Ai Pono is a Hawaiian values based diet in which I am an advocate for. Even though you may not identify as Hawaiian, it can be an incredibly healthy and strong baseline to jumpstart a mindful, healthy lifestyle. Here is my koa diet recommendation: It is very simple - vegetables, fruits, and fish. But, there is a spiritual richness which is uniquely Hawaiian. Everyone has a different type of body which requires different things, use this a baseline and adjust to your perfect mix.
In the words of Kumu Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu, how do you malama aina if you do not live in Hawaii? Identifying as Hawaiian, is a consciousness that will forever endure if tended. Your body can be seen as an island carrying this consciousness no matter where your travels may take you.You must actively take care of your body, in order to endure: Your blood as water, your veins as the water-ways within the island, your island becomes only what it consumes, and in-turn care takes family, community, and future generations - take care of your body, as you would take care of your family and land.
Before Ai Pono, I had a vegetarian diet most of my life (almost 15 years since I was a kid), and for a while I was vegan. My initial dieting motivation as a youth was highly political and surrounding animal rights - which backed into health reasons, and the avoidance of the meat industry. It was a relatively easy choice at the time since my mother was also vegetarian. Alternatively, I saw zero interest in the spam, fried, and local foods diet that most of my Hawaiian family followed. However, I did not feel my diet was all-encompassing… There was a lack of value and motivation for a fully-rounded diet. The temptation to just eat carbs, junk, processed foods, and sugar (as a way to simply avoid meat) was the norm. And I see this consistently from vegetarian and vegan diets, they do not eat meat, yet the eat horribly processed foods, carb-loading, etc. Participating in combat sports introduced a Paleo diet, which seems more attractive (can also be vegetarian or pescatarian). But eating a "raw", or "paleo" diet produced similar diet-trend results that are always based on outside motivation like training for a fight, competition, doing a cleanse, etc. Without external motivators, I would always fall back.
ENTER AI PONO: The diet itself is familiar to others. Think "veggie & fish paleo", but with a strong Hawaiian base and values.
The Hawaiian ancestors had a diet of nutrient dense leafy greens, root vegetables, fruit, and fish - examples below. It is important to note the importance of the way foods are cultivated and harvested… All foods were grown and harvested with extreme love and attention on a deep personal level. Many Hawaiian foods are literally considered body-forms (kinolau) of ancestors passed, a highly valued, personal, living-being (even plants!). So when tending vegetable growth for example, it is treated as if each individual plant is literally a living family member. The intstruments of cooking, whether water, stone or wood; are also considered body forms used in the same way. It is not a philosophical discussion, it is a world viewpoint and way of life which can lead to a more holistic association of plants and harvest. This practice also bleeds into the Hawaiian value of Malama (to steward, love, take care of, and protect). When we talk about diet, we must discuss the stewardship, love, and protection of the land from which it came. When we think of food - we see ancestors passed. Which turns a food experience, into a sacred trust always to be tended.
From this viewpoint, You would not want to waste, or poison your ancestors! Since the sacrifice has been made to nourish your body, there is a certain amount of loving intention imbued - true healing foods. Some may view this as comfort food, lending to terms high "vibratory", "energy", "mana" foods. The same viewpoint and practice is used when harvesting plant-based medicines for healing, or lomilomi practices.
PRO TIPS: Eat portion sizes until you are comfortably full. Allow a minimum of 4 hours to pass between meals - but wait a until you are a little bit past hungry before you eat (keeps you sharp!). Do an AI PONO CLEANSE (more on this later) - every 6-12 months.
Understandably, not all of us (including myself), cannot farm, garden, and fish all day like the ancestors of old. In San Francisco, there is hardly any green-space, let alone the ability to farm kalo. But we can do our best! Always seek as sustainably organic, wild-crafted, locally produced, and fair-trade as possible. Try to understand where and how your food has arrived to your plate. The less poisons, and mechanical production - the better.
KEEP IT HAWAIIAN: Since we live in a world where we can have almost any food at our finger tips, it is obviously great to enjoy non-Hawaiian indigenous foods, while still sticking to your base. Watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, different kinds of fish (salmon), rice, carrots, beans, various nuts, kale, various greens, etc. Are all GREAT, and I use them all. But there are some Hawaiian staples I would recommend to keep as your base.
Get Creative, and try using the following Hawaiian foods only, or as a strong base. Always organic, sustainable, and local, and wild-crafted as possible:
COMBINE DAILY WITH: Deep-Salad Greens (Kale, Spinach) & any Fruits. Add eggs or rice for extra protein or carbs depending on your lifestyle and body type.
CADENCE: Eat reasonable portion sizes every 3-4 hours to keep metabolism active. For a snack, do not go for chips. Eat nuts instead.
AND REMEMBER: Give thanks (example chant (oli) below) to draw intention to the diet, meal, and yourself. Maintain focus, appreciation, and tend your body as if it is an island that feeds.
Kalo (taro) is an essential staple super-food with. It is also used to make poi, which is especially a super-food for children - both have very special, and spiritual significance with Haloa, Kane, Ku and Lono. Poi in particular is extremely good for the body. Use these as your base, and combine with I'a - Fish.
Purple sweet potato & bread fruit are a great source for antioxidants, B6, , starch, potassium, calcium, protein and sweetness. These are also spirtualy based super-foods of Lono.
Niu (coconut), can be used for water, oil (cooking), sweetner, and the meat itself. Olena (tumeric) is considered a master ingredient for healaing. Ko (sugar cane), is vastly different than refined sugar and is preferred if possible. Many fruits, including Mai'a (bannana), are all staples within the diet and considered spiritual body forms of Ku, Kanaloa, Lono, and Kane.
Wai - Fresh water daily! Pa'akai (Hawaiian sea salt) is also recommended over refined table salt in all cases. Pa'akai can also be a cleansing agent to with-drawl toxins, and is spiritually crystalline to do the same. If the salt is reddish, it contains traces of Hawaiian clay, rich in minerals and also serving as a cleansing agent. Kinolau include Kanaloa and Kane.
I ola nō ke kino
The body is healthy
I ka māʻona o ka ʻōpū
Because the stomach is full
I ke aloha o nā kūpuna (mākua)
Because of the love of our ancestors (parents)
E pū paʻakai kākou me ka mahalo
Let us share our food together in thanks
Ua loaʻa hoʻi iā kākou ka ʻai
We have nourishment
A me ke aloha