Why the F*$& is Vanilla so G*$$@^^ expensive?!?

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When I first started buying vanilla beans by the pound in 2016 for making tropsicles, I was taken aback by the $200/lb price tag on Amazon.  Now 3 years later I wish I had bought freaking futures at that price.  All throughout 2018 prices for Vanilla teetered around $500/lb.  That’s literally more than the price of actual money.  One pound of US dolla dolla bills y’all is $454.  To give a frame of reference, one pound of vanilla beans fits snugly into a sandwich size ziplock.  $454 dollars in ones definitely does not, nor does 1 pound of the only plant that’s ever actually been sold in sandwich baggies.

While we’re on the topic of things that are cheaper than vanilla beans, how ‘bout silver. Silver is cheaper than vanilla by weight, and also human blood if you were wondering. If last year a vanilla bean dealer was coincidentally in the market for a blood transfusion and I vanilla beans, I would have to trade him or her 20% of the blood in my entire body for 1 pound of beans! 

So why is 5 lbs of vanilla beans worth the same dollar amount as 100% of the blood in an average sized adult human being? A couple reasons mostly surrounding the fact that they are tough as hell to grow.  Madagascar grows 80% of the worlds vanilla even though it’s indigenous to Mexico which means that its only insect pollinators live in Mexico and not in Madagascar. Pair that with the fact that each flower of those those 2-4 year old mature vanilla orchids (yes the vanilla bean is the fruit of an orchid, and I bet it takes you less than 48 hours to try and slip that into a conversation) only blooms one time for one day meaning that someone has to hand pollinate each and every flower.  These delicate plants are also extremely vulnerable to bad weather so if a crop gets wiped out it will take years to reach maturity after replanting. And don’t forget about vanilla bean theft, because that’s a thing, so much so that for years farmers were harvesting their green beans months early to avoid theft which resulted in reduced yield and quality and then thieves stealing them earlier so then farmers had to pick even earlier then the thieves… blah blah blah, you get the picture.   The market has also fluctuated immensely between the demand for the cheapest options, enter imitation vanilla flavoring, to all natural pure vanilla beans and that demand can often fluctuate quicker than vanilla beans farmers can plant more or scale back causing even greater swings in supply and quality.  

The price of onions...

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As of late I’ve been deep diving into our finances here at Moku Roots especially our Cost of  Goods sold to try and figure out where we can best source our ingredients.  I was expecting to find a lot of “the local kale delivered by company X costs $5 less than the same kale from company Y” or “if I order a pallet of organic oats, and oil, and sugar etc, its cheaper than buying them in bulk here on island” and hopefully that I can string together a bunch of those small savings on the same product to lower our costs as much as possible.

And that’s when I saw what we paid for conventional Mexican onions which we bought one time when Kula had bad weather that prevented their harvest.  I’ve tried to ignore the price tag on conventional imported onions as I pass down the produce aisle which I knew was cheaper than our local onions wholesale, but now I am looking at invoices and I can’t avoid it any longer, its glaring at me, staring me down, and really testing my morals.  

The wholesale price of 50 lbs of onions from Mexico is $27 versus seemingly identical onions grown in Kula that carry a much steeper price tag of $112.50.  The $.32 onion looks the same as the $1.35 onion, tastes the same, makes everybody in the kitchen cry the same when you slice 50 straight pounds of them, but one costs 417% more than the other.  We will always buy the more expensive ones even though it offsets so many of my $5 here - $5 there ordering adjustments.  Now I think about how many people will be able to stomach making that decision to spend $85 more dollars on a superficially identical product.

The $27 price tag is tormenting whilst trying to lower our cost of goods sold and its just the tip of the higher profit margin iceberg if I were to compromise on the quality of our ingredients.  I had been struggling to construe the “costs” associated with cheaper food alternatives when I stumbled on this quote the other day by Michael Pollan, a Harvard professor that sums it up perfectly, 

“Cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere else, and if it isn’t paid at the cash register, its charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of subsidies, and it’s charged to your health.” 

Mexican onions, like many other things, are cheap at the register, but someone else is paying the price. That’s the farmer being paid an unlivable wage, and the environment because of the fossil fuels used in transport for thousands of miles, and the land being assaulted by harmful chemicals that will ultimately charge the consumers and those exposed to the land the costly and paramount fee of their health. 

As a restaurant, its not so easy to communicate those ethical decisions to the customer and how they affect the price.  Some of the “nicest” restaurants in Maui that advertise “local Waipoli lettuce” dump a small box onto a mountain of cheaper imported greens, diluting their quality of course, and just as importantly people’s perceptions of a price reflective of highly ethical ingredients.  Then there are the restaurants that definitely don’t pretend to be using high quality ingredients and charge customers the same prices as those that advertise Waipoli greens and neglect to tell the rest of the story so the consumer thinks that the source of ingredients makes no difference in price.    

I encourage everyone the next time they’re choosing between a higher priced ethical product or a cheaper alternative to consider who is paying the difference, and if they can afford it or if you can afford it…

…and don’t buy shit in plastic :)  

Is Vegan Enough?

Is vegan enough?

No I’m not talking about getting enough protein, so throw that overplayed and underwhelming card back in the deck.  I’m not a nutritionist and I’m skeptical of any nutrition “facts” because ten or twenty years ago what we thought to be “fact” now seems ludicrous and it’s only reasonable to believe that the same will happen in another decade.  While we’re on this very brief topic of protein however, all I have to say is if Venus Williams is getting enough protein from her raw vegan diet to have win Wimbledon 5 times, 7 grand slam titles in singles at 14 doubles titles and 4 olympic gold metals I’m pretty sure that I’ll be fine on the elliptical for like 1 hour per week without killing any animals.  I don’t need some molecular biologist to explain amino acids and peptide bonding and vegan protein blah blah blah, elite vegan athletes exist, and have plenty of muscles, that’s all the proof I need.  And if you think you need more protein to do whatever it is that you do than one of the greatest powerhouses the tennis game has ever seen or the dozens of plant based NFL players, or vegan body builders or Olympians, then you seriously need to reevaluate your perception of reality.

Okay back to the point.  


Let’s say you’re vegan, you’re feeling good about your cruelty free lifestyle, no animals were harmed in the feeding of you… no sir, not a one… So imagine that you’re sitting down at your favorite health food store, with some food from the salad bar and got your green juice or a smoothie.  You finish and get up, throw away your paper plate, plastic fork, and smoothie cup complete with plastic lid and straw and go back to your busy day of not harming animals. Unfortunately, even if you properly dispose of your plastics, that’s not the end of the story, trash and recyclables a like will pass through many hands before their final destination which in the worst case scenario and far too often is the ocean. 

There are 100 shipping containers right now sitting in the Philippines full of trash from all parts of Canada that were properly disposed of possibly hundreds of miles from an ocean, then trucked to British Columbia and shipped 6,000 miles to the Philippines and are now threatening to be shipped 6000 miles back and dumped all over Vancouver’s beaches.  There exists no place on this earth where plastics don’t run a risk of ending up in the ocean.   

This is an albatross chick on the Midway Atoll. Midway Atoll is located 1500 miles northwest of Hawaii and 2600 miles japan, so basically in the middle of f*ucking nowhere. It died from plastic.

This is an albatross chick on the Midway Atoll. Midway Atoll is located 1500 miles northwest of Hawaii and 2600 miles japan, so basically in the middle of f*ucking nowhere. It died from plastic.

Statistics vary quite a bit about plastic pollution’s effect on marine life, but they range from 1 million sea birds to 100 million marine animals being killed per year from ingesting or being entangled in plastic.  Compare that to 39 million cows killed for food in US per year.  It is feasible that more animals are unintentionally dying from plastics than are intentionally being killed for meat.  Even if it’s not more, it’s comparable and its definitely worth noting.  

I’m in no way advocating for the meat industry, I am however saying that just because you don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean you’re not killing animals, I have been to way too many vegan cafes and health food stores where every single fucking thing was wrapped in, served with, sitting on, or clamshell-ed in possibly the greatest killer of animals on this planet, plastic.  Obviously there are plastic cups and lids on every Coke at McDonalds, but I’m not expecting them to give a f*ck, however those who claim to - need to.  

So if you think its hypocritical when people claim to love animals but eat meat, remember that sea turtle having a straw painfully removed from its nostril or the whale who washed up on the beach in the Philippines with 88 lbs of plastic the next time you’re sucking down a soy chai latte or putting your organic spinach bunch in a produce bag.   

To answer the question, No, vegan isn’t enough.  If you avoid steak so cows don’t die, then avoid plastic so whales and sea turtles and birds don’t either. 

I've still never tried Nitro... and why Starbucks is the worst

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When we were preparing to open Moku Roots and were trying to nail down all of our recipes and ingredient sources, we were faced with some decisions to make regarding coffee.  I know nothing about coffee as I’m not really a coffee drinker, but luckily we had some friends in town who own a string of award winning coffee houses on the east coast called The Mudhouse who informed or maybe enchanted me with the idea of Nitro cold brewed coffee.  

So we set out on a Maui wide hunt for a place to buy kegs to sell at Moku.  We quickly stumbled on an article about a shop in Kihei having Nitro so we called…. and called…. and called…. and apparently they don't have a phone number that works.  Around this time, I’d heard Starbucks carries it and against my better judgement after numerous times of going to various mainland Starbucks with my own mug, watched the baristas measure my chai in a single use plastic cup, throw it away and pour it into my mug without even a glimmer of consciousness of why I brought the mug in the first place, I went to Starbucks in Lahaina just to try Nitro…  

…….Aaaaaaand Lahaina didn’t have it.   

Fast forward roughly a year to today.  Bill was grabbing some things at Target, I was sitting in the truck reading Freakanomics which we’d parked way the hell over by the entrance to Starbucks so the truck could be in the shade.  I notice the only advertisement on Starbucks’ storefront, a logo and the word “Nitro” prominently and exclusively on the door.  I wasn’t in the mood for coffee, but today seemed like my day, I had a 12 oz jar with me, albeit a somewhat dirty one, but a billion dollar corporation should certainly own a sponge right? 

I walk in to by far the weirdest energy I’ve ever experienced in a coffee shop in my life.  There is no one in line and probably 5 people sitting on laptops separated from the rest of the world by noise cancelling headphones and the ambiance is completely devoid of the typical hustle and bustle of a coffee shop or busy restaurant.  There are easily the same amount of employees doing various seemingly unimportant tasks.  One is replacing the half empty trash bag with yet another plastic trash bag, one is staring sort of blankly at the food display case, possibly trying to mind control the fly that’s made a home on the turkey melt away out of customer’s eyeshot, 2 are chatting in the back, and another is more or less standing waiting to make an order.  Approximately 30 seconds later, someone acknowledges that there is now a person who wants a beverage from them and I present my 12 oz mason jar to mind control fly guy, pay my $4.84 for a small, ohh pardon me, “tall”, Nitro coffee and instruct him that it needs to be washed in case he cant tell that it is visibly dirty.  He pours a little filtered water into it and dumps it into the sink, not really clean, but I don’t really care enough to say anything at this point, they still haven’t somehow managed to sacrifice a single use plastic cup on my behalf yet so I’m just trying to tread lightly.  

I mosey on over 5 feet to my left to the designated pick up area where the anxious-to-barista lady stays.  I feel a little awkward just standing there, but you just pull a tap right? No brewing required? But how would I know, I’ve never had it.  Then about a minute later, the lady who has been within 4 feet of me this whole time, says “we don’t have Nitro, I haven’t set up the keg in the machine yet.”  Even though, it’s literally the only product that this establishment claims to have to the outside world! 
So at this point, I’m laughing at myself for even thinking that I could ever have a satisfactory experience at Starbucks, I ask for a refund, and since its one of those days, it takes way too long because now they’re counting the drawer.  I wait for my $4.84 and walk out, now noticing that every single person who is on their computer who will probably occupy that same chair for at least 2 hours or about 20X the time it takes to quaff down a frappaccino not only has a single use coffee cup of some kind but also a single use plastic cup with a plastic lid and a plastic straw for water!!!
So I can just put this little gem of an experience into my “get some goddamn reusable dishes!” category, and yes, I’m talking to you Mr Schultz!     

Vegetarian Food on Maui

Vegetarian Food on Maui

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what about your veggies? Many people do not get their recommended daily does of vegetables for some reason or another. Here, at Moku Roots — one of Maui’s favorite vegan and vegetarian restaurants — we make it easy to get your fill of greens in a delicious and satisfying way!

Long Time Coming Vegetarian and Vegan Food Upturn

Long Time Coming Vegetarian and Vegan Food Upturn

Vegetarianism and veganism are unarguably on the upturn. I mean, even McDonald’s is offering a vegan burger now, and the-McDonald’s-of-the-pizza-world — Pizza Hut — is even offering vegan cheese on their pizzas, so things are definitely on the up. Who knows, maybe one day there’ll be more choices on all restaurant menus than just a flipping veggie lasagna or – sigh – a veggie risotto.       

Vegetarian Food that Fulfills Even the Pickiest of Eaters

Vegetarian Food that Fulfills Even the Pickiest of Eaters

Full disclosure: I am not a Vegetarian or Vegan.  I am also a meat eating, picky eater so when my friends wanted to meet me for brunch at Moku Roots, Maui’s hot new vegetarian restaurant, I was skeptical.  Mind you, I do care about our environment and the idea of fresh ingredients actually grown on Maui is quite appealing. 

In For A GREAT Vegan Surprise!

In For A GREAT Vegan Surprise!

Moku Roots has some very delectable, signature menu items that are available every time you come in…We also change up our menu everyday too! Not only is change the spice of life, but since we are committed to providing the Maui community with the freshest organic ingredients, whatever is in season and available greatly dictates what foods we serve too!

No Straws = Zero Waste

No Straws = Zero Waste

We cannot wait for the day when straws are a thing of the past! When you think about it…What is the point? If you’re really that adamant about sipping your drink through one, be adamant about saving the planet and countless marine creatures and wildlife too and bring your own (: You can even get creative and self-expressive when it comes to toting around your personal, individualized straw. Really, the possibilities are endless! Think papaya stem, bamboo shoot, or even a reusable metal or glass straw! 

7 steps to dining out sustainably

1.  Eat plants!

Locally grown fruits and vegetables take far less resources to produce than meat while simultaneously providing clean for us to breathe. Who doesn't want to support that? 

Styrofoam No More! Organic, Zero Waste Is Here To Stay!

Styrofoam No More! Organic, Zero Waste Is Here To Stay!

That’s right! The notoriously horrible, deadly, and non-biodegradable substance is FINALLY — and rightfully — going to be outlawed on Maui! Effective December 31, 2018, any restaurant or other business distributing  products made from styrofoam will be help accountable for their short-sighted actions!