Hold my smoothie

Ari LeVaux

Flickr, by Stacy Spensley
Flickr, by Stacy Spensley

“Hopefully they’re crunching,” whispered Ken, as we walked toward his neighbor’s patio. It was after 2 AM, and the moon was bright. But inside the jungle it was dark, and loud, with scurrying rodents, crowing chickens, warring cats, horny frogs, and assorted other creatures, in addition to our prey. We trained our ears into the jungle, trying to screen out the noise and detect a signal, the sound of a wild pig eating a macadamia nut in its jaws. It sounds a little bit like a small explosion, a gunshot with the volume turned down, or perhaps it’s the sound a bullet would make from hitting a large rock. Pigs have become such a problem in Hawaii that locals are encouraged to go after them, and given broad latitude when it comes to concepts like “fair chase.” Pig hunting may seem like an odd way to introduce an article on green smoothies, but they have more in common then you might guess. It all comes down to that crunch.

Gaining access inside a macadamia nut, or mac-nut, as they are called here, is no small feat. Even for humans, it isn’t a leisurely activity like shelling a walnut. The shell is not only harder, but rounder and smoother. What would be an all-night project for a rat is accomplished in a single chop. Ken says bigger pigs make louder crunch. 

In addition to being a clue to the whereabouts of a pig, and an impressive feat of strength and mouth agility, that crunch is also the sound of plant energy being accessed, despite the best efforts of mac-nut evolution.  A pig eating a mac-nut has a lot in common with the sound of a Vita-mix, or other high-speed blender, full of greens. For one, they are both domains that Ken has mastered to varying degrees. And they are both examples plant fiber being physically broken so innards can be attained. If only we could do as much to a pig. 

Plants, Ken explained, are about as nutritious as you can get. Nutritious enough to allow large animals like giraffes and elk to attain their full sizes.  But animals that rely sold on plants usually have an angle on squeezing out all of their goodness. Cows have four stomachs. Some animals just chew, and chew, and chew. But with human digestive machinery, simply swallowing some plant material and waiting for your stomach acids to break them down isn’t going to get you very far, explained Ken, who whizzed up midnight green smoothies in between our bow hunting forays. 

I had just placed my cup on the patio when I heard a sharp pop. Ken held up one finger. 
“Crunch,” he said. 
It was followed by more crunching, from more than one pig. Like a family of Rice Krispies on steroids drifting toward the shooting lanes Ken had cut into the understory of his neighbor’s neighbor’s forest. I began to wonder what kind of crunch those jaws might put on my leg.  Ken drew his bow and flicked on a green spotlight, revealing an 80 lb boar. There was a swish of flying arrow, and a blue streak of the arrow, which had a glowing nock. The arrow’s went through the pig’s neck, using the layer of fat above the spine as a pivot, around which the arrow changed course, and flew another 20 yards. 

The arrow was covered with a sheen of grease-from the top of the neck, Ken believes-but no blood, and the pig was nowhere to be found, alas. Apparently, crunching mac-nuts gives you quite the neck. 
Unless you chew your greens all day, you only get the plant juices from the cells that are actually broken, Ken explained, relaying information from the 2004 book Green for Life, which got him onto green smoothies in the first place, long before hunting came along. Animals that get more out of their greens have a system, like the four stomachs of ruminants, to extract more. But with a high-speed blender along the lines of Vitamix, Blendtec or Breville, which have pulled away from the rest of the pack, 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, kale was used as the standard for the comparison of blenders. With so much fiber, particularly in the leaf stems, most blenders will get bogged down, and the relative abilities of the elite blenders to handle kale fiber was carefully compared. Similarly, performance at making a kale and berry smoothie was used to distinguish elite-level blenders from the rest. Lesser blenders can’t break enough cell walls to make the smoothie turn green, and it remains purple from the berries. 

Those impenetrable plant cell walls are the result of an evolutionary arms race between plants that want to keep their juices and animals that want to eat them. In both cases, indigestible plant fiber is used to protect valuable stores of plant energy and nutrients, from animals that want to eat them. 

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.  

As we all know, green smoothies are a way to easily consume a lot of greenery, giving us the bowel cleansing assistance of fiber, as well as many other benefits of leaves, without the work of chewing. In hopes of determining just how prohibitive that work is, 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. (If you are adding fruit and yogurt or whatever, add that last).  The unsweetened smoothie was richly bitter, dark, very liquified, 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 to bitter, 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. These ones contain ingredients like cilantro, nettles, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and whole limes, peel and all. The author, Victoria Boutenko, sometimes refers to these savory smoothies as cold soups, which is what they are, essentially. 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.