In traditional Hawaiian times, people that lived in Village settings were prepared for skilled pathways of cultivating food sources beginning in the early years of their lives. The traditions and cultural ways of being are centered on the care of the places and the sources of the food that is gathered. It did not matter whether the food came from the ocean, the coastal areas, or the land. Immense care went into mālama (taking care) of these resources to make certain that there would always be an abundance for all.
The word ‘Ai is a shortened form of ‘Āina, which means Land in ‘õlelo Hawaii (Hawaiian Language). The term for food is ‘Ai, so there is a direct and constant connection between food and land. In Hawaiian culture, there is a deep relationship to ‘Āina, the Place that Feeds. ‘Āina includes the ocean, streams, and waterways as they also provide ‘Ai and are places that feed.
If we fast forward to the present day, Hawai’i now imports up to 90 percent of its food from the Continental U.S. The connection between ‘Ai and ‘Āina has been damaged, but it is not wholly broken. Today, there are still organic and subsistence farms on the islands that are providing a healthy variety of island grown fruits and vegetables to Hawai’i’s growing population.
Reconnecting food and land
On the island of Kaua’i in 2020, a partnership between Mālama Kaua’i and Hawaii Alliance of Progressive Action (HAPA) developed an event that encouraged the movement to grow more food on the island. Eat Local Maui, which was led by organizer Lauryn Rego and numerous volunteers, was already in its third year and was the inspiration behind this Eat Local (‘Ai Pono) Challenge on Kaua’i.
‘Ai = Eat, Consume, Chew
Pono = Righteous; Correctly; Right thing
‘Ai Pono= To eat healthy
The name “‘Ai Pono Challenge” was created to give mana (life force) to the project. Residents of the island were invited to gather, grow, hunt, fish and/or sponsor, trade with, and support local vendors to acquire the food they need.
The ‘Ai Pono Challenge 2021
Over the past year, the ‘Ai Pono Challenge was spearheaded by HAPA and PANNA Hawai’i, in partnership with local vendors, farmers, fisherfolk, ranchers, and other interested individuals. In its second year, the Eat Local Challenge showed increased participation island-wide and local residents really upped their creative game in order to compete for amazing prizes.
In addition to encouraging participants to eat food that was not imported to the island, entrants also competed in a scavenger hunt that included challenges to cook without electricity and prepare a dish using kalo (also known as taro), among other options. The 2021 winners feature many interesting dishes and drinks, and even one person who managed to complete the entire scavenger hunt.
The participants really make this annual event special. The inspirational and creative posts on social media illustrated their desire to use all locally sourced items to make their dishes (aside from oils, fats, and some spices). We look forward to the next ‘Ai Pono Challenge in 2022.
Not just a one week challenge
‘Ai Pono is also extended to communities on Kaua’i with our partners at The Waipā Foundation. For the last 5 years, we have helped “need based” families in the communities on the East side of Kaua’i with food boxes in November. Through the generous donation of an anonymous donor, farm produce, veggies, poi (a Hawaiian delicacy made from taro), stuffing, and turkey are gathered into boxes for delivery to families. Families expressed their extreme gratitude at having fresh food, especially poi, during this challenging pandemic, where many have lost employment and are looking at great uncertainty.
‘Ai Pono isn’t just a one week challenge to eat local. We can choose to gather our food and eat like this anytime we want. Taking small steps to cultivate our own backyard gardens, ordering a subscription CSA box of fruits and veggies, supporting a food hub and supporting local fisherfolk, ranchers, poultry raisers, and other local food producers. Gather your friends and family and plan your own ‘Ai Pono meals!