Rob Parsons

Plastic in the Soup

Recycling, Kahului Harbor plans and a winter recipe

by Rob Parsons

Something here does not belong...

January 31, 2008

Paddle once, paddle twice, paddle chicken soup with rice.
-Maurice Sendak

As Hawai'i winter temperatures dip down to the low 60s, I find the tip of my nose serving as a thermometer of sorts. Cold hands can dive into pants pockets, and toes into warm socks. But the nose is right out there in the elements, and my three decades in Hawai'i have surely insulated my memory from real winter cold, such as my early years living in Wisconsin.

We had a vivid reminder of that when Green Bay temperatures registered minus three degrees for their NFC Championship game with the New York Giants. I believe things got even chillier when Brett Favre's final pass in overtime was intercepted.

While the cool January trade winds in Hawai'i are nothing like frigid Lambeau Field, I've taken to time-honored strategies of staying warm, such as soup.

Yes, I've been on quite a roll with homemade soups. The Mind, Body, Spirit Issue provides an ideal time to share a couple recipes, as well as some reflection about how the ingredients get here and how they're packaged.

Consider the juice box. Known in the industry as a Tetra Pak, this square aseptic packaging is used for a variety of liquids: juice, soy milks, soups and even wine. Made from complex layers of plastic, metal, and paper, they are difficult to recycle. Despite millions spent by the industry for recycling education, it's estimated that only between seven and 13 percent are recycled in North America, compared with 25 to 30 percent of glass containers.

With 45 production plants, over 20,000 employees and markets reaching into 165 countries, Tetra Paks have become nearly omnipresent. In 2006, they delivered nearly 130 trillion packages. Sales brought revenues in the range of $8 trillion.

Boxed soups used to be the Ground Zero of my "homemade" soups, the foundation for all subsequent gustatory embellishments. Carrot-ginger, butternut squash and roasted red pepper tomato bisque-oh, how I'm going to miss you.

Moreover, boxed unsweetened soy milk was the perfect addition for creamy soups. I could even pride myself while perusing the labels to find organic, non-GMO soybean products. But no more.

My wife Heather has been making her own nut milk for years, soaking her almonds overnight before blending them with filtered water. My favorite is her hazelnut-almond milk.

She strains the solids through a fine mesh bag (available at paint stores-our natural food stores don't seem to stock them). The solids may then be used to make pie crusts, peanut butter protein balls or other healthy treats.

What about regular milk, you ask, in its non-recyclable waxed cardboard packaging? Last week Pacific Dairy in Waianae reported they will close their operation next month, leaving only two small Big Island dairies remaining in Hawai'i. As recently as 1980, the state had about two dozen dairies, including Haleakala Dairy on Maui, and was milk self-sufficient. Now virtually all milk will come from the Mainland, making us even more dependent on imports and vulnerable in emergencies.

Further, even though I grew up in America's Dairyland, I no longer drink cow's milk. Based on what I've read, pasteurization and homogenization processes strip much of the healthful benefits out of milk. For many, lactose intolerance is a fact of life. Yet corporate food lobbyists continue to extol the virtues of milk, beef and a whole slew of processed, chemicalized, irradiated, highly salted, sugared and genetically modified foods. For them, it's all about profit.

It's enough to make you want to buy locally, to better understand what goes into the food we consume. If it's true that "You are what you eat," wouldn't we all want to know that?

I am fortunate to purchase locally grown bio-dynamically grown vegetables weekly from a Peahi farmer who raises his crops only a two-minute bike ride from my door. His produce is the real foundation for my winter soup recipes, now that the Tetra Pak soup mixes are on their way out in our kitchen.

Hawai'i's $500 million farm sector remains relatively small compared to the $11 billion tourism industry, but agriculture plays an important role in diversifying the state economy, preserving greenbelt lands and reducing the Islands' dependence on imported food. The closure of Oahu's last dairy is indicative that state and local government is not doing enough to subsidize and support local food production.

With that decline, coupled with increasing population, our ports must handle even more freight to support the goods and services throughout the islands. How to handle that was the topic of discussion at the Cameron Center Auditorium last Wednesday evening.

The state Department of Transportation (DOT) hosted a discussion meeting on its Kahului Harbor 2030 Master Plan Draft EIS. The favored alternative selected by a Maui Harbors Users Group is to separate freight and passenger operations by dredging the harbor and putting cruise ships and inter-island ferry operations on the west breakwater, where the recently improved boat ramp is found.

The plan is supported by $345 million in fast-tracked funds proposed by Governor Linda Lingle, as part of a statewide Harbors Modernization Plan estimated last month at an $842 million in total capital expenditures.

The 2025 Kahului Harbor Master Plan was adopted in 2000, and made a strong recommendation to separate freight and cargo uses. Yet since then, the DOT has done exactly the opposite, cramming the two competing uses into the limited space at the harbor. The loss of Young Brothers dock space to make room for the Hawai'i Superferry has meant the loss of buildings that formerly provided covered storage space. Now all small shipments of inter-island cargo sit on the open dock, exposed to the elements.

Wrapped around those boxes and pallets is plastic packaging film, sort of like Saran Wrap on steroids. Americans use 4.3 million tons of plastic film each year, which also includes trash bags and grocery sacks. Of this, only three percent was recovered and recycled, with plastic lumber being the principal reused product.

According to paddling coach and Hui Malama instructor Iokepa Naeole, more and more plastic is winding up in Kahului Harbor since the changes at Young Brothers on Pier 2 to accommodate the Superferry. Speaking last Wednesday night, he also stressed that paddling, fishing and surfing shouldn't be labeled as merely recreational harbor uses, as they all have cultural roots.

Naeole and dozens of others spoke against the harbor expansion plans at the three-hour meeting. Most were aghast that the plan proposed destroying surf breaks, fishing access and impacting the canoe regatta course in favor of commercial uses. The first to speak, Foster Ampong, set the tone for the rest of the testimony.

"What is all this development for?" Ampong asked. "It serves corporate interest. I am kanaka maoli. My ancestors have lived in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without any help from others and we lived sustainably. Any more expansion will not promote sustainability for the people-it will sustain corporations. We don't need to expand the harbor-we need solutions. Remember, the Hawaiians achieved sustainability-we know how to do it. The state government is actually doing the opposite. If you want to promote corporate interests and make the wealthy wealthier and the poor poorer this is the way to do it."

Paddler Karen Chun agreed.

"I'll speak to you as an engineer with a master's degree from the University of California," Chun said. "This plan is unworkable and unsafe. This plan looks like it was created by cruise ship lobbyists instead of engineers."

The Save Kahului Harbor website has posted notice for a rally and sign-waving event and potluck on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 10 a.m. until noon. They also provide the link to view the full Draft EIS, and the e-mail link to submit official comments by Feb. 28.

Enough appetizers. Now it's time to make a good, warming "Outside the Box Carrot Soup."

? Steam a half an onion, and several small potatoes and carrots in a large pot.

? (Optional: butternut squash can be used, or local pumpkin.)

? Fill a blender half to three quarters full, adding water, homemade soy or nut milk, miso, tamari and spices to taste. Garlic, too. Blend all vegetables and return to the soup pot. Finely chop greens-spinach, chard, or beet greens, and chives, dill, oregano or other fresh herbs to taste. Add to blended soup and simmer on low, as creamy soups are prone to scalding. Stir frequently.

? Curry and cardamom can liven up this soup, as can finely diced apple or pear, added after blending.

? When ready, serve in big, colorful bowls and invite friends! The more we grow what we need and share what we have with each other, the less we'll have to ship in.