It was my landlord who first told me that Farmacy Health Bar was serving up Maui venison burgers. I told her that I thought it was pretty cool, and bold considering the restaurant is a huge favorite with vegans and vegetarians. She agreed, and confirmed that there’s currently a significant vegan activist backlash against it.
To find out more–and try one of the burgers–I went to Farmacy last week and met with owner and chef Christopher Malik Cousins. Business was booming as usual, with a line of customers stretching out the door and a couple of cute keiki with smoothie juice running down their faces.
Cousins was helping customers when I arrived, so I took a look around. His restaurant was very clean and customers were attended to and laughing. Art on the walls says things like “Be the Change You Want to See in this World,” and “Love is all You Need.” There was also a placard with information about the Maui Nui Venison they’re now serving.
“Wild or farmed, venison is always a first-rate meat choice,” it states. “Free-range and pasture-fed, it has a slightly finer grain than beef. It has more protein than any other red meat. It’s full of B vitamins: which help to regulate metabolism; and B6 and B12, which may lower Homocysteine build-up in the blood, thus lowering the risks of heart attacks and strokes. The small amount of fat in venison is likely to contain high levels of conjugated Linoleic acid, which is known to protect against heart disease and cancer.”
I’ll cut to the chase: the burger’s delicious. What’s more, the venison that makes it up is completely sustainable. It comes from the 60,000 or so wild Axis deer that roam Haleakala (there are approximately 100,000 deer in the county). They’ve spent their whole lives free-range and antibiotic-free. For hunters, it’s open season year-round because the deer are a major contributor to the damage of indigenous forests, plants and the overall watershed ecosystem balance. In addition, their natural behaviors are adding to the sediment that is extremely destructive to the health of our coral reefs.
That being said, a number of customers haven’t been shy about expressing their displeasure with Cousins and Farmacy. “We are sorry to hear the sad news that Farmacy is now serving deer meat,” Laurelee Blanchard, who runs Leilani Farm Sanctuary, recently posted on Facebook. “Please consider dropping this item from your menu. We were big fans of Farmacy, but will hold off on returning until deer meat is no longer sold.”
Cousins said he’s aware of what the activists are saying. Very aware.
“I have people literally sticking things on my walls saying my food is bad for you,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point where I expect someone’s going to come throw blood at my store.”
It’s important to note that Farmacy has never been an exclusively vegan restaurant. But Cousins also said that his crew makes certain that when they prepare venison, it’s cleaned and prepared separately from everything else with different kitchen tools, cutting boards, pans, etc.
“I’ve had dairy on the menu from the beginning,” Cousins said. “Vegetarians and vegans have really latched on to us, and we love that, and we’ve gone with it because we couldn’t find a meat that we really felt wasn’t factory-farmed, and I’m really against having an animal spend its whole life in captivity under miserable situations only for me to buy it by the box to serve it to people. So, this on the other hand is a wild animal that’s had a good life, hopefully, and on Maui.”
Cousins says he understands where activists are coming from–in fact, he agrees with much of their argument.
“To get mad at a meat eater for eating meat is understandable because agriculture is screwing up the world,” he said. “But to get mad at a meat eater for eating meat that is wild is just like getting mad at a tiger for eating an antelope.”
Besides offering a menu full of locally sourced and organic foods, the Farmacy brand also helps Maui in other ways. He’s hired rehabilitated individuals from Drug Court and prison, teenagers, students, single parents and aspiring chefs. Farmacy also offers a “Pay It Forward” program where customers can donate $3 to feed a community member in need. “Farmacy is an extension of my living room,” Cousins said.
Farmacy has three locations in Wailuku, Pukalani and Lahaina. But right now, only the Wailuku and Pukalani shops serve venison (Cousins said the Lahaina location doesn’t offer the full salad and sandwich menu). And if you’d like to know more about Farmacy’s decision to start offering venison, they’re holding a public meeting at the Haiku Community Center on Wednesday, Nov. 8 (5-8pm). For more details, go to Facebook.com/farmacyhealthbar.
“I feel that I want to be proactive and get in front of this,” Cousins said. “If I’m wrong, and this is something I’m doing that I can be educated on, then I’m willing to change. I’m 43 years old, I know why I feel what I feel and I have strong beliefs, but I’m not close-minded.”
FARMACY HEALTH BAR
12 N. Market St., Wailuku
Photos of The Farmacy and Christopher Malik Cousins: Sean M. Hower