The Maui News - Weekender
As fast-food chains pop up, chefs make push for local eats
#MauiEatLocal aims to support restaurants and producers that struggled in pandemic
Local chefs recently launched a movement that encourages dining out at local restaurants and buying from local grocers after a “concerning number” of new fast-food chains opened in Kahului and Wailuku this summer.
About two dozen locally owned food businesses have joined the #MauiEatLocal movement — which has a nonprofit status in the works — to educate the public about how the simple choice of eating locally helps support farms, ranchers and fishers.
This in turn helps the Valley Isle economy and residents’ overall health, said chef Brian Etheredge, owner of Cutting Edge Catering, The Market, Private Maui Chef and soon-to-be Tail’s Up Maui.
#MauiEatLocal is a call to the community to find solutions for food security, sustainability, health and economic stability, Etheredge said Tuesday morning via phone.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020, seven new corporate fast-food restaurants expanded operations to Central Maui, such as Raising Cane’s and Chick-fil-A, which drew hundreds of people to wait in line for processed, pre-packaged meals.
“They just seemed to be popping up on every corner. It was concerning,” said Etheredge, who’s also a father of four children and has been in business on Maui for over 20 years. “Economics and health were the first two factors for me that called me to action.”
He heard stories from many colleagues running locally owned businesses about how their sales were impacted by the pandemic and suffering as island-grown goods “are set aside” in favor of imported products and profits go off island.
“Being such a small community in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we need to be more aware of the effects of our dollar that we spend,” he said. “Healthy competition is great in an economy. I’d rather go up against a bunch of local businesses and drive each other to be better at our craft than to have these massive corporations come in.”
Most importantly, the chefs hope #MauiEatLocal inspires the community to keep the island “uniquely Maui.”
“This is about what the world is going to look like for our kids,” Etheredge said.
Soon after, Etheredge reached out to “edible Hawaiian Islands,” a magazine that shares stories of local food producers. Publisher Dania Novack agreed to help spearhead the movement by spreading awareness on the eateries and chefs participating and education on food security.
The magazine plans to also include local grocery stores and specialty shops, as well as have a summer issue on locally made beverages and a winter issue on value-added products made by local entrepreneurs.
“The move toward sustainability feels so important right now in these changing times,” Novack said.
Private Maui Chef Jana McMahon, a partner in the movement, said that the goal is to educate and inform residents and visitors about choosing locally owned food purveyors and supporting a circular economy.
“If we can start a movement here that gets them thinking differently and more about each other and their neighbors, then we are well on our way to a really good thing,” McMahon said. “We not only would be supporting all these food vendors and fishermen and farmers, restaurant tours and people that make value-added products, but we’re supporting our family units on an individual level by eating healthier and keeping the money here and improving our way of life.”
Businesses are selected by their peers for inclusion based on specific criteria, such as being locally owned; sourcing at least 40 percent of their products locally (exceptions are analyzed on a case by case basis); being willing to promote through social media, be a spokesperson, and educate staff, peers and customers; and making a one-year commitment to participate.
Shifting away from importing the vast majority of the islands’ food supply can be accomplished by helping people see that they have a choice to eat locally, Novack noted. About 30 cents of every dollar goes back to the Mainland, Novack said.
“The second factor, to me, is public health,” McMahon said. “There’s an astonishing amount of additives and quote unquote,
food items that are allowed to go into processed foods in the United States is shocking, especially compared to other places in the world that ban these ingredients.”
After her own healthy journey battling an auto-immune issue, McMahon said that “food is medicine” and hopes this movement shows visitors and residents the importance of nutrition.
“I’m learning new things everyday,” she added. “My end-goal is to educate, share and inform in a joyous manner. I view this movement as a way to really get everybody on Maui to understand how we’re all connected and that we’re all one in spite of our differences, whatever they may be, and the one thing that connects everybody, in my opinion, is food.”
Other participants in the program include Noah Schuster, Broth Maui; Hilary Barbsy, Healthy Maui Chef; Janice and Sheldon Simeon, Tin Roof; Eliza and Jojo Vasquez, Fond; Kyle Kawakami, Maui Fresh Streatery; Katie-Belle Ely and Zach Sato, Haven’s; LeeAnn Wong, Papa‘Aina; Travis Morrin, Fork & Salad; Natasha Joslin and Taylor Ponte, Kamado Maui; Isaac Bancaco, PacificO; Qiana and Michele DiBari, Sale Pepe; Yvonne and Marc McDowell, SixtyTwo MarcKet; Sean Ikeda, Shikeda Bento & Patisserie; Rob Mason, RJ Gourmet; Joy White, Joy’s Place Live; Jayse Sato, Umi Sushi Maui; Cole Hinueber,
Kitoko; Joey Macadangdang, Joey’s Kitchen; Paulina and Jeremy Solyn, Nylos; Kaili and Jeff Scheer, Restaurant Marlow; and Nicky Boskoff, Star Noodle.
Etheredge and Novack encourage more local chefs and producers to get involved in the program as the team plans to earn a nonprofit status for #MauiEatLocal. The long term goal is to be able to apply for grants to launch a website and app, and build a food hub of information for the community.
To apply or for more information, contact hello@ ediblehi.com or follow the movement on Instagram @ MauiEatLocal.