In the 1930s, a Canadian dentist named Weston Price visited Rarotonga. He was conducting research all over the world to figure out whether diet had any connection to the dental problems and chronic illnesses he saw in his patients. Dr. Price and his wife had been traveling around Europe, Canada, South America, Africa, Australia, the Arctic, and Polynesia, studying diets, teeth, and physical health. He wanted to know if his theory — that “natives” were probably healthier — was true.
On Rarotonga, Dr. Price noted that less than one per cent of the people who lived outside Avarua had dental problems. In town, nearer to the port and the cargo ships, 30 per cent of the teeth Dr. Price observed were rotting.
Dr. Price would ultimately conclude that people who ate from the land and sea had no rotten teeth, even though they didn’t own toothbrushes. They also didn’t have chronic, long-term diseases. His theory had been correct.
Four generations later, our diets are causing problems beyond bad teeth. All over the world, diet-related diseases — cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and kidney failure, for example — have become the greatest threat to human health. Today we think of these diseases as normal, as part of life. We manage the pain with modern medicine, then carry on feeding the sickness. We don’t consider the source of the problem.
Bodies are like vehicles; they only work when you use the right fuel. Today we’re eating meats injected with drugs that cause cancer, vegetables sprayed with chemicals that cause cancer, and oils that also cause cancer.
The good news is we can undo the damage our diets have done. In the Cook Islands, unlike in crowded cities, we have easy access to healing. We can grow the foods our bodies need to repair themselves. These days the cheapest foods in supermarkets are generally the least nutritious, but in the Cook Islands the healthiest foods are free. The choice is ours. We can carry on feeding fruit to the pigs and toxins to the kids, or we can rediscover what it means to eat local.
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” —Genesis 1:29
Issue 01: 2018
Eight years ago, the doctor told Puna Vano to write his own eulogy.
The 33-year-old builder was at the hospital for a routine check-up; he needed a medical report to update his life insurance policy, which at the time cost five times more than his wife’s.
Puna, who had once played rugby for Titikaveka and basketball for the national team, weighed in at 203 kilos. He was diabetic and his blood glucose reading was way outside the healthy range. Twice a month, he was bedridden by a gout attack. He had taken Voltaren for the gout pain, which caused a side effect listed on the label: a peptic ulcer, or an open wound in his stomach. Puna’s blood pressure reading was 180/160, so he was in what doctors call hypertensive crisis. His body had entered a state of emergency. It couldn’t bear the weight it carried, and it was preparing to shut down.
The same had happened to two of Puna’s brothers. Bazz died of an ulcer in 2006, when he was 265 kilos and 31 years old. Norm, who died of a heart attack two years later, was 235 kilos. He was 24 years old.
Puna didn’t bother with the eulogy. A few weeks after the check-up, he and his wife flew to New Zealand for three family reunions. In Auckland, an aunty pleaded with him to see a Rarotongan woman named Alice who was working to promote weight loss and health recovery through juicing.
“Please, boy,” his aunty said to him, with tears in her eyes. “Learn from what happened to your siblings.”
Alice gave him some books; Puna said he’d read them later. He hated reading and he was not going to give up McDonald’s and KFC. He’d been waiting a long time for Big Macs and fried chicken. After returning to Rarotonga, Puna flew to Aitutaki to help his dad out with the family business. For some reason he still can’t figure out, he brought Alice’s books.
On his third day there, he had a gout attack and couldn’t work or walk. Stuck in bed, he began to read. He read a whole page, and then another, and then a whole book. The book was about food and how it interacts with the body. It was about the healing properties of vegetables and the damage processed meat can cause. Puna began to understand what he’d put his body through.
He wasn’t ready to die, and as he read and thought about the doctor’s warning, he knew he would soon. He had a wife, two young daughters, and a business to run. Puna called his wife, Eitiare, on Rarotonga. “I want you to pack everything that’s in our pantry and freezer,” he told her. “Give away all the meat and fish we have to the relatives. Nothing left behind.”
She filled three large baskets with food — everything except a box of Weetbix, a carton of milk, and some packets of noodles for the girls — and on Jan. 27, 2010, she joined her husband on a 10-day juice program.
The shift was strange. The Vanos were used to spending $400 a week on food — a carton of Tegel chicken (size 12), lamb shanks, four kilos of beef mince, a few kilos of chops and steak, rice, vermicelli noodles, cooking oil, litres of L&P or Sparkling Duet. At all times they had cartons of corned beef and tinned fish in the cupboard, in case of visitors. Three or four nights a week, they ate takeaways. Puna could finish two Palace burgers in one sitting.
For 10 days, he and his wife drank only the juice of local fruits and vegetables, prepared according to the recipes in Alice’s book. Neither of them cheated. When they could smell the neighbour’s cooking, they shut the window and moved to the other side of the house.
In 10 days, Puna lost 18 kilos. When he reintroduced whole foods, he left out red meat. Two months later, Puna did another juice cleanse, this time for 14 days, and lost another 20 kilos. When he began to eat again, he cut out chicken. By May, the gout had vanished. For the first time in years, he could sit on the couch without falling asleep.
In June, Puna had hit 95 kilos. Slowly he re-introduced fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy grains, but he ate no meat, not even fish. If he felt weak, he ate more carbohydrates – tarotaruā, taro, māniota .
Puna was noticing changes in his energy and outlook; he felt better, happier. It struck him one day that as he was getting control of his health, he was still feeding ice cream, lollies, and fatty meats to his daughters, leading them down the same path he’d travelled. He decided he wanted his girls to get healthy; at home they would eat from the ground. The oldest daughter cried when he told her.
When the boys were born, in 2011 and 2013, Puna and his wife chose to raise them on plant-based diets. If they chose to eat meat later in their lives, fine, but they would grow up vegans. In the six years Puna Vano has been eating vegan, he and his kids have not had to take a pain pill.
“People reckon it’s mean of me to force this onto my children,” Puna says now. “And my answer to that is always this: you know, we believe prevention is better than cure. If they are being taught to learn to prevent sickness they will always have that mindset, for the rest of their lives. But you allow them to have this and that, one day it will catch up with them and they start looking for how to cure.”
Puna grows coriander, spring onion, parsley, spinach, lettuce, bok choy, cabbage, kale. The family has fruit smoothies for breakfast, veggie-loaded salads, beans, soups, nuts, rukau. They eat rice, taro, potatoes, kuru. The kids eat coconut every day, whether moina tai, nū, kiko, ‘akari, or uto. The youngest can finish the nū and kiko of four coconuts a day.
Their meals don’t lack flavour; after seven years of being a vegan, Puna has found ways to make plant-based meals taste good. The kids eat “burgers” – fried eggplant patties topped with onions, beetroot, pineapple, and tomatoes. Every once in awhile, they get Manihiki pancakes, fried in coconut oil.
When they go out, they order pizza without cheese, stir-fry with cashews or tofu instead of meat. They make natural desserts – cakes and cheesecakes sweetened with honey or dates instead of sugar, ice cream made from frozen bananas.
When people criticise his lifestyle, Puna lets it slide.
“You have to taste the pain to knock some sense into your head,” he says. “I really tasted the pain. I don’t want to go back down that road.”
More than once, a person who has spoken unkindly about him has later gotten sick and approached him for dietary advice.
What is a vegan?
Vegans don’t eat any animal products for health or environmental reasons, or because they believe in the rights of animals. While we’re not advocating a vegan lifestyle as the only path to good health, we acknowledge that the world is eating a lot of meat — six times what it was in 1950. These days we’re not just eating meat and fish we catch and kill; we’re buying it in bulk. A lot of the meat we get comes from factory farms and isn’t good for our health; in fact, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends we “choose mostly plant foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat.”
A lot of modern meat also isn’t produced in an environmentally responsible manner. According to the United Nations, today livestock production contributes more to climate change than all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. It uses a lot of energy and a lot of water, too; it takes more than 7500 litres of water to produce a single steak.
Small changes, like cutting meat out of your diet one day a week, add up. But if you are considering going vegan, here are some tips:
- Don’t replace meat and dairy with only starches like pasta and rice. Make sure you’re getting a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans.
- Get protein from sources like māniota , kūmara, spinach, beans, tofu, nuts (including peanut butter), brown (whole wheat) bread. Contrary to popular belief, animals are not the only sources of protein available to us.
- Don’t stop eating fat. Make sure you get important healthy fats from sources like avocado and coconut.
- Don’t deprive your body of the nutrients you’d normally get from eating animal products. Your body doesn’t naturally produce iron and calcium, so eat dark leafy veggies. It also doesn’t naturally produce iodine, so eat remu and use sea salt.
Enuarurutini ‘Geoffrey’ Tama used to lie about why he wasn’t showing up to work.
He’d tell colleagues he dropped a block on his foot and couldn’t walk. He’d say he got injured in a rugby game, even in the off-season. He didn’t know how else to explain his monthly absences. Sometimes, they lasted two weeks.
The truth was he suffered from gout, an extremely painful form of arthritis, and had for most of his twenties. He suspected that if he admitted it, people would laugh. Gout isn’t a young person’s disease, they would say. Gout is for old people.
So he lied to his colleagues and followed the nurses’ instructions: Don’t drink too much alcohol. Don’t eat too much red meat. Avoid shellfish and tomatoes.
Still the attacks came, and when they did, he felt knives sawing the tissues in his feet. When a sheet, or even a gust of wind, touched his legs, the pain took his breath away. He’d stay in bed for two weeks at a time, and his mum and sister would bring him every meal.
Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid, a chemical produced when the body breaks down things like red meat, liquor, and sugar. In a healthy body, the kidneys filter the uric acid and get rid of it through the urine. In an unhealthy body, the kidneys have too much to work with. They get overwhelmed, and the uric acid remains.
Gout was once called the “disease of kings” because it affected people who could afford expensive foods. Things have changed. Now processed meats and foods are affordable, and often even cheaper than healthy foods. Medical journal Arthritis Research & Therapy blames the global increase in gout on “a westernized diet and lifestyle.”
Growing up, Geoff had been allowed to eat whatever he wanted; it was his mother’s way of giving him what she didn’t get as a kid. She bought anything he wrote on the grocery list.
He loved donuts and lollies. He put sugar in his Milo and Weetbix. By the time he went to university in New Zealand, he was eating half a loaf of white bread with most meals and drinking two litres of Fanta or Coke daily. He ate takeaways, often from McDonald’s, four times a week.
A year later, in 2004, Geoff had his first gout attack. Seven years later, he woke up at 3am in unbearable pain and asked his parents to drive him to the hospital, where the doctor delivered alarming news: Geoff’s kidneys were failing. Soon he would need to go on dialysis. He was facing a lifetime of being hooked up to a machine — basically, a false kidney — for eight hours a day. He was 29 years old.
“You’ve got to do something,” Geoff’s father said to him the next morning at the breakfast table. “You’re meant to be looking after us, not the other way around.”
Researchers have understood for a long time that food contributes hugely to gout, but drastic dietary change “as a means of controlling gout… has been and continues to be largely neglected” by doctors, according to the article in Arthritis Research & Therapy. Doctors encourage patients not to eat foods that contain purines, chemicals that increase levels of uric acid; most prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs.
Geoff was on a heavy dose of Allopurinol to manage his uric acid levels and Voltaren to treat the pain. Neither addressed the root of the problem.
“The medicine treats the symptom, not the cause,” he says now. “I knew I had to address the cause.”
The underlying cause, he would learn, was sugar (and its cousin, high-fructose corn syrup) — a culprit no doctor had warned him about.
His dad’s words echoed.
Geoff began doing research online. He read a book about weight loss by bestselling author Tim Ferriss and applied what he learnt: No sugar. No chocolate bars, no fizzy drinks, no cake. Nothing white — bread, pasta, rice — because most of it is processed, stripped of its nutrition and packed with sugar. No milk, after he learnt it’s full of sugar.
He took a break from drinking and bought healthy foods with the money he saved. He learnt ways to trick his stomach into being full; beans, lean meats, and large servings of vegetables satisfied his hunger. He fried his eggs in coconut oil and ate salad with every meal. He started going to the gym every morning.
“You have to just kind of admit you got yourself in a hole and you have to get out of it,” he says now. “You have to shift from being a slave to your habits.”
The weight fell off, and then the gout struck again. The doctor told Geoff to lose weight more slowly; shedding more than 1.5 kilos a week can flood the system and trigger an attack.
Geoff joined the CrossFit family and continued to work toward control of his health. His head cleared. He started getting compliments on his efficiency at work.
Whenever he was tempted to slip into old habits, he thought about two mates living in New Zealand on dialysis, hooked up to a machine for eight hours a day, who can’t come home for visits or funerals. One takes medical marijuana for severe depression.
On rare occasions, Geoff still endures a mild gout attack. He’ll take Nurofen to manage the pain, which is more bearable now. He doesn’t take Voltaren anymore because he’s learnt it damages the kidneys.
Geoff wants kids to be taught in school about proper nutrition and how food can either hurt you or heal you. He wants locals to have better access to the right information. He wants people to understand that there’s more to managing gout than avoiding tomatoes and taking pills.
Recently a colleague told him about her partner’s gout attacks. Geoff asked what he was eating, and the response took him back to life before 2011 — four cans of Coke a day, cakes, white bread with every meal.
“Sugar,” he told her. “Cut the sugar. I promise you his gout will get better.”
In June of 2017, the British Broadcasting Corporation—and most other major news outlets around the world—reported that coconut oil isn’t good for your heart, the way a lot of health enthusiasts have been saying it is. One headline read: “COCONUT OIL IS NOT HEALTHY. IT’S NEVER BEEN HEALTHY.” The papers reported that the saturated fats in coconut clog your arteries and put you at greater risk for heart disease. Their source was the American Heart Association (AHA)—an organisation that recommends consuming corn and soyabean oils, both of which have been directly linked to cancer and heart disease.
In these islands, coconut oil has long been taken by the spoonful; traditionally it was especially important for maintaining the health of pregnant women and newborns. In these islands, people didn’t generally develop heart disease.
“It’s the best medicine we have,” says Papa Ioane Kaitara, a ta’unga from Manihiki who recommends feeding coconut oil to babies so they’ll live long lives. Why, then, is the AHA giving advice that runs counter to centuries of lived experience?
This isn’t the first time. In his book The Coconut Oil Miracle, naturopathic doctor Bruce Fife follows the money spent on studies published in the 1980s that blamed coconut oil for heart disease. Dr. Fife proves that funding for the false research came from the American Soybean Association, a group representing companies selling soyabean oil and other vegetable oils. In response to the media coverage, people began associating coconut oil with heart attacks. Restaurants stopped buying coconut oil and movie theatres stopped cooking popcorn with it. By the 90s, the global price of tropical oils had fallen dramatically. Around this time the Cook Islands stopped exporting copra—dried coconut used to make oil—which for decades had been a significant source of revenue for the country.
There have been thousands of studies confirming what the Polynesian people knew all along—that coconut oil is not harmful but healing. Science shows us coconut oil remains stable when it’s heated, unlike soyabean and vegetable oils, which become toxic. We also know that it strengthens the immune system and fights germs, viruses, and bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, and other conditions. We know it’s a natural antibiotic.
There’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence that coconut oil is powerful enough to affect the way our brains work, though the Alzheimer’s Society says its trials have been discontinued “due to difficulties recruiting enough people to take part”.
Robert and Susan Wylie, owners of Rito Cook Islands, which produces infused cold-pressed coconut oils, follow closely the back-and-forth about their product within the scientific community.
“A lot of science that says coconut oil isn’t good for you has been debunked by now,” Robert says. “There are studies that show grain oils are one of the contributing factors toward Alzheimer’s and dementia and things like that. That science has been challenged too, of course. But you know, we’ve seen the benefits of using coconut oil ourselves, and a lot of other people have, too. We’re going to keep using it.”
Rachel Reeves, with reporting by Scarlett Curtis
In 2016, Rangi Mitaera-Johnson approached the Cook Islands Climate Change office with a proposal.
She was living on Manihiki, feeding her family from the garden, realising how easy and cheap it was to produce her own food and cook creative dishes with full flavour. She wanted to teach people about fun, healthy eating and she was looking for funding to do it. She was tired of watching her friends and family members die of diet-related diseases. She knew local food was the solution to more than a few problems. She had also been researching climate change on the internet and learnt that corporate food production was the largest contributor to climate change.
“Food is medicine,” she says. “If we can just go past that stage of thinking it’s for the stomach, we’ll understand that it can protect us from a lot of things. If we’re eating right, we have no use for medicine and imported foods. We need to take a good look at what we’re actually putting in our bodies.”
Rangi designed a course to teach people about home gardening, healthy flavourings and recipe substitutions, and spiced-up local meals. She wanted to show people that local cooking could be cheap, creative, and delicious.
“I really wish people would get out of the roast chicken and mayonnaise and chop suey kind of thinking,” she says. “It’s just too dangerous. I see people glorifying the corned beef and fried chicken. I see it a lot on Facebook. We all love those foods but they should be seen as a treat. What we should be glorifying is our pawpaw, our rukau, our taro, our kuru, our tomatoes, what’s growing in our garden and on our trees. That’s what we should be proud of eating.”
The Cook Islands Climate Change office, together with the United Nations Development Program’s SRIC-CC fund, sponsored a tour through the pa enua, where Rangi taught courses about eating local and sprucing up local dishes. Now she’s assisting the Ministry of Health with recipe advice and cooking demonstrations.
She’s been featured in Robert Oliver’s award-winning cookbook, Me’a Kai, and on his TV series and has appeared on Māori Television programme Cam’s Kai. She is on a mission to spread her message; her ultimate goal is to see it ripple through the Pacific.
“I feel very sad that a lot of our people these days don’t know how to cook simple local dishes,” she says. “They have to buy it at the markets. Obviously we’ve moved away from what’s important and adopted something else.”
GREEN PAWPAW SALAD
Grated green pawpaw
To make dressing, pound garlic, ginger, and chili; fold in maple syrup and fresh lime
Grate leftover māniota or kūmara or taro or potato
Add onions, garlic, herbs
Fold together with one egg
Flatten like burgers or small balls
Crumb, fry in coconut oil
Blend garlic, onion, venevene for marinade
PAWPAW SEED DRESSING
Blend pawpaw seeds, pawpaw, lime juice and coconut oil into a dressing for salads
– Pawpaw seeds taste like pepper and treat constipation.
SUBSTITUTE FOR BREAD
Slice kūmara thin and stick it in the toaster!
Roast eggplant until skin blisters
Dump in a bowl of water to cool down and peel skin
Chuck in blender with lime or lemon juice, garlic, peanut butter, salt Use as dip or spread on sourdough toast
Slice thin and use instead of pasta in lasagne
Brush with coconut oil, lime juice
Cook coconut cream until it’s thick
Optional: add garlic, salt, herbs
Use in potato salad or kūmara salad or sandwiches
Dress kōrori with lemon juice, local honey, ti varāni, ginger
Toss with capsicum, spring onions
Add passion fruit or lime to your water
Refrigerate. Drink all day long!
On a piece of land, back off the beach in Papaaroa, long piles of dark soil lie beneath the coconut trees. A digger and excavator are parked nearby while tender bean and lettuce seedlings grow in the shelter of a glass house. The smell wafting from a stack of blue drums gives a hint as to what they contain – a stinky nutrient rich soup of offcuts from local fish shop Ocean Fresh.
This is the base for Titikaveka Growers Association (TGA), a group of farmers led by Teava Iro Jnr – both names that have become synonymous with organics in the Cook Islands. But organics is just one part of what TGA does.
Established back in the 1960s, TGA was not an active group when Iro first joined some 20 years ago. He soon found himself taking on the role of chairman. His drive to make positive changes in local farming practices remains just as strong today.
“I had a vision… my concern was environmental. What triggered it for me was when we started having lagoon issues about 20 years ago,” says Iro, noting that some of the lagoon’s problems have been linked to pollution from land runoff. “I support organics because in principle it looks after the biology of the soil. I am a biological agriculturalist; everything you do is about looking after the soil.”
The TGA is not a strictly organic group and is not opposed to the use of some chemicals as a tool to assist with plant growth. They assess overall plant health using what is known as Brix levels; Brix is a measurement of the glucose levels of a plant using a tool called a refractometer. An optimal Brix level means the plant is immune to disease and insects and contains a high level of nutrients.
“By using chemical fertilisers we destroy a lot of micro-organisms in the soil,” says Iro.
If the soil is deficient in nitrogen, the TGA will apply their fish brew, mixing it into the soil. Pesticides are still used, but organic varieties — a technique supported by the Ministry of Agriculture.
“We are trying to encourage farmers to use less toxic pesticides,” says William Wigmore, Director of Research and Development at the Ministry of Agriculture. “We recognise organics as something that is becoming more and more important. At a global level, people are becoming very conscious of what they eat.”
“We offer education on reducing rates and the size of areas sprayed,” says Brian Tairea, Extension Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture. This means encouraging the use of grass cutting as an alternative to spraying, sourcing organic pesticides for local farmers, and helping community groups and individuals to set up their own composting system.
Both the Ministry of Agriculture and TGA acknowledge that change is never an easy thing to bring about, particularly in the current scenario in which 80 per cent of farmers are part-time. Providing courses and education does not necessarily translate into changing long-held views and methods, but at the very least it does raise the question of the impact of current agricultural practices.
It was at one of TGA’s courses in 2016 that Teariki Unuka realised he needed to make changes to his farming practice. Unuka is now a member of TGA and also of Te Mou Enua, an Arorangi based farming group.
“I’m thinking about the future – for our children,” says Unuka, who has begun to use chicken manure as a natural fertiliser and trial organic pesticides in his taro patch. “I’m not there yet but I’m changing slowly.”
A Community Compost Centre (CCC) is one of the initiatives TGA has instigated over the past decade — a sustainable substitute to fertilisers which also has economic benefits. Iro is a firm believer in seeking the knowledge you need to make things happen; when TGA first looked into setting up commercial composting, he went to New Zealand and Australia to see how it was done there. “I thought, ‘I can mimic that,’” he says.
This is exactly what TGA did, with funding provided through the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme and NZAID.
“Things grow faster here and break down faster, and you also lose a lot of nutrients through oxidation,” Iro says. “It’s been trial and error.”
Lessons have been learnt along the way about what works best here. Some machinery which works well overseas, for example, is not ideal for the Cook Islands environment — such as the chipper, a tool which suffers a lot of wear and tear and can be expensive to maintain.
TGA is composting on a commercial scale. Heavy machinery is used to pile green waste into mounds, truckloads of the stuff arriving from Pacific Resort each day. They use an aerobic system, which means the piles are turned to add oxygen and to make sure the correct temperature is maintained. After three months the compost is dried and run through a perforated drum to remove any large pieces that haven’t yet broken down.
“The goal is to build TGA up to a point where it is sustainable,” Iro says, noting that expanding Composting Center would enable it to take green waste from the general public, which in turn would require larger machinery.
Iro’s work at TGA is all voluntary and fitted around his role as part owner of Cook Islands Noni Marketing Ltd., exporting organic noni juice. His knowledge and skills have seen him play a part in the organic movement across the Pacific, as a founding member of POETCom (Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community) through the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), who put together a Pacific Organics Standard under the brand name of Organic Pasifika.
Natura Kuki Airani (NKA) is a newly established group formed to help organic certification in the Cook Islands. It is a gathering of knowledge, with Iro working alongside the Ministry of Agriculture and other local agricultural groups, including Te Mou Enua, to get NKA off the ground. Assessments of local farms are already underway with the goal that Organic Pasifika produce will soon be available for purchase.
And it will not end there. Iro has a talent for seeing resources where others see waste, and using all the tools available to enhance the wellbeing of the land and its people.
“It’s only waste,” Iro says, “if we don’t know how to use it.”
HOW TO COMPOST
Brian Tairea, Extension Officer at Ministry of Agriculture, says the key to making compost is to keep it simple.
Start with making a compost bin from what you have lying around at home – it can be old tyres stacked one on top of the other, offcuts of corrugated iron pegged in the corners, a big heap covered with tarpaulin, or even inside an old washing machine. Having a couple of compost heaps on the go at once works best.
Instead of burning, try composting garden waste, hedge trimmings and leaves. Break it into small pieces by hand or better yet put it through a chipper. Add damp paper, newspaper or cardboard. All of this supplies carbon to your compost. Vegetable food scraps, grass clippings and weeds add nitrogen. Boost this with your own fish mix or use animal manure from goats, pigs or chickens. Egg shells add phosphorous and calcium.
You can layer brown matter, green matter and soil in tyres or a tub and leave it somewhere to do its thing. Or just pile it in a big heap, mix it around every few weeks, and it should be ready to use in a few months. Any matter that hasn’t broken down can simply be added back into the next heap.
In 2009, Danny Ioane was ready to give up.
He’d done eight months of chemotherapy at Waikato Hospital. During sessions as long as a workday, a nurse had pumped chemicals into his bloodstream to kill the cancer in his stomach. He’d also done three months of weekly radiation therapy, lying still while his body received waves of energy so powerful the nurses had to leave the room. When the radiation entered one side of Danny’s body, hair on the other side fell out. The drugs had turned his urine red and made him sick. He’d lost 25 kilos; after eight months he was down to 70.
He thought about how he’d asked for it. When the doctors at Starship Hospital found a growth in his three-year-old son’s stomach, Danny begged God to give the sickness to him instead. The boy’s tumour turned out to be harmless and two years later, Danny was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Throughout treatment he’d tried to be positive, even light-hearted, about his situation. He arranged a Cook Islands-style haircutting ceremony when his hair fell out.
But chemotherapy and radiation hadn’t killed all the cancer cells in his body, and Danny was tired. He was 44 and facing terminal illness. He decided he would return to Aitutaki so he could get his land transferred into his four kids’ names. He suspected he was going there to die.
For eight weeks, Danny’s aunty on Aitutaki made him a drink using the leaves of the tipani tree. For eight weeks, he didn’t buy any foods that had been processed or packaged. He stopped eating sugar, dairy, and red meat. Instead he ate from the land. Produce grown organically. Eggs from local chickens raised on natural foods. Pawpaw seeds. The juice of local oranges. Thirty millilitres of noni a day. Every day, he stewed tomatoes in cannabis oil, which has been clinically proven to reduce cancer-related side effects. (The American National Cancer Institute has also admitted that cannabis “has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory,” though little funding has been made available for research on human subjects.)
While he was on Aitutaki he put on 20 kilos and began to feel like himself again. When he felt healthy enough, Danny returned to his home and business in Rotorua. Friends and relatives were surprised; they had assumed his wife would be returning alone.
At home, Danny began researching cancer. He read about how harmful chemotherapy and radiation can be to the body. He talked to people who had pursued natural medicine successfully. He read obsessively about how and why natural cures for cancer aren’t funded. (“I think it’s an industry,” he says now. “I had to inject myself every day in the stomach with this 5 mL of stuff in a syringe. Two thousand dollars each for this little syringe. Then you got your chemo… No subsidies for anything natural. Governments won’t fund anything that’s natural.”)
He began buying bottles of noni from his uncle in Titikaveka and handing them out, free, to cancer patients at the Rotorua Hospital. He also began taking large amounts of Vitamin C and making his own colloidal silver. Five years ago, he was declared cancer-free.
Today Danny splits his time between Rotorua, Hamilton, and Tauranga. He thinks often about the cancer, wonders how he got it. Was it the illness he suffered as a baby? Years spent working in the aluminium industry? The prayer he said when his son got sick? The food he ate before he knew better? He doesn’t know.
He also thinks about what made him healthy again. Was it the conventional therapy? Faith? Food? Natural remedies? Was it the time he spent in the islands?
“I think it was a combination of things,” he says now. “I think a lot of the healing was the spiritual people around me over in Aitutaki. I think it was being around that and spending time with the kids without the stress of work and eating local, natural stuff straight out of the ground.”
While he’s grateful for the conventional treatment, he believes he wouldn’t be alive today had he not taken steps to cure his body of its damaging effects. He also believes the treatment resulted in addictions to the painkillers and antidepressants prescribed to him.
Danny dismisses “all the haters” who scorn him for speaking up about natural medicines; as far as he’s concerned, they can “comment all they like but probably haven’t been through it themselves”. He cautions everyone who’s healthy to pay attention to what they’re putting into their bodies, and to focus on preventing cancer instead of curing it.
“I think once you get sick, you want to try to live so you start hitting this natural stuff,” he says. “But if you start doing it now, get your body on the right track now, you can avoid all that right from the start.”
“ITS A PLANT,” says Danny, a businessman who doesn’t smoke cannabis for fear it will damage his lungs. “And it’s been put there for a reason.”
He isn’t alone in his stance toward cannabis oil. Around the world, an increasing number of medical professionals are endorsing its healing properties. Still governments continue to deny the proof. Many claim it’s because the plant might render certain medicines unnecessary. Here are a few milestones in cannabis’ journey.
1970: U.S. government classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, a substance with no accepted medical purpose. Heroin and LSD are examples of other Schedule 1 drugs.
1988: Francis Young, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s own administrative law judge, rules that cannabis “in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” Government denies petition to reschedule cannabis.
1995: Harvard professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon publishes a book that concludes: “The largely undeserved reputation of cannabis as a harmful recreational drug and the resulting legal restrictions have made medical use and research difficult. As a result, the medical community has become ignorant about cannabis and has been both an agent and a victim in the spread of misinformation and frightening myths.”
1999: U.S. government files for a patent on cannabis because of its proven medicinal properties. Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug.
2003: Virginia Commonwealth University study reveals “that [cannabis] may offer unique advantages in treating seizures compared with currently prescribed anticonvulsants.”
2006: Scripps Research Institute endorses research that proves cannabis can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. New Zealand Drug Foundation releases a paper that finds “strong scientific consensus that medical cannabis and cannabis products have some value in particular cases.”
2011: Rakahanga MP Toka Toka suggests turning outer islands into pot farms; other MPs laugh.
2016: U.S. National Cancer Institute endorses research that proves cannabis kills certain cancer cells. Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug.
2017: At press time six countries and eight U.S. states have legalised marijuana for medical or recreational use. New Zealand’s prime minister has said she wants a national discussion on legalising cannabis.
Lokal does not condone illegal activity. We do, however, encourage you to do your own research and push your policymakers to do the same.