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Diet helps make cultural link for sailing crews

By Joleen Oshiro

LAST UPDATED: 09:17 p.m. HST, May 19, 2014

Kaiulani Odom first got involved with the Hokule'a in 1995, when a crew headed for the Marquesas was presented with an experimental diet of exclusively traditional Hawaiian food. Participation was voluntary, and the four crewmembers who tried it  said they felt better on the native foods. 

Odom helped put together that diet. But she is not just a nutritionist, trained in the western system, she is a cultural food proponent who believes eating food grown on this land nourishes crewmembers who come from the same land -- on various levels.

"It's not just about physical strength; it's also about mental and spiritual strength," she said. "Cultural food should be a part of a cultural act. Wherever these guys are in the world, they are connected to this aina, the birthplace of Hokule'a."

Now, along with folks like crewmember Kealoha Hoe, whose family created 'Ai Pono, a program that focuses on a traditional Hawaiian diet, Odom is hoping to gradually add more healthful traditional food to the menus of the Hokule'a and Hikianalia. There's time, as the worldwide voyages run through 2017. 

Some ideas already have been executed. First is the fresh produce Hawaii students are growing in school gardens to feed the crews. Then there are dried foods such as banana, fish and meat. Other ideas: ulu (breadfruit) flakes that can replace white flour or be served like porridge for breakfast; taro flour for pancakes; and coconut oil, a healthy fat, to replace other oils. Odom is also experimenting with recipes, and pickling and dehydrating more foods. 

Though she is passionate about her cause, Odom understands that lasting change is gradual. 

"Our motto is 'progress, not perfection,'" she said.

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