Monday, February 15, 2010

The Shortage of Poi in Hawaii

A lot has been made of the current shortage of poi in Hawaii. Actually, what is meant is the shortage of taro (Hawaiian: kalo) which is due to multiple causes: shortages of water and labor, as well as the apple snail infestation.

I've heard numerous Hawaiian activists mention the shortage of taro as contributory to the decline in the cummulative health of the Hawaiian community. Without taro to make poi with, Hawaiians turn to less-nutritious alternative foods to occupy the place in their diets once held by poi. These alternatives are potatoes and (more commonly) white rice. Neither rice or potatoes have the nutritional content of taro and neither is a traditional Hawaiian food. Poi was once the chief staple of the Hawaiian diet and its removal or decline in overall consumption removes a link to Hawaiians' historic culture. This is often taken as a sign that Hawaiians are "losing their culture" in the Great American Melting Pot.

But, is something being overlooked? Are there similar foods that ancient Hawaiians ate if/when the taro crop might fail for some reason? If a region's taro crop was destroyed somehow, were there no other foods indigenous to Ancient Hawaii that the people could eat until the taro crop recovered the following season?

Actually, there was and there still is.

While taro was the central staple of the Hawaiian diet, it wasn't the only food available and it wasn't even the most nutritious part of their diet. That place is held by the sweet potato. In Ancient Hawaii, two crops were planted more than any other: taro and sweet potato. Since taro that is used for poi is water-intensive, sweet potato would be planted in areas when water was not plentiful. The sweet potato doesn't require nearly as much water and could be harvested much more frequently. I understand that the people of Niihau would make a poi-like food using sweet potato, in lieu of taro, due to the scarcity of water on their island.

Essentially, poi is simply a root vegetable pounded into a paste, mixed with water and salt, allowed to ferment for a short time and then eaten. This is a very common form of food preparation found all over the world. Mashed potatoes are commonly served in American homes and restaurants, while mashed yams are commonly eaten in West Africa and this food is known by a variety of names, including fufu.

Ancient Hawaiians grew a number of foods that are still commonly available today that could fill the void left by taro: sweet potato, yams and breadfruit. All of these foods are grown in Hawaii and all are as nutritious as taro. In fact, sweet potato and yams are even better for than taro. Mashed breadfruit was used as either an augmentation or a substitute for taro and poi made from breadfruit was call poi  Ľulu. It is my understanding that Hawaiians didn't make poi from yams, due to the texture of the food, which is rather gritty.

Certainly, poi made from yams (if you want to try it), sweet potato or breadfruit will taste differently than that made from taro and it will feel different when you eat it. But, any one of these three food can be used in place of taro in the Hawaiian diet and any of them is better for you than white rice.

Bear in mind that I am not substituting a non-native food to take the place of taro. I am simply advocating that Hawaiians adopt a practise that was done by their ancestors.

Duane Browning

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Movie Merchandising Goes Beyond Stupid

I was in Borders at Ward today, browsing upstairs in the Political and History sections. I noticed a large display over by the restrooms and headed over to investigate. What I saw is beyond ridiculous.

It was a large collection of books and other items related to the book and movie series "Twilight". Not an unexpected thing, of itself, as the books and movies are very popular, especially because they update the vampire story to modern times.

The "Twilight" saga of books is quite popular, which is not unusual as vampires are a staple in the horror genre. When I was a kid, my brother was really into vampire movies and even had a glow-in-the-dark poster of a vampire in the room we shared. Personally, I never cared for vampires or horror films in general. Still, a lot of people like books and movies with vampires in them and a new series comes out every so often. There's even a subculture of people who actually try to live like vampires, including the drinking of real blood and having fangs implanted into their mouths.

People like that should be put away so they can receive psychological help.

Anyway, back to the display...

I wasn't surprised by the souvenir shirts or even the bags. I was surprised by the dolls.

Dolls? For a vampire movie?

What do they expect, that kids will play with these things and the dolls will suck each others blood? WTF are we teaching kids about nowadays? That vampires are fun?

The dolls were what set me over the edge. I understand the toy lines that appeared for Avatar, Star Wars and other films like that. Even though such films did appeal to adults, the primary audience was children and children like to recreate the movies they've watched by playing with toys based on the movies' characters.

But, I am at a loss to figure-out how children will be doing that with toys based on a vampire film, where creatures kill people and drink their blood.

I think that the higher-ups in the movie distributors have either lost their collective minds or the economy is so bad that they've become desperate enough to market these things.

Duane Browning

The Ugly Truth About SPAM

SPAM, made by Hormel Foods, was first put on the American market in the late 1930s. As a low-cost substitute for fresh meat, as well as a long shelf life, it seems perfect for low income families.

Genetically speaking, humans are hardwired to like salt, sugar and fat. As such things are actually rare in nature, but neccessary for survival, humans will consume them in large quantities when they are available. This is a leftover instinct from our days as nomadic hunter-gatherers. As with the concept of Original Sin, you can blame this one on your ancestors.

SPAM is firmly entrenched as a "local" food here in Hawaii. People eat it at all times of the day or night. I've seen people eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same day. Not to miss an opportunity to make some easy cash, Hormel Foods markets different flavors of SPAM for our consumption. These include: SPAM with cheese, SPAM with bacon, Hickory Smoked and others, as well as the low-salt variety.

In every convenience store, you'll see SPAM musubi on the shelves, along with the cheap burgers and hot dogs. Cans of SPAM fill grocery shelves, where they sell at a lower cost than any other meat, canned, packaged or fresh.

Yes, SPAM is everywhere.

But, is that a good thing?

In Hawaii, it is well-known that Hawaiians have a disproportionate amount of heart-related illnesses, diabetes and other life-threatening ailments, not to mention obesity problems.

While the root causes of these problems are many and varied, SPAM and its popularity in Hawaii only make the problem worse. With its secure place on the dinner tables in many homes in Hawaii, whether in Hawaiian or non-Hawaiian households, SPAM does nothing positive for you from a nutritional perspective and many negative things to your overall health.

Typically, SPAM Classic comes in 12 ounce cans and the label says that a single serving is two ounces. So, you've got six servings in that can.

With me so far? Okay.

According to Hormel Foods' own label on the can, each two ounce serving contains 174 calories, 137 of which comes from fat.

When you see how much of your Daily Value (DV) is provided in each two ounce slice, the numbers could actually stop your heart. Since much of the nutritional data is given in grams, understand that 2 ounces is equal to 56 grams. The DV is how much of it you require each day as part of your diet.

  • Fat: 15g  (23 % DV)
  • Saturated Fat: 6g  (28% DV)
  • Cholesterol: 39mg (13% DV)
  • Sodium: 767mg (32% DV)

So, those two slices of SPAM you had for breakfast, by themselves, gave you 46% of the fat, 56% of the saturated fat, 26% of the cholesterol and 64% of the sodium you need just for that day. We're not even including the SPAM musubi you might have at lunch or on your way home from work.

That two ounce slice of SPAM gives you only 7g of the protein, 1% of the calcium and Vitamin A and 3% of the iron you need. You'd have thought that a meat product would give you more protein than that, but SPAM is basically salt, fat and cholesterol in a can.

Certainly, Hormen Foods likes to tout itself as a customer-friendly business and SPAM is a good - even fun - product to include in your daily diet. Their website even has a Shop section where you can buy souvenir SPAM logo jackets, mugs, hats, etc.

But, another side of Hormel Foods isn't so friendly: in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), David Khorram, MD, a reporter for the Saipan Tribune.wrote an article on the ill effects related to the over-consupmtion of SPAM and Hormel Foods pressured the newspaper to remove the word "SPAM" from the article and replace it with "processed meat". Dr Khorram, who actually went to the hospital with severe abdominal pain after eating SPAM one day, posted this in response to Hormel's strongarm tactics.

Sales of SPAM are steady in the poorer communities of this country and sales are peaking in the bad economy as Americans struggle to save money while putting something resembling meat on the table.  Personally, I don't eat SPAM anymore. I tried it a few months ago after years of not even tasting it. I suffered some stomach problems afterwards, though not nearly as bad as Dr Khorram's. I haven't eaten SPAM since that day, no matter how poor or hungry I was at the time. I guess SPAM is something that people need to accustom themselves to eating regularly. Kind of like smoking cigarettes, isn't it?

SPAM certainly does have the PR high ground, though. There are SPAM festivals and parades, people write songs about it and Hormel is making big bucks while shoveling-out this crap.

I'm Hawaiian and I am proud to be Hawaiian. I love my people and it breaks my heart to know that many of us are eating ourselves into an early grave and that there is little I can do to stop it, aside from posting this blog entry.

If you're still looking for a cheap canned meat product, I suggest you try TREET, made by Armour Star  instead. I will grant that it's a tough call between TREET and SPAM, both having an advantage over the other in certain areas.

Here's TREET's info:
  • Calories 150
  • Calories from Fat 110
  • Fat: 12g (18 % DV) 
  • Saturated Fat: 2.5g (18% DV) 
  • Cholesterol: 50mg (17% DV) 
  • Sodium: 790mg (33% DV)
There's 6g of protein in a slice of TREET and it provides 6% calcium and 4% of the iron for your Daily Values.

If you decide to keep buying SPAM or switch over to TREET, you may want to have a look at Hawaii's 2nd Spam Cookbook (link provided). I'm sure that the recipes could work with either product. Might as well make it taste better than it does.

Duane Browning

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recycling Your Old Car or Truck

If you have an old vehicle that you simply cannot sell, due to it's being too broken-down for anyone to buy beyond salvaging for parts, you may want to consider recycling it.

Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Corporation (formerly Hawaii Metal Recycling) will accept vehicles for recycling from the public.

There are a few things you have to do before they will accept it:
  1. they do not pickup vehicles themselves, so you will have to bring it to them;
  2. the tank has to be punctured;
  3. battery and cable to battery has to be removed;
  4. antifreeze, CFCs (freon from air conditionerr) oil and gasoline have to be drained;
  5. tires have to be off but you can remove the tires yourself after you have the vehicle towed to their facility.
Cashback: their posted board price is $50 a ton for metal, but depends on volume.

Here is their contact information:


Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Corporation
91-056 Hanua Street
Kapolei, HI 96707

Telephone# 1-808-682-5810
Fax#: 1-808-682-0604

Hours of Operation:
  • M-F 7:30am - 3:15pm (Closed 12-12:30pm for lunch) , call for Saturday hours.
Map to their location at this link.

Note: they do not accept nonferrous metals, only steel or iron. They will not accept copper.

Duane Browning

Protect Your Bicycle Seat from Thieves

Okay, you don't want to give-up using the quick release on your seat post and you don't want to buy the Pinhead locking skewers. But, you still want to keep your seat safe from theft. Some ways people cope with this common problem are to either take their seat with them when they park their bike - which forces them to readjust the seat when they put it back on - or they can try locking the seat to the frame with a cable lock, which is only effective if a potential thief doesn't carry a $20 pair of bolt cutters, which some of them do.

So, how to solve this problem?

Here's a which I recently discovered: use an old bike chain.

Now, your bike chain is the primary means for your bike's locomotion with every turn of your pedals putting energy through your chain and pushing you forward. Even though bike chains are built to be tough, they don't last forever and you can use and old bike chain to protect your seat from thieves.

Here's what you need:
  1. a bike chain, which you can get at a bike store, if you don't have one laying-around. Mechanics may have a pile of old chains which they can scavenge for parts when they need them;
  2. a chain tool;
  3. an old inner tube;
  4. some electrical tape;
  5. a zip-tie.
  1. Using your chain tool, remove one of the pins that holds the chain in its loop;
  2. loop one end of the chain through the rungs underneath your seat and through the upside down V portion of your frame formed between your seat post and seat stay. How much slack you keep on the chain depends on how often you adjust your seat, if at all. Try to keep it as tight as possible;
  3. Remove the extra portion of the chain with your chain tool, so your chain is long enough to go from frame to seat and back again in one loop;
  4. take your old inner tube and measure-out a portion long enough to cover the length of the chain in one loop, with a little extra so the two ends will overlap. Cut off the extra portion.
    Put a bit of oil on the chain to protect it against rust.
  5. Put the chain inside the tube and loop the whole thing between your seat and frame.
  6. Using your chain tool, reattach the two ends of the chain so it's in one loop again.
  7. Using your electrical tape, tape the two ends of the tube together, so the chain is completely covered. The oil on the chain will protect it from rusting for awhile, but this isn't a weatherproof seal.
  8. to keep the chain from moving-around back there, use a zip-tie to secure the two sides together as tightly as possible.
This will not protect your seat from a thief with a serious pair of bolt cutters. But, it will protect it from most thieves, who usually don't carry them. Besides, a bike chain is much harder to cut than the typical cable lock, so it may take a bit more time for a thief to cut through it. Most thieves may decide that taking your bike seat involves too much time and work, so they may move-on to a much easier target.

Duane Browning

Bike Locks: What to Use & What Not To Use

Most of the bikes I have heard of being stolen seem to have been secured with cable locks, instead of a U-lock.

Yes, cable locks are lighter and easier to carry than a U-lock. But, a cable lock is so easy to cut with a $20 pair of bolt cutters that you may as well put a "Steal This Bike" sign on your bicycle. Seriously, despite knowing this - and you do know how easy they are to cut - so many people insist on using them that I am surprised that even more of your bikes aren't getting stolen.

U-locks are heavy and they can be a pain in the ass to carry, but using one of these can protect your bike from theft a lot better than any cable lock I have ever seen.

Remember Adchoppers? In case you don't, here's a history lesson: some idiot thought that it would be a great idea to lock a couple dozen Schwinn Stingray bikes to bike racks around the Downtown, Waikiki and University areas with signs on them for people to advertise their businesses. He thought that it was such a great idea to have a bike locked to every single bike rack on Bishop Street and lots of racks in Waikiki that it just couldn't go wrong and he'd have people paying him over a $100 to place their ads on his bikes. I think it was $125 per ad, per bike. He almost never had any ads on them and his bikes were vandalized almost from the beginning by people angry that he was using-up half the available bike rack space all over Downtown.

To make matters worse for himself, he used cable locks. Not the cheap ones, but they were thicker than the usual ones you see. Still, they were cable locks and most of his bikes ended-up getting stolen. He finally wised-up, removed the bikes he still had left and forgot the whole thing.
The lesson here is that a cable lock might seem convenient, but they are just cheap pieces of shit whose only selling point is that they are lighter. Not more secure or even as secure as U-locks, just lighter. Even bike shop owners admit that cable locks don't protect your bike like a U-lock does, but people still want them because they are lighter and they are cheaper.

Get wise to the Real World, people! Buy a Kryptonite or OnGuard U-lock to secure your bike. They may be heavier and more expensive, but they are a better guarantee that your bike will still be there when you go back.

An even better choice is a Kryptonite Chain. Way heavier than a U-lock, but it's even harder to cut than one. Some people have issues with the little U-lock that comes with it, but I never had a problem with it.

You've got to stop letting thieves steal your bike just because you don't want to carry a heavy lock around. Be smarter than the thieves and you can keep your bike.

Duane Browning

How Much Salt Is Enough for McDonalds Fries?

McDonald's is the most popular fast food restaurant chain in the world, with branches in every country. The logo of this corporation and its signature food, the Big Mac, are seen in almost every corner of the world and in communities big and small.

However, I have to wonder if McDonald's has a secret agenda to reduce our collective life expectancy.

I've been having issues with my neighborhood McDonald's, located in Discovery Bay, for some weeks now. The most recent is the fact that they seemed to be putting an obscene amount of salt on the french fries. It was as if I was eating salt right out of the shaker when I ate just a few of them and I often found myself unable to finish even a small sized order.

At first, I thought that they might be using a regular shaker where some one would sprinkle what they thought was an adequate amount of salt on the latest batch of fries to come out of the fryer, but I noticed that they are using a special device that measures-out the salt to be added to each new batch, so that idea was definitively proven wrong.

But then I remembered my own years of working in fast food - in my case, Burger King - where I noticed a few times that there seemed to be too much salt on the fries going out. I realized then that, while some of the salt was on the fries, the rest was still in the bin, along the sides and bottom. As new fries were put in from the fryer, they made contact with the salt that was already in the bin, as well as the salt that would be added. So, by late afternoon, there was a large amount of salt in the bin with more being added with each batch of fries coming from the fryer. The bin is constructed so that excess oil falls through the grating at the bottom, but the salt will stick to the sides and bottom, since it is also coated with oil from having new fries put in every few minutes.

One solution that was put to us was to wipe down the inside of the bin to remove the excess salt, but that wasn't really effective, as the cloth would only catch a little bit of it and salt behaves a lot like sand: it gets into everything and goes everywhere.

My idea was to simply not add salt to a few batches of fries and simply sift them around to catch the salt that coated the inside of the bin. Eventually, the old salt would make contact with the new fries and the amount of salt in the bin would go down to a manageable level where adding salt to new fries wouldn't affect the taste of the fries or the amount of leftover salt in the bin. The logic of the idea seemed obvious to me, so I did that way for awhile. That is, until management found-out about it.

Management pointed-out to me that the process spelled-out during training was:
  1. take new fries from fryer;
  2. put fries in bin;
  3. add salt
  4. repeat.
No variation of this formula was included in training or company policy, so employees weren't given the option to modify it to their own liking, regardless of motives. If there was too much excess salt in the bin, employees were instructed to take a cloth and wipe-down the inside, regardless of the effectiveness of this practise.
And people wonder why the salt content of fast food is so high.
Anyway, since i eat at the nearby McDonald's fairly regularly (often too tired to cook or in a rush), I decided to finally speak to the manager, who I've seen very often and I figured that she seemed to be an amiable person to whom I could make my concerns known. At first, I asked if there was a suggestion box. When that venue didn't avail itself, I spoke to her for a few minutes and she seemed to understand what I was talking about. She even cautioned an employee about adding too much salt to the fries afterwards.
We'll see if the situation is corrected.
McDonald's isn't really helping its customers keep their health. The double portions of beef or chicken patties being offered, as well as the Super Size meals with extra french fries and a larger drink may make customers feel fuller and put more money in McDonald's' bank account, it does mean that you're getting more healthy food in your diet. You're simply getting more of the same crap you've been eating for years.
While McDonald's does offer salads, they are priced much higher than french fries by far, due to the inexpensiveness of the potatoes the fries are made from versus the cost of the salad ingredients. Even so, they know more people will order fries than salads, so there is no real motivation to lower the cost of the salads. They could do this by increasing the cost of the french fries ever so slightly. If salads cost as much as french fries, more people might choose salads. Honestly, most people would still order fries with their meals anyway and the low cost of the stock makes the french fries pay for themselves with generous profits for the company. Salads' ingredients are more expensive and the product is more labor-intensive, as some one actually has to prepare them before serving, so cost versus benefit rules against salads in that regard.
Truthfully speaking, McDonald's would probably prefer not to offer salads in the first place. It's only because of pressure from consumer groups that they do it at all.
You, the reader, must be wondering what kind of fantasy land I must be living in to expect McDonald's, Burger King or any other fast food chain to even care about the health of their customers.
Well, I can dream, can't I?

Duane Browning

Saturday, February 6, 2010

First Post

After some time of trying to regularly get a blog started and keep it going, I have decided to try one more time.

It's never easy to blog on a regular basis, if you are either too tired or too busy to get it done.

Either way, I'm giving it another shot.