I’ve been posting quite a few product reviews over the last two years. At first I posted them only on amazon.com, partly because it’s an obvious place to start (as the largest internet retailer and major resource for product reviews) and partly because it provides a good means of tracking progress. People vote on Amazon reviews (helpful or not) and this has been a very useful metric for me to judge what kind of information people respond to. The number of reviews, number of votes, percentage of helpful votes, and a few other factors are converted by Amazon into an overall reviewer ranking. When I posted my first green star review on Amazon in 2014, I was perhaps a typical reviewer, having posted only three reviews up until then, earning me a reviewer ranking of around 21,000,000 (i.e., there were almost 21 million reviewers ranked higher than me, and it looks like there are over 40 million reviewers in total on Amazon.com).
After two years, over 100 reviews and 1500 helpful votes, I am now in the top 1000 reviewer list (current ranking: 845). You can see my profile here and scroll through the reviews – please excuse the duplicates, each product is normally listed several times on Amazon. Please vote for any you find helpful!
Nowadays, I’m posting each new review on every site that accepts product reviews (Vitacost, Thrive, Amazon.co.uk, even Walmart!). But this month I’m taking a bit of a break from that and I’m going to focus on reviewing restaurants, cafes, stores, etc. I’m posting these reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google – please click any of these links to see my reviews and vote if you find them helpful. By the way, the aim of accumulating votes is purely to gain more coverage for green star reviews. Reviews that don’t receive votes become less visible over time.
Oh, and I’m fortunate to be writing these reviews in Kauai too 🙂
It’s hard to ignore the environment when you live on a small island
Living (and writing reviews) on a small isolated island can really heighten one’s awareness of certain issues, like where the stuff we eat and use comes from and what happens to it (or its packaging) afterwards. There is the huge problem of marine plastic, perhaps most evident on the Big Island’s Kamilo beach and in the tragic scenario at Midway of albatrosses feeding their young with plastic, mistaking it for squid. On isolated islands, the consequences of unsustainable practices are often much more severe and rapid than on large land masses. It’s also much harder to ignore (or to be unaware of) these consequences – for example, a consumer buying corn in California would surely think harder about the impact of the Midwest farming practices on the Gulf of Mexico if the U.S. mainland was shrunk to the area of Kauai (500 square miles).
Why does Hawaii import milk?
One of the first things I noticed in Kauai is that milk here is dominated by one brand – Meadow Gold, marketed by Dean Foods in Texas. I was a little surprised that there weren’t more brands available, and perhaps some local organic milk. Well, the reason for this goes back to the 1980’s, when there were indeed more dairy farms in Hawaii and it was common practice to feed pineapple tops (“green chop”) to dairy cows. It all went pear-shaped in 1982 when it was discovered that many of the local milks were contaminated with heptachlor, an organochlorine pesticide that was sprayed on pineapples. The safety of heptachlor was questioned as far back as 1962 by Rachel Carlson in her book Silent Spring, but was not banned in the U.S. until 1988. Drinking this milk probably was a bad thing – a 2016 paper in Neurology shows that neuron density was significantly lower (and this is linked to Parkinson’s disease) in men who drank milk during this period, and also found heptachlor epoxide in 9 out of 10 of their brains.
So, back in 1982, the milk contamination story hit the news and created an immediate scare – milk was withdrawn everywhere and replaced by powdered and evaporated milk. Then in 1984 Safeway opened Pandora’s Box and started importing milk from the mainland. The number of local dairy farms dwindled until eventually Dean Foods had a monopoly on processing local milk, which was supplied by the only two remaining Hawaiian farms (Dean also imports milk from the mainland). In 2015 Dean Foods threatened to stop buying milk from these local farms since it was no longer competitive with milk imported from the mainland, unless the state changed a law supporting a minimum price on milk (to protect dairy farmers from exploitation by milk processors, which is exactly what was happening). Last summer, Ed Boteilho, owner of Cloverleaf Dairy was forced to petition the state to allow his dairy to sell its milk to Dean Foods at below the legal minimum price, taking a 23% cut as the only alternative to shutting down the farm and letting his workers go.
But hopefully that’s the low point in this story. There are smaller dairy farms opening up again, and this month Ed Boteilho (aged 72 and having suffered a heart attack recently) decided to sell Cloverleaf Dairy to Mauna Kea Moo, a new dairy that plans to sell organic cheese, yogurt and butter. I’m heartened to see that the majority of small businesses that I’ve visited here are very conscious of sustainability – the benefits of organic farming, the importance of supporting local producers, and the need to reduce our use of plastic (avoiding it or replacing it with compostable alternatives). From the bakeries and restaurants that use local veggies, fruit and goat cheese to the store that specializes in everything bamboo, Kauai seems to be on the right track. I hope to post more reviews of Kauai businesses soon – you can find them on Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Google.
Where does your food come from?
So, in summary of this rambling post, awareness of where our food comes from is important. I was curious about the source the Meadow Gold milk that I saw everywhere in Kauai and spent a few minutes researching it. Discovering that the milk is imported from the mainland was a surprise. Couple that with the fact that Dean Foods is not known for animal welfare and the milk becomes even less attractive from an ethical standpoint. This is enough to make me seek out other choices, for example the Ha Coffee Bar (5/5 Green Stars, reviewed here) a non-profit café that provides coconut milk to go with your Kona coffee.
Mahalo nui loa.