Solar-powered people

Flash in the Pan

Now that winter is here, it’s time to stand close to the fire, eating meat, chewing fat, and washing it down with red wine. Unless you’re in Hawaii like me, staying on a lettuce farm, eating papaya grapefruit guacamole with baby romaine heads as tortilla chips, and washing it down with rose petal mead.

“We don’t eat as much meat out here,” says my friend Ken, co-owner of Kealaola Farm. “Out here” rolls off Ken’s tongue like “out West” rolls off mine. But Ken’s “out here,” of course, is the middle of the Pacific Ocean, farther from land than any island in the world.

“A lot of what we eat is raw,” he adds, which makes me think of all that elk sushi I recently slurped down, standing at the butcher block before coming to Hawaii. But Ken’s talking about fruit and nuts, and a fair amount of poke, a mixture of raw ahi tuna, seaweed, sesame oil, chile, scallions, and other goodies.

Ken leans in conspiratorially. “Also, I think we get a lot of energy directly from the sun.”

Ken is the kind of guy who is open to pretty much anything. While he doesn’t claim, attempt, or even wish to survive on sunlight and air, as some folks in Hawaii claim to, he speculates that these supposed sunlightarians might be onto something.

“Our skin can use sunlight to make Vitamin D,” he offers with a shrug. “The hemoglobin in our red blood cells is just one atom away (iron instead of magnesium) from chlorophyll (the molecule plants use to capture sunlight in photosynthesis).

In exchange for getting to live on a beautiful farm on the side of a volcano above the middle of the ocean, several interns work half-days at Kealola Farm. They start and transplant lettuce seedlings, weed, water, and feed them, and do most of the other 10,000 things that keep a farm going. Some of them stay for years, like plants blissing out in the sun.

At the end of each week the farmers, their families, and the interns gather for a Friday night feast. Fresh off the plane and fully jetlagged, I thawed a chunk of elk that I’d brought from home, frozen in its own blood.

I opened the vacuum-sealed package and poured the blood into a pan of hot oil. I sprinkled the blood with salt and pepper, fried until it was puffy, and stirred it into what looked like maroon crumbled feta. I placed my fried blood in a little bowl next to some olives, cheese, and baguette slices on the table.

I rubbed the elk chunk with olive oil, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and fried it in the pan. It started out about two pounds and shaped like a paperback novel. As it cooked, I cut it again and again into large bite-sized chunks.

The lettuce farmers and I gathered around the table for a “food tour,” each cook explaining what he or she had prepared: a raw paste of sun-dried tomato and sunflower seeds, another paste of sunflower seeds and avocado, some cold noodle dishes, salsa chips and guacamole, a salad of baby romaine, my fried blood and meat.

For a moment, I feared my dishes would offend these gentle plant eaters, but no. Although it was more (dead) flesh than they were used to seeing, my hosts intuitively grasped my connection to my home ground. They were like, “Wow, this guy is a hunter. I’m totally eating elk. Exotic! Is there any more salad dressing?”

Kealaola Farm grows a dozen varieties of lettuce, including large heads, baby heads, and lettuce mix. Everyone’s favorite seems to be the baby romaine, which is sweet, dense, and explosively crispy. Elsewhere on the farm are forests of coffee and banana, and lots of random fruit trees, like mango, star fruit, papaya, grapefruit, tangerine, and passion fruit. The ocean-side (downhill) neighbors have macadamia nuts for the taking. The mountain-side neighbors have avocado. The other day I collected about 50 pounds of each.

On the advice of the avocado tree’s owner I blended one with orange juice. The mixture had the unlikely balance of a fight between a mongoose and a cobra—two very different flavors chasing each other around my mouth. Later, I added the leftovers of this smoothie to my fried banana coconut curry, which was a mistake.

We’ll see if, over the course of the next month, I make the nutritional switch from meat to solar, or at the very least switch to a different spot on the food chain, omnivore that I am.

Perhaps, like my friends, I’ll bend a few degrees toward plant-eating. I may not end up doing much photosynthesis myself, but I’ll catch some rays and see what happens. At the very least, eating closer to the source by cutting out the middle man (or middle pig, cow, or elk) makes sense. Especially when it’s so warm you don’t need the extra insulation anyway, like here, in the middle of the ocean, where there is no winter.