“Hopefully they’re crunching,” whispered my pal Ken, as we walked toward his neighbor’s patio.
He wore a red headlamp, and carried a compound bow. It was after 2 a.m., and the moon was bright, but inside the Hawaiian jungle it was dark, and noisy, with scurrying rodents, crowing chickens, warring cats, horned frogs, in addition to our prey. We trained our ears into the jungle, trying to screen out the noise and detect a signal: the distinct sound of a wild pig eating a macadamia nut. It’s something like a combination between a gunshot and Cookie Monster having a midnight snack.
Hawaii is full of wild pigs, and locals have an open season to hunt them 24/7, which may seem like an odd way to introduce a column about green smoothies. But the two topics have more in common then you might guess. It all comes down to that crunch.
Plant cells are surrounded by cell walls, which protect the cells' contents in a way that’s analogous to how a mac-nut shell protects the meat inside. In both cases, precious cargo that animals would like to eat is protected by tough plant fibers.
Gaining access to macadamia meat is no small feat, even for humans. Most locals would sooner pay 10 bucks a pound at the farmers market than try to extract the nuts themselves. It’s not like shelling a walnut. The shell is harder, rounder and smoother. A rat may take all night to saw through a mac-nut shell, Ken says, and he pointed out the faint sound of them scraping. A pig can access that plant power more quickly than a rat, or even a naked human. But a human with a high-speed blender can have pig-like abilities.
I had carried a cup of green smoothie over to the lawn chairs on Ken’s neighbor’s patio, and was mid-sip when I heard a sharp pop. Ken held up one finger.
“Crunch,” he said.
More crunching. From more than one pig, Ken whispered. It sounded like a family of overgrown Rice Krispies out there, and it was drifting toward the shooting lanes that Ken had cut into the understory of his neighbor’s forest, giving him shots into his neighbor’s mac-nuts. The volume and frequency of the crunching was thrilling.
“It’s my favorite sound in the entire world,” another pig hunter told me.
As I began to wonder what kind of crunch those mighty jaws could put on my leg, Ken drew his bow and flicked on a green spotlight, revealing an 80-pound boar. He let the arrow go with a swish. The arrow had a glowing blue nock (the end cap where the string fits), and we could see its trajectory to the pig, where it changed direction slightly and flew another 20 yards. The pig squealed and ran off.
The arrow was covered with a sheen of grease. Ken thinks from the top of the neck, above the spine. No blood on the arrow, no blood trail, and no bloody pig to be found.
Pigs got that strong by eating plants, Ken explained later, in his kitchen. Before Ken was a hunter, he was a gardener, plant eater and maker of green smoothies. It’s a practice he’s not left behind. He credits a 2004 book, "Green for Life" for getting him into green smoothies a decade ago.
Plants, he said, are about as nutritious as you can get. Nutritious enough to allow large animals like pigs and giraffes and elk to attain their full sizes, and build huge muscles. But every animal that relies on plants has an angle on accessing that goodness, protected as it is by cell walls. Cows have four stomachs. Some animals chew and chew. A high-speed blender represents such an angle to humans.
Vitamix, Blendtec and Breville have all pulled away from the rest of the pack. (The Ninja is decent, but prohibitively hard to clean.) With an elite blender you can bushwhack your way through a jungle of greenery, without spending the whole day chewing your cud.
In a very interesting three-way comparison between the cream of the high-speed blender crop, the ability to grind kale was used as the standard. With so much fiber, particularly in the leaf stems, most blenders will get bogged down. Some can get through the kale, but aren’t breaking all of the cell walls. A kale/berry smoothie made by a lesser blender will be purple, like a berry. The same ingredients in a high speed blender will come out green.
A pig crunching on a mac-nut is the animal world’s answer to the high-speed blender. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, we eat the contents of the blender, like we would eat the contents of a macadamia nut-fattened pig.
“One helps clean out the other,” Ken suggested, pointing to his belly.
Removing the work of chewing not only makes the cell juices more available, it makes ingesting them more palatable. Another day, using my children as guinea pigs, Ken made a green smoothie with kale, parsley and other greens, and ice to keep it from heating up, but no fruit or creamy stuff.
The unsweetened smoothie was richly bitter, dark, very liquefied, and the kids drank it up, consuming huge quantities of greens without the benefit of bitter buffers like mango or banana. Granted, they are my kids, so their palates are well-acquainted with bitter flavors, but I still take this as evidence that it’s the chewing that keeps people from downing more greens, rather than the flavor.
"Green for Life," which I’ve checked out online and plan to order, also contains a chapter on savory smoothies, which is very relevant to my interests. They contain ingredients like cilantro, nettles, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and limes, peel and all. The author, Victoria Boutenko, sometimes refers to these savory smoothies as cold soups, and many of them would be really good served with pig. If only Ken were as good with a bow as he is with a Vitamix.
I, meanwhile, was such a great hunting partner that Ken traded me for a trio of hippie rednecks, who flew in from California as I was preparing to leave the island. They showed up with their bows and their "green smoothies" of choice, and got to work. By the time I landed, they had their first pig down, and the crunching has continued since then.
I’m stuck at home, hunting for a high-speed blender. At least greens, unlike pigs, can’t run away.
Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column carried in more than 60 newspapers nationwide. Though his audience is national, he says he "always writes about Montana. Usually."
Satisfy your cravings
With our weekly newsletter packed with the latest in everything food.