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Food Sovereignty and Food Security in Hawai‘i: Food For Thought


Don Heacock is a retired State of Hawai‘i Kaua‘i District Aquatic Biologist and a kalo farmer. He continually educates Hawai‘i on sustainable agriculture. He is the Vice President of the Hawai‘i Farmers Union United Kaua‘i Chapter and the chair of their Sustainable Agriculture Committee.

In the preface of David Gumpert’s book, “The Raw Milk Revolution: behind America’s emerging battle over food rights”, Joel Salatin states:

In the 1970’s I sold our homemade yogurt, butter, buttermilk and cottage cheese at the Curb Market (precursor to today’s Farmer’s Market) on Saturday mornings. In those days, the Virginia Dept. Of Agriculture had a memorandum of agreement with the Club Market that as long as vendors belonged to an Agricultural Extension organization such as Extension Homemaker’s Clubs or 4-H, producers could bring value-added products to market without inspection and visits from the food police.

The government agents assumed that anyone participating in the extension programs would be getting the latest, greatest food science and therefore conform to the most modern procedural protocols, which created its own protection.

There have been no conciliatory overtures to maintain these types of healthy and vibrant local food economies. Today I can’t sell any of those things at a farmer’s market.

Isn’t it curious that at this juncture in our societal evolution, we collectively believe Twinkies, Lucky Charms and Coca-Cola are safe foods, but compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk are not?

Make no mistake, as the local, heritage, humane, ecological, sustainable food system takes flight, the industrial food system is fighting back with a vengeance. They do this by demonizing, criminalizing, and marginalizing the local integrity food movement, the entrenched powers to be hope to derail this food revolution.

The existing industrial food experiment, historically speaking, is completely abnormal. It’s not normal to eat things you can’t spell or pronounce. It’s not normal to eat things you can’t make in your kitchen. Indeed, if everything in today’s science-based, high-tech, supermarket that was unavailable before 1900 were removed, hardly anything would be left.

And as more people realize that this grand experiment of ingesting material totally foreign to our three-trillion member internal community of intestinal micro flora and fauna is really biologically aberrant behavior, they are opting out of industrial food. Indeed, to call it a food revolution is completely accurate.

But revolutions are always met with prejudice and entrenched paradigms from the about-to-be-unseated lords of the status quo. The realignment of power, trust, money, and commerce that the local heritage-based food movement represents inherently gives birth to a backlash. By the time of Wounded Knee, Native Americans no longer jeopardized the American reality.

But to many Americans, these Natives had to be crushed, extinguished, put on reservations. Would America have been stronger if European leaders had listened to traditional wisdom about herbal remedies and consensus building? The answer is YES! But to Americans, the ingenious peoples were just a barbarian because he didn’t govern by parliamentary procedure or ride in horse-drawn stagecoaches along cobble stone-lined streets. In fact, he was considered a threat to America. Just like giving slaves their freedom in 1850. Just like imbibing alcohol in 1925. Just like homeschooling in 1980. Just like Colorado legalizing medicinal Cannabis on 4/20/2012.

The ultimate test of a tyrannical society or a free society is how it responds to its lunatic fringe. A strong, self-confident, free-society tolerates and enjoys the fringe people who come up with zany notions. Indeed, most people later labeled geniuses were dubbed wacko by their contemporary mainstream society. So what does a culture do with weirdos who actually believe they have a right to choose what to feed their, or their children’s, internal three-trillion-member community?

The only reason the right to food choice was not guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is because the Founders of America could not have envisioned a day when selling a glass of raw milk or homemade pickles to a neighbor would be outlawed. At the time, such a thought was as strange as levitation. Indeed, what good is the freedom to own guns, worship, or assemble if we don’t have the freedom to eat the proper and nutritious fuel to energize us to shoot, pray, and preach? Is not the freedom to choose our food at least as fundamental a right as the freedom to worship?

How would we feel if we had to get a license from bureaucrats to start a church? After all, beliefs can be pretty damaging things. And charlatans certainly do exist. Better protect people from those charlatans—bad preachers and raw milk advocates. But what does a society do when the charlatans are in charge of the regulating government agencies, in charge of the research institutions, and are in charge of the food system? That is a real conundrum, because if health depends on opting out of what the charlatans think is safe, we are forced into civil disobedience.

When the public no longer trusts its public servants, people begin taking charge of their own health and welfare. And that is exactly what is driving the local heritage food movement. Lots of folks realize they don’t want industrialists fooling around with something as basic as food. People like me don’t trust Monsanto. We don’t trust the Food and Drug Administration. We don’t trust the Department of Agriculture. We don’t trust Tyson. And we don’t think it’s safe to be dependent on food that sits for a month in the belly of a Chinese merchant marine vessel.

This clash of choice versus prohibition brings us to today’s Wounded Knee of food. The local heritage-based food movement represents everything that is good and noble about farming and food culture. It is about decentralized farms, pastoral livestock systems, symbiotic multi-species cropping systems, companion planting, and earthworms. It is about community-appropriate techniques and scale. It is about aesthetically and aromatically sensual romantic farming. Re-embedding the butcher, baker and candlestick maker in the village. And ultimately it is about health-giving food grown more productively, more efficiently, on less land than industrial models.

Certainly some of this clash represents the difference between nurturing and dominating. The local heritage food movement, the raw milk movement, is all about respecting and honoring indigenous wisdom. The industrial mind-set worships techno-glitzy gadgetry and views heritage food advocates as simpletons and Luddites, or as dangerous criminals.

In David Gumpert’s wonderful expose, “The Raw Milk Revolution: behind America’s emerging battle over food rights”, he employs the best journalistic investigative techniques to examine this clash from the raw milk battlefront. Be assured that same mentality exists toward homemade pickles, home-cured meats, and the cottage industry in general.

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the local heritage food system, but it is harassed out of existence by capricious, malicious, and prejudiced government agencies that are now run by the corporations they were originally tasked to regulate (“regulatory capture”). And the government agents really do believe they are doing society a favor by denying food choice to Americans.

The same curative properties espoused by raw milk advocates exist in a host of other food products, from homemade pound cake and potpies to pepperoni and pastured chicken. Real food is what developed our internal intestinal community. And it sure didn’t develop on food from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and genetically modified potatoes that are partly human and partly tomato. Long after human cleverness has run its course, compost piles will still grow the best tomatoes and grazing cows will still yield one of nature’s perfect foods: raw milk!

Finally, one of our former apprentices has just started a ten-cow herd-share arrangement with our customers. Here is a young, entrepreneurial, go-get-‘em farmer embarking on his dream; serving people who are enjoying their dream of acquiring unadulterated raw milk, with over 20 digestive enzymes and probiotics. Can any arrangement, any relationship—between farmer and cow, cow and pasture, customer and producer—be more honorable, respectable, open, and trusting?

Everything about this is righteous, including respecting the individual enough to let her decide what to eat and what to feed her children.

Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm, Swoope, Virginia, June 2009

Let the Revolution Continue

So, after reading Joel Salatin’s elegant overview of our existing food revolution, how important are food security and food sovereignty to the people of Hawaii?

First let’s look at the concepts of food security and food sovereignty. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, 2006):

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences in order to lead a healthy and active life.”

This definition gives greater emphasis to the multidimensional nature of food security and includes: “the availability of food, access to food, biological utilization of food, and stability [of the other three dimensions over time].” (FAO, 2006) FAO had reaffirmed also that “a peaceful, stable and enabling political, social and economic environment is the essential foundation that will enable states to give adequate priority to food security and the eradication of poverty. Democracy, promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development and the full and equal participation of men and women, are needed in order to achieve sustainable food security for all.” (FAO, 1996)

Finally, it is noteworthy that this definition of food sovereignty encompasses the United Nations definition of “sustainable agriculture” which requires that:

  1. Ecosystem integrity must be protected or restored (“regenerative agriculture”);
  2. Social and cultural equity must be maintained;
  3. Economic efficiency is maintained by applying “ecological economic accounting with no externalities”. The “Important Agricultural Lands Designation” that was recently applied statewide was based upon crops like corn and potatoes and ultimately failed to identify the most fertile and important agricultural lands in Hawai‘i—the traditional taro lo’i lands in the fertile alluvial valley bottoms with the best soils and abundant water once it is rightfully returned from old plantation stronghold.

Food Sovereignty

According to The Six Pillars of Food Sovereignty, developed at Nyéléni, 2007 (Food Secure Canada, 2012), food sovereignty contains the following:

  1. Focuses on food for the people by: a) placing people’s need for food at the center of policies; and b) insisting that food is more than just a commodity.
  2. Values food providers by: a) supporting sustainable livelihoods; and b) respecting the work of all food providers.
  3. Localizes food systems by: a) reducing the distance between suppliers and consumers; b) rejecting dumping and inappropriate food aid; and c) resisting dependence on remote and unaccountable corporations.
  4. Places control at a local level by: a) placing control in the hands of local food suppliers; b) recognizing the need to inhabit and share territories; and c) rejecting the privatization of natural resources.
  5. Promotes knowledge and skills by: a) building on traditional knowledge; b) using research to support and pass on this knowledge to future generations; and c) rejecting technologies that undermine local food systems.
  6. Works with nature by: a) maximizing the contributions of ecosystems (agroecosystems); b) improving resilience (with crop selection and high biodiversity); and c) rejecting fossil fuel energy intensive (focusing on renewable energy resources), monocultural (focusing on polyculture with high biodiversity), industrialized and destructive production methods (focusing on the integration of plants and animals in sustainable agroecosystems that protect ecological/biological integrity, are socially and culturally equitable, and are economically efficient – i.e., ecological economic accounting with no externalities).


Don Heacock is the State of Hawai‘i Kaua‘i District Aquatic Biologist and a kalo farmer. He has committed to educating Hawai‘i on best practice integral farming. He is the Vice President of the Hawai‘i Farmers Union United Kaua‘i Chapter and the chair of their Sustainable Agriculture Committee. Newsletters and educational materials can be found at:


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