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Eating Raw on a Tropical Island

First, I want to show you a little video I made when I was “lost and cast away” on a tiny island in Fiji, which inspired me to create a new episode for the popular Lost show… one featuring yours truly. You’ll also see some unique and beautiful scenery from Fiji.

Once you’re done with my little video… read the article below to discover what it’s really like to live on a tropical island!

Do You Ever Dream of Moving to a Tropical Island?

There are only three weeks left to my trip around the world, which started back in July of last year. As I feel totally stranded on a tropical island in the middle of the South Pacific, I started thinking about islands and the myth surrounding them, and also the reality of living on a little island versus the fantasy.

Many raw foodists like to dream of paradise, particularly warm tropical islands, isolated from the modern world and ideally providing them with all the sunshine and the fruits they need. I’ve always had a particular fascination with the South Pacific, as to me it’s the closest thing we can experience on Earth to interstellar travel.

Each island is like a little world onto itself, isolated by miles and miles of blue Ocean from other world, and for the longest time in human history these little gems of paradise were completely unknown and undiscovered.

The South Pacific is the last large area of the world to be colonized by human beings and the discovery of these island is probably one of the greatest pre-historic achievements of humankind.

I’m writing these lines on the little island of Aitutaki, a speck of Paradise part of the Cook Islands, reputed to have one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world. I won’t disagree with that… seeing Aitutaki from the sky was a formidable spectacle.

The Cook Islands were some of the last islands to be discovered at colonized by humans. In 200 BC, a good 1300 years after Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and a few other groups of islands in the South Pacific were discovered, knowledgable adventurers left for a discovery mission, and ended up in modern day French Polynesia.

About 500 years later (AD 300-400), the same Polynesians left for Hawaii, Easter Island and the Cooks. Incredibly, New Zealand was the last main island of the South Pacific to be discovered in 900 AD.

What Islanders Actually Eat

Fast forward to present time, these islands are still incredibly fascinating, and some of them quite a challenge to get to, but the islander’s way of life have dramatically changed since ancient times. While the Polynesians lived on a diet of fish, root crops, breadfruit, pork, and very few other things, today’s islanders like to indulge in fried chicken and junk food (mainly white bread, chips and chocolate bars), supplementing their diet with some traditional fare. They also eat a lot of fish, as most of the meat is actually imported and frozen.

There is no McDonald’s on the island of Rarotonga, or anywhere in the Cook Islands (we even saw a sign pointing the direction to the nearest McDonalds, over 2000 KM away!), but there’s plenty of fast food to be had.

Cook Islanders often say that they “live to eat,” and admit this freely and by that they don’t mean green smoothies or even fruit. Many Cook Islanders have a freezer bigger than their fridge, and in fact the remote island of Pamerston in the Cooks boasts the highest freezer usage per capita in the world! That’s because they have to get 3-5 months of groceries at a time, because on their atoll there’s not much land to grow food besides coconuts. It’s mostly sand with little topsoil.

It seems that almost everybody on these islands is at the very least overweight, if not obese. The healthiest-looking islanders we ever saw were probably in Fiji, while the unhealthiest and most obese are probably in Hawaii. There are always exceptions, though. I remember meeting a ripped-looking couple in French Polynesia, who swore they stayed healthy by drinking noni juice daily. I suspect their diet was a lot better than the other locals, too.

How Small These Islands Actually Are

Rarotonga is not a big island. It’s about 67 square kilometers (SQ KM), or about 42 square miles, and most of it is impenetrable jungle from the mountainous interior. There’s a road that circles the island that’s 32 KM long (20 miles). To put that in perspective, the Big Island of Hawaii is over 10,000 SQ KM (or 6250 SQ Miles). Seeing Rarotonga from the sky is quite amazing, as you can literally see the entire island in one glance below you.

Aitutaki is even smaller, being an atoll in formation, most of the original island has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. What’s left is a little island surrounded by a beautiful lagoon and a few islets. Going about 40 KM per hour (25 miles) on a scooter, I could go all around the island in less than 25 minutes!). After going around the island a few times, I knew my way around, a good thing since there are no street signs or addresses…

Foods You Can Eat On a Tropical Island

On Aitutaki there’s fruit trees everywhere, but not much for sale at the market. Apparently, a cyclone recently devastated a lot of their crops. In any case, going around the island I saw a lot of breadfruit trees, papaya trees, coconuts, noni fruit trees (used for medicinal purposes), and mango trees. I went to a farmer’s market one morning in Aitutaki, and all I could buy were a few green bananas, green papayas and coconuts, along with a few vegetables such as cucumber and potatoes.

Rarotonga was more well-endowed with fruit, but the variety was similar (we also got some delicious carambola, or starfruit).

Some islands have more fruit than others, like the Seychelles, where I could find jackfruit, mangoes, cherimoya, and many other exotic varieties, and some have less. You might think that it’s a good idea to just go “foraging” for fruit in the wild, but because these islands are so small, every fruit tree you might find on the side of the road probably belongs to someone, so foraging is the equivalent of stealing. This is NOT how you should behave, as the locals make far less in a month than you would make in a week at home. It’s best to ask when in doubt.

Typically, the fruit you will buy on these islands is very good, but there’s just not a lot of it. Every papaya I ever had in the South Pacific has been absolutely delicious… with neon-orange flesh and amazing fragrance. When I visited French Polynesia in 2006 (which is our next destination before heading back home), I remember that the fruit was very good, but not necessarily cheap or abundant.

While You Dream of Islands, They Leave Them

When you first arrive in some of these beautiful tropical islands, the first thought that crosses your mind is: this is so beautiful, I never want to leave. At the same time, many of the islanders can’t wait to get out of their little Paradise! Everybody loves the Cook Islands, but there’s not many opportunities for local youth. Because the Cook Islands are in free association with New Zealand, Cook Islanders hold a New Zealand passport, and most of the young people eventually leave to go work in either Australia or New Zealand. They come back for vacations and to visit family, but many of them get more excited by the bright lights of Auckland or Sydney than the sleepy ports of the Cook Islands.

About 20,000 people live in the Cook Islands, but over 75,000 Cook Islanders live abroad. In some of the smaller and more remote islands, you’ll hardly find anybody between the age of 18 and 50.

It’s quite a contrast when you think of all these island daydreamers who think they would love to live on a tropical island if they could… including raw foodists!

My Ideal Tropical Island

A few years ago, I read the story of two young people who apparently had some extra money to spare, and decided to start a raw food community on a tropical island in the South Pacific. They scoured the area for months and finally found an island in Fiji to buy. However, their story abruptly ended and I never found it if they managed to make their dreams a reality.

If I could design my ideal island, I would like to find an island about the size of Rarotonga, which is small enough to feel cozy, but big enough to not feel too claustrophobic. I would plan the entire island with fruit trees of all kinds (not just papayas, coconuts and mangoes!), and the morning farmer’s markets would be glorious.

I’d try to find a way to generate clean energy for all the island, but this wouldn’t be an easy task. Almost all islands get their electricity from diesel-burning generators. There are not many alternatives at the moment, besides nuclear power, because wind and solar energy require too much land area and are too expensive, and generally most islands don’t have ways to generate hydro-electricity or enough volcanic activity for geothermal power.

I’d like to turn the island into a giant fruit orchard, while at the same time having enough conveniences for modern life, including fast Internet. But now, I’m totally daydreaming as this will probably never happen!

My Favorite Islands

During my trip, I’ve briefly fallen in love with a few islands, my favorites being Bora Bora as the most beautiful one of all, the Seychelles for the most amazing beaches, the island of Crete in Greece for the best combination of culture and natural scenic beauty, and finally the islands of Hawaii as having the best combination of everything one could want on an island. And if we count New Zealand as an island (or two, actually), then it certainly makes it at the top of my list as an awesome island that has a bit of everything.

Sometimes we daydream of tropical islands… but we might forget the reality of living in Paradise. If we want to define Paradise as:

– Beautiful lagoons and beaches
– Sunshine and warm weather
– Tropical plants

… then yes, tropical islands are absolute paradise. But to me Paradise is an attitude of wonder you can bring with everywhere beautiful. Although I’ve dreamt about living on a remote tropical island, I’m not ready to make that move yet because I still love civilization and fresh produce, the beautiful and never-ending landscapes of North America, fast Internet and good infrastructures, and yes, a good variety of fruits and vegetables!

Although being on Aitutaki makes me realize that my home country is probably the best place for me to live, I’m sure when I’ll get back to rainy Vancouver I’ll be finding myself daydreaming about the warm, turquoise lagoon of Aitutaki… proving once more that the grass can always seem greener somewhere else.

Although I would probably not move to a tropical island permanently, I still think it’s possible to make your dream of moving to a tropical paradise a few months a year a reality! I’ve been living this dream, spending all my winters in the sun for the past 5 years now, and discovered how you can move to a tropical paradise without abandoning the comforts of home… and in fact without even spending more than you do now! For more information, check out my course on How to Move to a Tropical Paradise at

What about you… have you ever dreamt of living in a tropical island, and what would be your ideal tropical island?

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.