In the last issue I began discussing, or rather singing the praises of, our island’s grass fed beef. To briefly summarize a few key points: grass fed beef is extremely nourishing – it’s dense in quality protein, contains important fats that are hard to obtain from other sources and is also rich in essential micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Cows are ruminants, meaning with unique digestive chambers and the assistance of specific gut bacteria they eat grass and are able to convert it into fuel. Mega farm feedlots over-crowd animals and feed them grain, an unnatural food for a cow, which is difficult for them to digest and extract proper nutrition, causing the animal multiple health problems.
The animals become stressed and sick and are given chemicals such as growth hormones and antibiotics all of which make their way to the dinner plate. Healthy pastured animals like chickens or cows are superstars at creating topsoil. While this may not sound very interesting or important, loss of topsoil is one of the most dire environmental issues we face, it’s responsible for the air we breath and the food we eat. Many scientist agree whatever you eat, it should be creating, not depleting topsoil.
It’s pretty likely that most of the vegetarians have left the building by now, but if there are any of you out there, maybe have a listen. While I certainly honor someone’s desire to create less suffering, thing is, most vegetarians don’t understand the consequences of their own food choices. I was a vegetarian for over 12 years and stopped eating meat because I no longer wanted to participate in the cruelty I saw occurring in factory farms. Like so many others, I believed not eating meat promoted justice. But what I didn’t know then and what most people still don’t, is that agriculture has wiped out 75% of animal habitats worldwide via deforestation. It’s impossible to consider that an animal friendly practice. Consider further that today 80% of the worlds population subsists on four major plants – wheat, rice, corn and potatoes (most of it GMO and treated with petroleum based chemicals). Thats a lot of land to clear and animals to die for what people believe is consequence-free food. There is still death on your plate even if you don’t eat meat, everything eats and will be eaten at some point. Naive me, I didn’t know that there were alternatives to factory farms where animals were treated humanely. Yes of course they still die, as we all will, but they live well. I also had convinced myself that animal foods weren’t actually healthy. Although it’s kind of hard to ignore that our ancestors evolved and thrived for roughly 2 million years on mostly animal foods, not soy burgers. After 12 years my body was severely depleted and I had to abandon my fixed beliefs if I wanted to restore my health. I am now healthier and far more educated about my food choices. I now know that humanely raised animals can create sustainable nutrient cycling and minimize the need to clear new land. Feedlot cows live an average of 2 years while pasture raised animals live to be 4 or 5. Pasture raised animals are offered the most similar lifestyle to their wild ancestors, minus the bother of predation, with lots of long easy days and one not so great one that ends swiftly. And at some point basic biology should remind us of the life and death cycle we are all a part of, shared with our brothers and sisters the plants, soil organisms, fungi, prey, and predator. As Lierre Keith says in the Vegetarian Myth : “These are not one-way relationships, not arrangements of dominance and subordination. We aren’t exploiting each other by eating. We are only taking turns”.
Recently I wanted to make a dish for folks visiting from the mainland something that was composed of ingredients all from the island, which is kind of how I roll anyway. I looked to the farmers market, my herb garden, and my freezer and came up with this:
Lemon Grass Meatballs in Coconut Luau
2-3 lbs luau leaf, thoroughly cooked (I use a pressure cooker, making this step super easy)
2 cans coconut milk or fresh equivalent
1 ½ lb Big Island Grass Fed Beef, ground
4-5 stalks lemongrass, white part minced, the leafy part tied in a knot put aside separately
1 bunch cilantro, stems included
one large onion, divided
2 pasture raised eggs
1 Tbs oil
@ 3 Tbs coconut flour or flour of your choice (ideally gluten free)
1 Tbs each minced fresh Turmeric and Ginger
Sea salt and/or fish sauce
1. Drain your either pre-purchased or home-made cooked luau leaf.
2. By hand or in a food processor mince lemongrass stalk, ? of the onion, cilantro, ginger & turmeric.
3. In a large pot add the oil and remaining ? onion thinly sliced and saute for about 10 minutes on medium/low heat – no browning! Add coconut milk, and luau and allow to simmer for roughly 15 minutes. You want your onion soft and well cooked.
4. Mix together above ingredients with meat, eggs and flour and about 1 tsp of salt in a large mixing bowl. Form into meatballs and set aside.
5. Gently add the meatballs, making sure they’re all submerged, as well as the knot of lemongrass leaves, cover and allow to simmer about 15 minutes. Remove lemongrass, taste and adjust salt, serve alongside cooked purple sweet potato for a fully local and healthy Hawaii meal.
Sofia has lived on the Big Island for over 20 years and started out working as a park ranger at hawaii volcanoes national park, worked for hawaii county as a 911 dispatcher, has a degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, has worked as a personal chef for over 12 years and is basically a food/health/nutrition geek playing in her kitchen finding new yummy ways to stay healthy and well nourished.