Welcome back to our column, hunter/gatherer, in which we showcase the resourceful—and hungry—people who gather wild food sources without the help of the grocery store.
In 2015, is it even still possible to live completely off the fat of the land if you reside in the United States? That means only eating the animals that you catch, and only eating plants that you grow yourself—not being a slave to the grocery store.
If you're Kimi Werner—a Hawaiian wonder woman/goddess who is also a chef, model, and champion freediver who can hold her breath for 4 minutes and 45 seconds—it totally is. She has been living everybody's dream life, from eating fresh seafood every day to getting paid to surf in Hawaii, like it's no big deal. Just take a quick peek through her Instagram profile right out of The Blue Lagoon to see what we are talking about.
MUNCHIES tracked down the island renaissance woman and caught up with her in the North Shore of Oahu. As she overlooks the evening surf roll in, we talk about what exactly sparked this amazing lifestyle of hers, how it feels to bite an octopus head and then eat it afterwards, and her secret to looking like a Sports Illustrated cover swimsuit model at 35-years-old.
MUNCHIES: Is it true that you bite off octopus heads in the middle of the ocean? Kimi Werner: You don't bite their heads off, but you do bite their heads to crunch their brain and kill them immediately. You put your mouth over the top of their head and you just bite as hard as you can. That crushes their brain and they die instantly.
A photo posted by Kimi Werner (@kimi_swimmy) on Jun 21, 2015 at 9:21pm PDT
What does that taste like? It's just salty, really salty. You are underwater usually when you are doing it, so all you taste is just a mouthful of ocean water. I mean, if you know the flavor of octopus, then sure, it definitely tastes like it. But if you don't, I just tell people that it tastes really salty.
Have you ever encountered an octopus with a head that was too big to bite?
Not one where the head was too big, but with really large octopuses, their legs are so long that they'll grab all parts of you, including your mask. The last one I caught was a huge one that weighed ten pounds. Its legs were way longer than any human arms, and it wrapped itself around me no matter how long I extended my arm. I remember that by the time I got to the surface, it had taken off my bathing suit top. So I was topless and freaking out in the middle of the ocean, and it was still sucking on to my back with everything it had. Eventually, I was able to grab it and bite its head.The big ones are a lot harder to deal with because before you can even bite it, they are grabbing at you, ripping off your mask, and ripping off your clothes.
Wow, insert Japanese tentacle erotica joke here. Did you get hurt? Yeah, by the time I was done with that one, I had a bunch of "octopus hickeys" from the suction cups all over my body.
Were you scared? No, I was just cracking up and laughing so hard. I had my girlfriend Jessica with me and she couldn't stop laughing because I was completely exposed. I hadn't noticed until I had calmed down later on.
A photo posted by Kimi Werner (@kimi_swimmy) on Nov 20, 2015 at 6:53pm PST
I bet that beefy octopus was tasty. Did you end up eating it afterwards? I did and it tasted amazing. I massaged it with a course Hawaiian sea salt that I got from a tide pool that had evaporated near here. That gets rid of the slime that they have and tenderizes it, and then I put it in a pot and simmer it with beer.
After this, if I want a hot meal, I'll fry up bite-sized pieces of it with butter and garlic along with some collard greens that I grow in my garden, then I'll finish it with coconut milk; it is delicious with rice. If I want something cold, I'll make a quick ceviche with it and eat it with tortilla chips.
About how much food that you eat on a daily basis comes from your diving, hunting, and growing? At least 75 percent of it. It's interesting because most of the protein that I eat is wild-caught: fish, lobsters, crabs, octopus, and basically everything from the ocean. I only go hunting once a week, and no matter how much or how little I get, I always share with other people. What's awesome about that is that people share food back with me. Just the other day I got some fresh venison meat from the local hunters because I gave them fish. I also get lots of fruit like bananas and avocados from my neighbors. If I don't harvest the food that I eat, somebody else near me harvested it.
A photo posted by Kimi Werner (@kimi_swimmy) on Dec 5, 2013 at 2:47pm PST
Do you ever go to the supermarket anymore? I definitely still do, so much less than I used to before though. Usually for all of the carb stuff that I don't access to harvesting with on my own, things like rice, flour, bread, and olive oil.
Speaking of bread and rice, what do you think of the paleo diet? The majority of my meals are mostly vegetables and protein but I'm not a believer of having to be so extreme. I get tons of satisfaction out of catching my own food and eating food that someone I know harvested; I like knowing the story behind my food. It makes eating so much more heartfelt and meaningful to me.
Have you ever done any kind of calculations on how much money you are saving by not going to the grocery store that much anymore? I've never done the calculations but I would have to say the savings are pretty damn good. I would say that I definitely don't spend a whole lot of money, and I love to cook. I'm cooking every day, all day. I rarely ever buy any protein from the store, and these days my vegetable list gets pretty slim.
Just to come home to something that I caught was an amazing feeling. It tasted so much better and gave me a sense of deep happiness; it felt the same as falling in love.
How did you get into this lifestyle? I was raised like that in the very, very early stages of my childhood. I was raised in a rural part of Maui and my parents were really poor. We didn't have any supermarkets near us or much people near us, so I grew up doing this, and my life then was more crazy than the one that I'm living right now. My parents dug up a huge imu—a huge underground pit—in our front yard and they lined it with hot lava rocks and banana leaves. We would cook a lot of the animals that my parents raised and harvested: turkeys, chickens, little guinea hens, rabbits, and cows.
My dad was also a spearfisher and my mom was a forager. This changed later on in life when my parents started making more money, my dad became a construction worker and my mom went to college and became a nurse. We moved to a bigger city and then started to become a "normal" family, meaning we would buy our food from grocery stores and eat out at restaurants, but this was a very hard transition for me. I really missed my old lifestyle. I remember my first time eating store-bought eggs and being so disgusted. It was very hard. I got used to this new lifestyle but I always had those fond memories of my childhood.
I assumed that those days were in the past until I graduated from high school. I moved to Oahu and studied culinary arts, then it hit me: Why can't I be doing what I did in the past right now? That was when I picked up a spear and started going into the ocean. It was awesome. At first, I was only able to catch itty-bitty fish, but just to come home to something that I caught was an amazing feeling. It tasted so much better and gave me a sense of deep happiness; it felt the same as falling in love.
A photo posted by Kimi Werner (@kimi_swimmy) on Nov 30, 2015 at 2:56pm PST
What is your secret for looking the way you do at 35 years old? Salt water cleanses and eating seafood every day, for sure. But I think living a passion-filled life of any kind is key. Give yourself permission to do what makes you happy and create whatever brings you joy. That's what kids know how to do best, so they know this secret to staying young.
Is it true that you can hold your breath for four minutes and 45 seconds? In order to be able to hold your breath to begin with, you need to learn how to be able to relax, calm down, and put away all of your fears. You have to be present and welcoming of the present moment. Usually when I hunt, I only hold it for two minutes just to give myself extra time in case anything goes wrong. But yes, the longest time that I have held my breath for was for that amount of time.
A photo posted by Kimi Werner (@kimi_swimmy) on Nov 23, 2015 at 7:32pm PST
Have you ever had any close calls? I would say that the scariest experiences have been when my diving partners blacked out on me. When you hold your breath and exert too much energy or just hold your breath too long, you are going to pass out. When you are on land and pass out, you're going to lose consciousness but keep on breathing. However passing out underwater is not the same since instead of breathing you're going to be taking in a terminal gasp of just straight seawater, basically killing you right there. My scariest moments are having to swim my ass off to grab my partners and swimming back to the surface to get them to breathe again.
There are eels, too; they are pretty creepy for sure. A lot of the times, I hunt for fish in caves and they come charging at you with their sharp teeth. Sharks, most definitely—when a big tiger shark comes and snatches the fish that you just caught from your arms, that definitely freaks you out.
Do you have any advice for anybody out there who secretly wants to leave their life behind to move to Hawaii and do what you do? My only advice would just be to try and do it for reasons that are good for the ocean and good for the Earth. The ocean gives so much to us in terms of fun, food, and happiness. It really is in our hands to take care of the ocean, I think it is something very empowering to give this responsibility to hunters. It is up to them to become the stewards of the ocean and set examples to everyone else, just be an ambassador of the ocean.
Thanks for speaking with us.