Native Intelligence: Portland

Beet Poke?

Story by Rosemary Howe Camozzi. Photos by Leah Nash.

Living on a polar ice cap for a year will make you appreciate food. That’s what happened when Sunny Savage—a Maui-based author, forager, TV host and now food-truck owner—returned from a year working in Antarctica, where “everything was canned and frozen.” Deprived of fresh produce, she picked up a book on medicinal plants when she returned and was amazed she’d spent nineteen years of her life “not knowing that all this was edible.”

Fast-forward twenty years, and Savage is on Maui’s north shore outside of a solar-powered truck serving wild-crafted food made from plants she’s personally gathered. Opened last August, Savage Kitchen adds a twist to Maui’s food-truck scene. Many dishes are infused with edible but highly invasive species. Instead of poisoning them, Savage thought, why not eat them? Order the wok-fried pumpkin and egg and you’re helping eliminate spiny amaranth, which has overtaken Maui fields but tastes great with pumpkin. There’s tempeh made with haole koa, pastries with Java plum and dishes infused with strawberry guava or kāhili ginger jam.

What’s bad for native ecosystems can be good for you, Savage says. “Eating just one wild food per day increases your biological diversity and maybe gives you that one enzyme your body needs.” Though Savage might get creative in the kitchen (did we mention kiawe tea?), she’s strict about properly identifying plants before eating them. She does, after all, have multiple degrees in dietetics and nutrition education, and it “blows my mind when people eat stuff when they have no idea what it is.” That’s why she prefers the term “wild crafted” to the recently trendy “foraged.” It harks to the idea there’s a craft associated with identifying things in the wild. To spread that knowledge she’s even developed an app—Savage Kitchen Hawaii—where interactive maps help “get the community out there harvesting this stuff.”

“People are like, ‘What? You want to eat your way out of business?’” she laughs. “We want this stuff to go away, but you’d have to eat haole koa for generations before we’d ever run out.”