in most people’s daily lives.

Retired computer programmer Ann Ruby emailed me, “It’s exciting to just go to Safeway and walk around a bit.”

In the ghost town of Waikiki, the only memory anyone breathes is the food: the little signs in front of dark restaurants that advertise “take away only”.

After the restrictions are lifted, people’s lives are expected to change significantly, even the way food is bought and consumed.

Noisy, jam-packed restaurants are over. Health officials say that since social distancing is still recommended, fewer people will be allowed into restaurants. The tables are further apart.

People’s buying habits are also expected to change. Grocer Rob Barreca says shoppers are now more inclined to buy locally grown food.

He says after many people saw empty shelves in markets during COVID-19, the idea of ​​food resilience in Hawaii is no longer an abstraction, but a real problem.

Rob Barreca, Founder and CEO of Farm Link Hawaii, receives a lot more jobs from households. Courtesy Megan Spelman

Barreca says this is accelerating the existing interest in locally produced food.

Barreca is the founder and CEO of Farm Link Hawaii, an online marketplace that supplies locally grown food, meat and dairy products direct to restaurants and grocery stores, as well as to individuals in pick-up centers and their homes.

Prior to the pandemic, Farm Link’s main customers were the restaurant and retail markets. However, with the restaurants doing less business, Farm Link began offering its service to individual buyers to ensure that the crops were grown by the farmers.

According to Barreca, orders from individual online shoppers to Farm Link rose from 171 orders in January and February to 2,389 orders in March and April.

Now Farm Link is holding single orders at 500 per week as it builds capacity to keep up with the surge.

“I bet that during this time a significant portion of the population who are now more exposed to locally grown food and find it delicious will want to stay and keep buying it when things return to normal whenever that happens.” Said Barreca.

So confident in a growing market for locally grown food that he moved Farm Link to an expanded warehouse in June, hired more employees and leased four additional vehicles.

He believes another change after COVID-19 will be less restaurant traffic and more home cooking that closed families enjoy.

Laurie Carlson, general manager at Kokua Country Foods, Hawaii’s oldest community food coop, says customers are growing more food and baking and cooking more.

“People who have barely cooked before realize that it is not that difficult,” she said. “All you need is a box of pasta cooked with whatever is in your refrigerator to prepare a meal, or fill a flour tortilla with food that you have to wrap or improvise by Pour a bottled Indian sauce on a bowl of canned chickpeas. ”

Carlson saw an increase in natural food purchases during the pandemic. Their store’s sales in March were $ 50,000 above the two-month average.

NOTE: Choose the correct linkAnd now that restaurants are closed and not buying, there are more locally grown produce available.

She agrees with Barreca that the shortage of certain items – like rice, beans, and flour – has given buyers an immediate understanding of the fragility of Hawaii’s reliance on supplies from the continental US

“That period showed the weak parts of the mainland supply system while the local farmers provided a steady stream of fresh food,” she said.

Leafy green vegetables for sale at the KCC Farmer's Market.  April 18, 2017During the pandemic, people find they can cook for themselves using local ingredients. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

Another change is that some entrepreneurs are realizing the value of making a restaurant meal an unusual experience.

During the shutdown, Sakara Blackwell is prohibited from offering a seated service at the beach concession she operates in Kapiolani Park, the Barefoot Beach Café.

Now your customers can order on-line a grocery bag of ingredients from her by Thursday lunchtime to take home on Friday at 3 p.m. and then learn how to turn the ingredients into a meal by posting her cooking demonstration on Fridays at 5 p.m. on the Barefoot’s Facebook page Beach Cafe or on Instagram Live.

Last Friday it was a full Mexican dinner of beans, rice, tacos, Mexican coleslaw, guacamole, and fries, followed by an hour-long live-streamed music performance by Art Kalahiki. This Friday there will be a Hawaiian barbecue dinner, with cooking, followed by a demonstration of Hawaiian head lei making.

Another change triggered by persistent viral fears is that more foods are being classified as medicines.

Chef Vikram Garg from Restaurant Tbd is already doing this by promoting what used to be curry on his menu as “boosting immunity”.

Garg told a reporter, “For me, it wasn’t about selling or making money, it was about feeding people and boosting their immune systems.”

Food as medicine doesn’t sound very appetizing to me. But at least nobody here has suggested taking Lysol to fight the disease.

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