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Mo`olelo: Leialohaokeānuenue Kaʻula

Plant-based eating – For our health and the ʻāina

Recipe: Chicken Lu`au

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Leialohaokeānuenue Kaʻula

HHAPI is honored to highlight Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) that are perpetuating our culture and making a difference. Lei is the Executive Director of Kalo Hawaiian Civic Club in Oregon. Her vision has led to incredible cultural and health programs. For more information on Kalo and their mission, please visit We are thrilled to publicly announce that Lei has joined the HHAPI team, as a cultural specialist/social media strategist.

Growing up in the Hawaiian immersion education system, our kupuna, makua, and kumu rooted us in the work I do today. As one of the first graduating classes of a Hawaiian immersion, our work to advocate for our lāhui has been in our DNA since the beginning. The revival of our mother tongue, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, didnʻt come easy. The constant meetings, interviews, speaking at the congress level, continuing to uplift our kupuna while still meeting the Department of Education’s standards were just a few of the challenges we were faced with daily.


When I arrived here on Moku Honu, I had very little knowledge beyond our shores. I wish that was not the case but like many indigenous communities, the work that we are doing on our homeland often overshadows the rest of the world. Living here made me realize that that is not ok. Yes, what we do to advocate for Hawaiʻi is so very important but what our kanaka at home donʻt realize is that our lāhui here on Moku Honu are forgotten. When we compare the quality of life to those living in Hawaiʻi, our lāhui here on the continent are thriving. It doesnʻt mean that our lāhui in Hawaiʻi are not thriving, but the quality is different. 

My commitment to advocate for our lāhui here on Moku Honu comes from the very mission of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole; to reconnect our lāhui with ʻāina. Our goal is to bridge our lāhui here on Moku Honu to our homeland and provide the resource needed to those living here to remain rooted and never fear that sense of lost identity.

Share your name, your `ohana/family names and your favorite `aina or wai...what land/water source are you most connected to and why?


ʻO Leialohaokeānuenue Kaʻula koʻu inoa. ʻO Kaʻula, Kauwe, Kanahele, Nizo-Takahashi, Nihipali, Naipo, a me Hoʻokano ka inoa ʻo koʻu ʻohana. No Moku o Keawe, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, a me Niihau mai mākou. Kekahi o lākou, no Iapana mai. No Moku O Keawe kuʻu ʻiwe, kuʻu piko.

Aloha - I am Leialohaokeānuenue Kaʻula. The names you see in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi are my ʻohana and we come from the island of Hawaiʻi, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Niihau. Moku O Keawe is the foundation of who I am. Although born on Oʻahu, Moku O Keaweʻs wai and ʻāina are my backbone.

What are you grateful for and why?  Mahalo wau i koʻu mau kupuna, nā lākou ke kāhua. Mahalo wau i koʻu ʻohana, nā lākou koʻu kūleana. Mahalo wau i koʻu lāhui, nā lākou ke kumu.

I am grateful for my kupuna for they are my kāhua. I am grateful for my ʻohana for they are my purpose. I am grateful for my lahui for they are whom my work is intended for.  

How do you share your mana`o and mana with your keiki? Through cultural practices. A constant reminder that we donʻt "do" our culture, we live it. Everyday. When we say hula is life, we mean it. Everything we do, everything we say, wherever we go, we live our culture.

Itʻs not a shirt or a sticker. It is our hā. 


What is your favorite way to move your kino (body)?  Hula.

What brings you joy?  ʻOhana. Simple. ʻOhana brings me joy. I am a firm believer that ʻohana isnʻt just those who share koko with you. It is the pilina we build. 


During difficult journeys, how do you heal and restore your health and mental well-being?  ʻO ke kai kuʻu wahi e hoʻola hou ke naʻau.

The ocean. No matter where I am - our ocean grounds me. Seeing, hearing, and feeling the ocean is what heals my soul.

What is a quote that empowers you?  

Maikaʻi ke kalo i ka ʻohā.

- Our next generation is only as strong by the teachings of those of those who feed them. 


What is a heart-healthy snack that your `ohana enjoys?  Hō‘i‘o (fiddlehead fern) or poke  

Plant-based eating – For our health and the ʻāina

The traditional Native Hawaiian diet was largely plant-based. Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell found that the diet consisted of around 78% carbohydrates, 12% protein, and 10% fat, with poi, ʻuala, ʻulu, green leafy vegetables, and seaweed making up most of the carbohydrates.

"For Hawaiians, and I guess for a lot of local cultures in general, they think that eating meat was part of the culture. Some people think pork laulau and kalua pig was part of it, and it wasn’t. It was a plant-based culture," said registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Dr. Jodi Leslie Matuso.

Dr. Claire Kuʻuleilani Hughes’s research found that there were also several benefits to the traditional Native Hawaiian plant-based diet. She found that consuming soy products, fiber, fruits, and vegetables daily, along with reducing the consumption of eggs, whole milk, and red and processed meats, was associated with reducing the risk of cancer.

"A lot of studies have shown is that a plant-based diet has been helpful in reducing risk of early death, reducing risk of getting heart disease, of cancer, diabetes and a number of other diseases. A plant-based diet has even shown to be helpful in reversing some diseases that people thought were irreversible like MS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis," Matsuo said.

On top of that, many traditional Native Hawaiian foods were also highly nutritious. "Taro leaves are really huge. ... If we’re talking about Hawaiian diet, seaweed was a big source of a lot of different nutrients. Even in the root vegetables itself, like the sweet potato, and the taro root, and the breadfruit, there were a lot of nutrients in there," Matsuo said.

For those looking to begin transitioning into eating plant-based, Matsuo said a good way to start is by using plant-based meats.

"There was a study that was done that compared someone who ate plant-based, veggie meats to people who had eaten regular meat and they actually found that people who had the veggie meats had better health outcomes at the end of the study than the ones who stuck with the chicken and the beef," she said.

In fact, researchers at Stanford Medicine found that switching out red meat for plant-based meats helped lower some risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

While people may be choosing to eat plant-based for their health, many also elect to go plant-based for the health of our ʻaina.

"Eating plant-based ... is one of the biggest things that you can do in terms of helping to make an impact on climate change," Matsuo said. "In terms of, say, animal ethics, a plant-based diet is a way to go. … In terms of climate – being good for the environment, good for the planet – it’s also the way to go. Because it's low of what you call carbon footprint, that it makes a low environmental impact. 

A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gases that get emitted as a result of a certain activity.

At the Kukui Lifestyle Medicine clinic, which Matsuo and her husband Dr. Leon Matsuo founded, she runs a nine-week program called the Pono Program, in which she offers cooking demonstrations and health education. Through her classes, Matsuo shows that eating plant-based does not have to be restrictive. 

When selecting recipes for the program, there are several factors she takes into consideration.

"It had to be simple, it had to be liked by local people. So, it has to suit local people's tastes, and, of course, it had to be healthy and plant-based. So, with that in mind, I would choose simple recipes," she said. "Ingredients-wise, because it can be expensive, ... it has to be affordable as well.

Matsuo said she has three tips for those looking to eat plant-based. The first is to think of what people can add to their diet – the ways they can add more fruits and vegetables. "I think just start by thinking about what foods you can add to your diet. People think that when you hear the word diet, you think of being so limited and taking away from what you normally eat, but maybe looking at it from the opposite way and saying, 'What can I add to my diet to become more plant-based?'"

Her second tip is to gradually build up to including more fruits and vegetables so that 50% of your meal is fruits and vegetables. This could be in the form of a stir fry or something distinct like having a vegetable soup or salad.

Her last tip is to take recipes people already use and substitute the meat with either tofu, beans, or more vegetables.

"You can use the same spices, you can use the same flavorings, but just switch out the meat for tofu, or for beans, or just more vegetables. So, start off with dishes that are easy," she said. "If there's familiar dishes, then they’re probably more likely to stick to it," she said. "I’ll make a veggie luʻau, like how they have chicken luʻau or squid. ... For the meat replacement, I’ll use either veggie chicken, or taro, or sweet potato. Sometimes I do like a tofu poke, instead of regular poke."

Despite getting comments about people never having seen a Hawaiian vegetarian before, she said plant-based eating is part of the Native Hawaiian culture.

"It’s not going against your cultural norm to go plant-based; it’s actually going back. It’s actually what would be the opposite, in a sense. You’re actually reverting back to your cultural ways by going plant-based."

Chicken Lūʻau

by Kuana Torres

In addition to singing, Kuana spends much of his time online these days conducting hula workshops and lei making classes. Kuanaʻs Chicken Lūʻau recipe is definitely worth a try.

EQUIPMENT: Pressure Cooker


· 2 Bags Taro Leaf

· 3 Cups Profood Frozen Coconut Milk or Chaokoh Brand  (Fresh is always better)

· 1/2 Tray Boneless, Skinless Chicken or Chicken Breast

· Salt 


1.  Boil leaf down until soft (4 to 5 hrs)

2.  Remove from pot and into strainer. Drain well.

3.  In a separate pot, boil chicken for 30 to 35 minutes or until soft.

4.  Remove from pot, cool, shred and set aside.

5.  Heat stove to medium/low setting and add lūʻau leaf back into pot.

6.  Stir in coconut milk. 

7.  Keep a constant stir so that burning does not occur (20 minutes).

8.  Add shredded chicken and stir (5 minutes).

9.  Turn stove off.

10.  Add salt to taste. Finished 


Chicken Luau by Kuana Torres Recipe • Cooking Hawaiian Style

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