I wuz impressed when I saw on top my children's school lunch menu that they wuz going have ulu in their beef stew. Turns out this wuz part of da once-a-month special Aina Pono program where da Hawaii State Department of Education tries for feature local in-gre-da-ments. Most schools participate in da Harvest of the Month every month. For this month's Beef & Ulu Stew just da ulu wuz da featured locally grown product. In da past, they featured local bananas, local papayas, local pineapple, and even local beef too. Impressive, yeah! I asked Dexter Kishida, da DOE School Food Services Branch Supervisor if one day they hope for serve alllll local food. He said, "Our goal is to get to 40% local. Our baseline data is showing us at around 20% last year."
Normally my small childrens no even eat beef stew, like none at all kine, but we explained to them how us parents, how we WISH we could eat this kine good food that they going be getting in school. And we explained to them how eating local food is super important to Hawaii's food security in da future. So because they knew this wuz one really special meal, dey agreed for at least try little bit.
And you know me, being all Frolic-y and all, I wuz super curious too. Beef stew is my mostest favorite food, but even I nevah had Beef & Ulu Stew before. Luckily, I knew somebody who knew somebody, so I had da connections for go back to elementary school so I could also partake.
During da course of my lunch experience, I dunno how many times da phrase back in my day came to mind. School lunch so expensive nowdays. I find myself always telling my childrens how back in my day school lunch used to cost quarter you know. Eventually went up to 45 cents. And now cost $2.50! Hard for believe in one generation's time da price went up ten fold. Da funny thing is da kids no even carry money or tokens nowdays. Da parents pre-pay for everything on top one computer account. I suppose it's good cuz kids no can get hijacked anymore. But I dunno if da kids learn da value of money with this system. I found out my childrens thought their lunches wuz FREE, cuz they never had to physically hand anything to da lunch lady. We had to explain, "You don't have to pay, cuz mommy and daddy paid already!"
When I got to da cafe, da nice cafeteria lady tried for give me one teacher size portion, but I had for decline cuz for research purposes I wanted for eat da same size plate that one child would get. Da Beef & Ulu Stew came with brown rice and fruit cocktail. Da menu said house salad, but this wuz one pretty fancy leafy green-green, for real kine green salad--had carrots and edamame on top too. An'den came with one small carton of Meadow Gold milk. On da back of da carton it said, "Distributed by Dean Foods Company. Dallas, Texas 75204."
Seeing this only reminded me AGAIN of how old I wuz. Cuz back in my day I think all da public schools had milk that wuz produced ova hea. I asked Bruddah Dexter if any schools still get local milk or what. He said, "Big Island schools serve local milk, and if there is extra it gets shipped to Oahu and blended with mainland milk." (Update: From da time I did this interview late last year until da time this posted a lot wen change. I seen on da news that one Hawai'i island dairy wuz shutting down so I asked Bruddah Dexter if that affects their lunches. He said, "Correct. No more local milk.")
When I got my lunch, da food looked quite appetizing, but it struck me odd that it came on top one papah plate with plastic utensils. In class, my childrens learn about saving da aina, but I wondered how come da school wuzn't practicing what they preach? Cuz hea we go again, cuz back in my day, we used to get our lunches on top that faded green, indestructible plastic tray that wuz probably around since 1957. And we had metal utensils too. I would think old skool is mo' bettah for da environment, so I asked Braddah Dexter, "Wassup, wassup?" He said, "All schools switched to disposable trays. When this decision was made, it made the most economical sense. We are reviewing that now."
I wish I could've spied on da kids and seen their reactions as they ate da stew. I did get for talk to a bunch of da teachers, but. None of us ate ulu before, but we all agreed that if nobody said anything, we'd probably think it wuz just regular potatoes. Each person had one different opinion about how for describe da taste of ulu. One teacher said it wuz more dense. One noddah teacher said wuz sweeter. One said wuz less grainy. To me, though da texture looked stringier, almost pumpkin-like, it nevah taste stringy at all, so I thought that wuz good. One super particular teacher wuz so turned off by da texture that she nevah like finish 'em. "Looks like spider webs," she complained, "Gross." One little bit lippy teacher said, "If they really wanted to highlight the taste of the ulu, why put sauce all over it? Duh!"
Since we wuz all having difficulty describing da taste of ulu, I asked Braddah Dexter if he could give his expert opinion of how ulu tastes. He said "I find it very close to potato in function and taste. I do think it absorbs the flavor even better than potato!" Hey, I think we kinda said that. Sorta. Lol.
As far as beef stews go, I thought wuz really good and I wuz glad I chanced 'em. Plus I felt good after eating 'em too. Like I wuz helping Hawaii for be more food sustainable. But da thing that sealed da deal for me wuz what happened when I went back to school for pick up my childrens. Da effervescent teacher's aide, Miss Jeri came rushing up to me for tell me how much my childrens enjoyed their special lunch. I asked if dey ate da stew. With great glee she exclaimed, "They ate 'em ALL." Quite amazing considering they nevah even wanna try stew before. To me that sealed da deal. Das why I fully support da mission of Aina Pono, cuz it's pono, AND kids tink it's ono. #nomonomoono