Brittany Lyte


A Food Desert In Paradise

How Hawaii’s efforts to solve its food crisis can help other nations flourish

On September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki battered the northernmost island of Hawaii. With 145-mph winds and 30-foot storm surges, it was the most disastrous hurricane ever to strike the state. It flattened fields of sugarcane, shut down the tourism industry, killed six people, left 7,000 homeless, and nearly destroyed the production of a little film called Jurassic Park. The cargo ships and planes that deliver food supplies stopped coming. Grocery stores quickly emptied. A black market for fresh produce emerged. The best hope for sustenance was the occasional MRE, or “meal, ready-to-eat,” dropped by helicopter and delivered by the National Guard.

Violent storms used to be relatively rare in Hawaii—there were only five a year between 1992 and 2000. A record 15 hurricanes slammed the islands in 2015, and 2016 has been abnormally active as well. But their “frequency and severity” in the region has been increasing with the planet’s temperature, says Gabriel Vecchi, a climate researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It has been expensive to puchase food in Hawaii for decades. Now, the added inconvenience of climate change—particularly the threat of another Iniki—is motivating food activists and political leaders to reexamine the island state’s food system.

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