Originally published in Hawaii’s main newspaper, The Honolulu Advertiser on August 4, 2004, by Food Editor Wanda Adams.
On the set of the local cable TV show, “Tasty and Meatless,” one word is verboten. And it’s not what you think.
It’s the “v” word — vegetarian.
This prohibition is rooted in producer Joy Waters’ reasons for launching the popular Oceanic 16 series. A conviction that the very people who know least about healthful lifestyles are the ones who are most likely to be sitting in front of the tube, idly channel-surfing. And her observation that other programming related to meatless eating tended to have an unfortunate air of wagging an accusing finger.
“Who wants to be told they’re wrong and bad? There are a huge number of people who aren’t ready to be …” she pauses and searches for a word, finally shrugging and embracing the inevitable, ”… vegetarian but who want to adopt a more healthy lifestyle.”
There’s a reason why the word “Tasty” is first in the show’s title, she says. The focus is on flavor and she doesn’t let hosts judge or preach. Every Friday during shooting season, Waters, an assistant and a camera man pack themselves into the compact kitchen of the Niu Valley home that serves as the “Tasty and Meatless” set, shooting two shows a day. This is rough-and-ready TV, with Waters operating a camera while she directs a stop-and-go, scene-at-a-time process
On the day we visited, guests included Mary Arakaki, a Castle Medical Center registered dietitian who heartily endorses Waters’ philosophy. Arakaki, meatless for the last 13 years, said her lifestyle fits seamlessly with that of her husband’s sprawling local family. “If you go to a potluck, there’s always rice, there’s always salads or sushi.” Arakaki doesn’t make a big deal out of not eating meat, either to her family or to her patients. “I don’t preach. If someone asks, that’s a different story. I’m glad to give them the information if they want it, but (vegetarianism) is not for everybody,” says Arakaki. At Castle, she works with many people who have just received a diagnosis of high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure and already are feeling overwhelmed. Her approach, which is also that of “Tasty and Meatless” is to keep things simple and positive. The central message is that there are lots of things you can eat that taste good and readily fill the gaps left by things that aren’t so good for you. Benefits of a meatless lifestyle include no cholesterol (plant foods don’t contain it) and less fat and healthier types of fat. On this particular day, Arakaki was bubbling with enthusiasm for beans, showing how the old Southern recipe for black-eyed peas, Hoppin’ John, could become a cool and filling salad, and how to make a smooth, creamy-tasting bean dip she calls “Ghee Whiz.”
She said the entire membership of the Hawaii Dietetic Association is being given information on “Tasty and Meatless” air times, and on the Web site (www.tastyandmeatless.com), which offers recipes, a restaurant guide and other resources. “The show is just a great help for everybody in the nutrition community,” she said.
The day’s other guest was Hal Fraser, a 27-year-old business trainer from Ha’iku, Maui, who demonstrated how to make a fruited whole-wheat bread and then turn the bread slices into eggless French toast. Fraser began turning to vegetarianism as a teenager, out of the conviction that it was better both for the planet and for his body. His typical meat-and-rice local family “didn’t know what to do with me.“ His was a long, gradual process of first passing on meat, then fish. He continues to eat eggs and dairy products on occasion, “mostly for sanity“, because it makes it easier to dine out in a restaurant without having to pelt the waiter with questions. At home, however, he follows Dr. Terry Shintani’s recommendations for a plant-based, high-carbohydrate diet. His wife eats chicken and fish, and they coexist quite happily. “I think moderation is actually a healthy approach,“ he said. “What I’m doing, I’m doing because of my beliefs. If other people don’t share my beliefs, that’s fine by me.“ He finds being meatless in Hawai’i a challenge. ”There are options, but you usually don’t find them on a $5 plate.” Fraser has been watching “Tasty and Meatless” since its inception in January 2003. “It’s a really fresh approach … My wife is a big fan of the TV Food Network but what “Tasty and Meatless” can do that they can’t do is be very local. . . It’s what I call a folksy, hands-on approach, a guide you can really follow.“
Waters tends to be “very quiet“ about her own convictions, but she says living a meatless lifestyle has been a boon to her own health. A Kalani High School and Wharton School of Business graduate who learned to use a DVD camera for a project after college, Waters created the show out of a deep conviction that such a powerful medium as television could be used for good. She was going to make a single program for ‘Olelo — a nonvegetarian’s guide to tasty tofu dishes — but it was so well received and she enjoyed the process so much that she just kept going, scouring the community for experts as well as average folks with a meatless story to tell.
The new season launches in mid-September (watch the Web site for exact date, which is not yet determined) and there will be almost-weekly contests to encourage viewership. A Neilsen rating survey in spring 2003 when the show was just six months old showed a 1 rating, meaning 20,000 viewers. A newsletter launched recently is getting 100 inquiries a week and is at 2,000 subscribers, she said. Her big project right now is making the Tasty and Meatless Web site more interactive, allowing her to better understand what viewers want.
“The information is all out there, in books and on the Web, but people aren’t using it,“ said Joy Waters. “We want to know what is it, what do you need to really learn a healthier lifestyle.“