Foods You Meet in Longs

I so mangge’ (ono) for one sweet snack. So I go Longs Drugstore in Mānoa Marketplace. Have you read Folks You Meet in Longs, a poignant collection of monologues by local writer, Lee Cataluna? In the introduction to the book, the author writes: “Longs is where people go to when they NEED. On the shelves, you find relief, distraction, healing; and if there’s no product for what ails you, there’s often a kind clerk, an intuitive fellow-shopper, or a bit of overheard conversation that is enough to keep you going.”

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I walk down the hallowed aisles of Longs when suddenly I am welcomed by my Hawaiian Hosts to the chocolate slopes of Mauna Loa.

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The first time I tasted chocolate covered mac(adamia) nuts was when I was a child on Guam. My auntie, who lived in Hawai’i, sent us a care package, which included a T&C surf t-shirt for me and boxes of chocolate covered mac nuts for my family. That first bite was, as they say, da kine. The boxes never lasted long. Someday, I told my mom, I will move to Hawai’i and eat chocolate covered mac nuts everyday. #immigrantdelusions.

Yet here I am, in Longs, staring at the sweets with “shame eyes” because I am trying to be healthy. What if I just ate one box, for chubby kid times sake? If I don’t post it on Facebook, it’s like it never really happened, right?

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I look at the ingredients: Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin, vanillan), dry roasted macadamia nuts.

Perhaps these aren’t unhealthy afterall. I mean, they contain soy, which is a healthy Down to Earth vegetarian food, right? “Lecithin” contains the word “thin.” Plus, the box is on sale!

My shame eyes become “Google eyes.” Lecithin is an oily substance found in the cells of plants and animals. Lecithin emulsifies: it helps bind water and fat, oil and vinegar. It keeps chocolate creamy and even extends its shelf life (so it can be kept on store shelves or shipped, in care packages, across the Pacific).

Lecithin comes from the Greek word “Lekithos,” meaning “egg yolk”—once the most common form of lecithin. This began to change in the 1930s, when soy lecithin was discovered. It is cheap and easy to produce because soy lecithin is a sludgy byproduct of extracting soy oil using solvents, pesticides, and harsh chemicals, including hexane. Now, soy lecithin is one of the most prevalent additives in processed foods.

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[Whispers: Soy lecithin most likely comes from genetically modified soy beans. They hide GMOs in the most unexpected, unlabeled places. We’re not supposed to know, so don’t tell no one I told you.]

Perhaps they are not so healthy afterall. So I turn away from the chocolate covered mac nuts and, out of the corner of my post-Google eyes, I spot the red hearts of my childhood: li hing mui, my second favorite snack growing up. Sweet, salty, tart dried plums. Li hing means “traveling”—perfectly named snacks for a migrant like me. Plus, fruit is healthy—and it’s on sale!

[A brief aside: Dear Craig, please don’t read the ingredients. Please just speed walk to the checkout, buy the Premi-Yum Sweet Li Hing Mui, and suck the crack seed of nostalgia.]

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Forgive me. Ingredients: Lemon, Sugar, Salt, Aspartame. Product of Hong Kong.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener discovered in 1965 by a chemist who worked for the G. D. Searle & Company. Twenty years later, Monsanto purchased this company and eventually created Nutrasweet and Equal. Side effects associated with aspartame consumption include headaches, moodswings, hallucinations, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, and even seizures.

Ajinomoto Inc, a Japan-based company, purchased the aspartame business from Monsanto in 2000. Now, Ajinomoto is the world’s largest producer of aspartame. “Ajinomoto” means the “essence of taste.”

Dejectedly, I put the bag of Li Hing Mui back. I look around and try to digest the shelves upon shelves, aisles upon aisles, of commodity foods. I am shopping in the chokepoint of Asian and American colonial food trade routes. I don’t think this is what Cataluna meant when she wrote: “The whole world comes into Longs.”

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During the forty minutes I have now been in the store (fml), many of the folks you meet in Longs have walked passed me, silently filling their baskets. The wheels of the shopping carts rattle and dissipate. Registers clang. The automatic doors open and close.

Folks You Meet in Longs begins with the monologue of Nadine Tam Sing, a Longs Worker. She reflects: “People don’t realize that they walk around with their needs on their face like a grocery list pinned to their shirt. I need attention, I need distraction, I need help. I seen it. I seen it every day.”

“Excuse me,” a Longs employee wearing an aloha shirt says to me. “Is there something you were looking for?”

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