Study says plants could feed America; Kauai vegans agree

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Vegan tacos at Verde in Lihue and Kapaa are just one of many options for vegans on Kauai.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Donovan Flores, server at the Lihue Verde restaurant, drops off vegan tacos at the bar.

LIHUE — Plants could be the key to food security in America, according to a new study, and vegans on Kauai say The Garden Island is the perfect place to try out plant-based fare.

That’s according to researcher Ron Milo at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, whose research showed America could feed all of its 327 million people, plus an additional 390 million by switching the focus from animal products to plants.

The math adds up for some vegans and farmers on Kauai, like Robert Zelkovsky, who isn’t vegan, but has a diet high in plants.

“I do promote it as kinder, healthier and better for the environment,” he said. “I grow and eat lots of sprouts!”

Michelle Lemay, who has been vegan for nine months and made the switch to a vegan and gluten-free diet in order to heal after a surgery, said she thinks plant-based diets would feed more people as well.

“It makes sense, especially if we were to use the land and resources that go toward growing meat toward growing food,” she said. “We’d have an abundance.”

She secures most of her food through farmers’ markets on Kauai and her diet consists of things like overnight oats with fresh fruit, chia and hemp seeds, quinoa salads and stir-fries made with fresh vegetables. She also throws in the occasional substitution food like almond milk or vegan cheese.

“With the farmers’ markets, it’s reasonable, and there really is an abundance of food that grows here,” Lemay said.

Those home-cooked meals are often simple, she said, using many of the same recipes she did when she was eating animal products, just “veganized.”

When she’s not feeling like cooking at home, Lemay visits places like Eat Healthy Kauai, and Our Place in Kapaa, where the menu is fully vegan and ingredients are usually harvested the same day. Many restaurants around the island have options, she said.

“I go out often around the island and I’ve been finding there’s a lot of places that are willing to substitute or already have one or two options that are vegan and gluten-free on the menu,” Lemay said.

She continued: “I find it easy, because I know I’m going to find something to eat, always. I’m not going to starve. It’s not restrictive.”

At Verde restaurant in Lihue, for instance, manager Jessica Kerber said the vegan tacos are popular.

“I’ve seen more and more people coming in for vegan food over the last year or so,” Kerber said. “I’m not sure if it’s because the trend is growing or if people are searching it out online and they see us on Yelp, so they come here.”

The vegan community on Kauai is vibrant, said Lemay, who is involved in the Vegetarian Society, which meets monthly for food and plant-based lectures.

She’s speaking on May 6, and plans to share info on the availability of farmers’ markets, as well as vegan food options by region on Kauai.

When it comes to food production, farmer Marshall Paul of the Kauai Food Forest said just about anything would be more efficient than growing a cow when it comes to calories, but animals are essential to the success of a farm.

“Because of the essential role of the nitrogen cycle in plants, animal integration of one sort or another is necessary,” Paul said. “Choose the ones that are most efficient and that can fulfill your nitrogen needs.”

“If you really back up and see how the world can be fed, it looks like local, diversified, intensive agriculture is the way to go,” Paul said. “Back up and simplify, localize, diversify and intensify.”

The researchers out of Israel examined America’s eating habits between the years 2000 and 2010, and used computer calculations to remove beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs from the American diet, replacing them with plant-based foods that were “nutritionally comparable.”

Those kinds of foods include potatoes, peanuts, soybeans and other plants.

Their model showed that on land that could produce 100 grams of plant protein, growers would end up with 60 grams of edible protein using the land for eggs, 50 grams of protein in chicken form, 25 grams of protein from dairy cows, 10 grams of protein from pigs, and 4 grams of protein from beef.

Eliminating eggs and replacing them with plants that offer the same nutrients would make it possible to feed 1 million additional people, researchers found.

At the other end of the spectrum, swapping plants for beef would result in enough food to “meet the full dietary needs” of 163 million extra people.

In the middle were dairy (getting rid of it would result in food for 25 million more people), pigs (cutting them out would feed 19 million more people) and poultry chickens (without them, farmers could feed 12 million more people).

If beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs all were replaced by a nutritionally equivalent combination of potatoes, peanuts, soybeans and other plants, the total amount of food available to be eaten would increase by 120 percent, the researchers calculated.

To put that in perspective, the amount of food that’s currently wasted due to things such as spoilage and inefficient production methods is between 30 percent and 40 percent of what U.S. farmers produce.

“The effect of recovering the opportunity food loss,” the authors wrote, “is larger than completely eliminating all conventional food losses in the United States.”

Downsides cited in the study included a decline in the consumption of micronutrients, like vitamin B12.


Jessica Else is a staff writer at The Garden Island newsapaper and can be reached at 245-0452 or at

  1. RG DeSoto April 6, 2018 7:57 am Reply

    “If beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs all were replaced by a nutritionally equivalent combination of potatoes, peanuts, soybeans and other plants, the total amount of food available to be eaten would increase by 120 percent, the researchers calculated”
    The US is already plagued by an epidemic of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease thanks to the insane government food pyramid. The pyramid is based on carbohydrates and was supposed to be the answer. It has proven to be a catastrophe for people’s health. Even the mainstream medical establishment is now coming to realize that this. Saturated fats once demonized are in fact great for humans. The ketogenic lifestyle is making huge inroads and returning many to full health.
    But here comes the ridiculous advice from Ron Milo contained in the quote above. His advice is loaded with high glycemic foods which will only exacerbate the diabetes and CVD rates.
    Eat fatty protein (30%), fat (olive, coconut & avocado oils etc.) (60%) and leafy green vegetables, cauliflower etc. (5-10%). No grains, sugar or starches for sure.
    RG DeSoto

  2. Just Saying April 6, 2018 12:28 pm Reply

    You’ll need lots of guns!
    First, to make us switch and see that we continue.
    Second, to force young Americans to sweat in agriculture instead of coding for Google.
    Third. to aim at all the unwanted immigrants, who are all rapists of course, who actually will do the work,
    Fourth, for all the guards needed for this Brave New World!

    1. Big Island vegan April 15, 2018 3:39 pm Reply

      Like Emma Gonzales, I have just one word to say, BS!

      1. Just Saying April 16, 2018 1:57 pm Reply

        We hear that vegans from the Big Island turn a sort of bright yellow! Can that be true?

  3. JOSE E BULATAO April 6, 2018 12:34 pm Reply

    Although I am NOT a vegan, I am fully supportive of the concept of utilizing as much of the space we have to grow food sources that promote a healthy diet here on “the Garden Island of Kauai.” In addition to that, we should also considering creating scenic wondersights of cascading bougainvillea, flowering trees and shrubs, exotics of every hue and variety which can be grown here. We should also look into ways in which some of what is grown here can be used to create products for the medical and health fields to address and promote healthy living outcomes for residents and visitors! This is an area where collaborative endeavors between and among public officials, corporate entities, agricultural workers, and shakers, the education department, media exponents and movers in the health and well-being arenas should all get together for collaborative and on-going endeavors to create and establish these inter-active components.

  4. Charlie Chimknee April 6, 2018 6:00 pm Reply


    An extremely important thing about being a VEGEN is that a vegen must supplement their diet with Vitamin B12. taking at least 500 Mcg (micrograms) per week. Plants do not provide Vit B12.

    Vit B12 is produced by normal healthy bacteria in the gut of animals; and thus why Vegens do not get this mandatory to eat Vitamin without going to a supplement Vit B12 sold at health food stores on Kauai, and may be found at pharmacies as well.

    You would wonder why do we not have those same bacteria in our gut that is beneficial to us humans. Humans have so many normal natural healthy bacteria in our gut and they are essential for digestion and life; why not this so important a Vit B12 producing bacteria? Who knows? It makes one think perhaps we are not supposed to be 100% vegen. Again, who knows?

    Nutritionist’s seems to agree on that it is better to take the MethylCobalamine B12…and not the Cyanocobalamine B12.

    A deficiency of Vit B12 over some years results in severe neurological problems, perhaps irreversible. It is very important that if you are a vegen or wanting to improve your HEALTH (which is the prevention of both disease and the use of HELLth care), that you take Vit. B12.

    There is much info online about vegen diet and Vit. B12.

    The difference between a Vegetarian and a Vegen is that a Vegen does not eat any dairy products of any kind.

    Some people are Vegetarian or Vegen due to the cruelty to animals issue. However there is enough scientific (not paid for by corporate food companies) research that substantiates Plant Based Nutrition as a Diet that prevents obesity, diabetes, heart and vascular disease and too many cancers. Also live natural Plant Based Nutrition provides a body with lots of energy and vitality.

    Many vegetarians and vegans, eating properly, do not require drugs or surgery even for a lifetime. Many people do not require medical care for 50, 60, 70 + after shifting to a Plant Based diet for the remainder of their life.

    With Plant Based Nutrition (PBN) you can pretty much eat what you want and as much as you want. There are many absolutely “ono-licious” recipes with PBN.

    You can take an online, very in depth, certification course in Plant Based Nutrition through Cornell University.

    Some people use Plant Based Nutrition as 90% to 95% of their diet and on occasion enjoy a piece of ahi or wild salmon, and maybe even a bit of adobo. This is much healthier than people who eat animals slurping down all those animal parts like their mouth was connected to a conveyor belt.

    Meat…3 meals a day…scary…! ! !

    Main thing enjoy a Healthy quality of life and an optimal longevity of years.



  5. Troy A Schacht April 6, 2018 10:53 pm Reply

    RG DeSoto,
    Evidence does not support your statements. Whole food carbs are generally very healthy ~ processed carbs and animal products are not. And the “studies” showing that saturated fat is not bad for us were very flawed. Please check out this video which illustrates that point and other videos on which is an excellent source of nonprofit, evidence-based, easily understood nutrition info.

    1. RG DeSoto April 7, 2018 1:52 pm Reply

      “Evidence does not support your statements. Whole food carbs are generally very healthy…”
      Your own statement is self-contradictory and you obviously misunderstood my post. You’ll note I did not exclude leafy greens and other fibrous, vegetables–you know carbs. Do some research on keto and LCHF lifestyles. See Dr. Ted Naiman on twitter, facebook and Also Ivor Cummins and a hist of others that are doing the real research.
      Just because something is a “whole food carb” does not make it good for you. Potatoes, legumes, grains etc, are terrible because they are high glycemic plants. The most devastating health condition is insulin resistance which a high carb diet loaded with grains, starches etc promotes. Check your own insulin resistance using the HOMA_IR calculators (you can do it yourself–(fasting insulin x fasting glucose)/405) you can find online. Insulin resistance will lead you down a road to disease and obesity. Just look around at the staggering rate of obesity & type 2 diabetes…all caused by the high crab trash fed to us via Dr. Ancel Keys.
      Never eat any vegetable that grows under the ground….period. But it’s your choice.
      RG DeSoto

  6. Thad Allen Miller April 7, 2018 5:12 am Reply

    How do animals get there protein from y are we killing them..They are =.

  7. Just Saying April 7, 2018 12:35 pm Reply

    Go ahead, ask Charlie why he spells it vegen. He’ll give you a full page on it at least. This is why friends of vegans are other vegans!

  8. tunataxi May 19, 2018 6:13 pm Reply

    Most of my family has lived into their 70’s and both my parents are in their mid eighties. Sorry… I enjoy meats of all kinds. Vegetables of all kinds. Fruits, seeds and grains…. I’m happy eating a varied diet and have no desire to remove the things I’ve grown to love in search of living forever

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