April 5, 2021

Nutritional biochemistry

#156 – Jake Muise: Humanely harvesting axis deer while alleviating its impact on Hawaii’s vulnerable ecosystems

“If you can successfully harvest an axis deer with a bow, you can do almost any other animal on the planet.” —Jake Muise

Read Time 35 minutes

Jake Muise is an avid hunter, environmentalist, and advocate for the preservation of Hawaii’s natural resources. He is the founder of Maui Nui Venison, a company which actively manages Hawaii’s imbalanced population of axis deer by harvesting them as a food resource. In this episode, Jake tells his unbelievable backstory growing up in Northern Alberta before landing in Hawaii on a volleyball scholarship where he fell in love with the islands and the people. Jake explains how axis deer—a non-native species—were brought to the islands and how they have since become imbalanced to the detriment of Hawaii’s precious ecosystems. He goes on to explain the incredible lengths that his company has taken to ensure the most humane harvesting techniques imaginable resulting in a food source that is as clean and healthful as can be. Additionally, Jake and Peter examine what makes meat from axis deer one of the most nutrient-dense red meats on the planet.

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We discuss:

  • Upbringing in Northern Alberta, a diet of moose meat, and learning to surf in Nova Scotia (3:35);
  • How volleyball brought Jake to Hawaii where he met the Molokai people (14:00);
  • Jake’s introduction to axis deer (26:30);
  • Pro volleyball in Europe, missing the Olympic team by one spot, and his return to Hawaii (29:00);
  • History of axis deer in Hawaii—how a non-native species came to the islands, and the superpowers that make them so hard to hunt (34:00);
  • A potential catastrophe avoided on The Big Island—The amazing story of how Jake tracked and found axis deer that were secretly brought to The Big Island (52:15);
  • Jake’s work helping ranchers on Maui (1:08:15);
  • The detrimental impact of an imbalanced axis deer population (1:10:30);
  • The incredible evacuation of farm animals from lava-locked land due to a volcano eruption (1:17:00);
  • The creation of Maui Nui Venison—going above and beyond USDA requirements (1:27:00);
  • The most humane way to harvest an animal—the unmatched standards Maui Nui Venison uses to harvest axis deer (1:32:00);
  • Why meat from axis deer is nutritionally superior (and tastes better) than other meats (1:46:00);
  • Why axis deer meat is the best option for those reluctant to eat meat: True nose-to-tail nutrition and ethical harvesting (1:58:15);
  • What a truly balanced population of axis deer on Hawaii would look like (2:06:15);
  • Maui Nui Venison’s charitable work during the COVID crisis (2:12:45); and
  • More.

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Upbringing in Northern Alberta, a diet of moose meat, and learning to surf in Nova Scotia [3:35]

Upbringing

  • Jake grew up in a small town called Rainbow Lake in northwest Alberta, Canada—technically in the Arctic Circle
  • Ice fishing was a big activity — once his dad drilled down 6 feet into the ice without hitting the water
  • “Lots of resilience comes from living in a place like that” says Jake
  • Dad was in the oil industry so they moved around a lot, but it was mostly in Northern Alberta
  • Part of that isolation meant his dad was a subsistence hunter
  • They would shoot a moose and that’s what they ate all winter long long
  • In the winter, they would move down to a place closer to Calgary, and in preparation for the move his mom had to essentially pack for 9 months—collecting groceries all summer long
  • Other things they ate as kids — Pheasant pablum

Chores as a kid

  • Cleaning the bathrooms when it was too cold to go outside
  • Another regular chore was shoveling the roof to reduce the weight of the snow collapsing the roof
  • Several winters, the snowbank connected to the roof and as kids they were able to snowboard off the roof into the snowbank
  • It was so cold you would stop moving and you’d have to worry about hypothermia—as kids they would have to go in the house and get warmed and then go back outside

More about what they ate

  • For 8 to 10 months, there’s not a single leafy green available
  • The vast majority of their diet was meat
  • They called moose “swamp donkeys” because moose meat had a distinct taste as moose would spend their time in swamps eating lily pads or whatever was floating around
  • In the summer, everything would melt and the whole area was a muddy mess

Moving to Nova Scotia

  • When he turned 16 his family moved to Nova Scotia 
  • Going from northwest Alberta to Nova Scotia, you might as well be moving to the Artic to the Caribbean, but it’s still freezing cold water with slush that forms in the seawater during the winter

Picking up surfing

  • He picked up surfing in Nova Scotia (despite the freezing water)
  • The biggest waves were these wind waves
  • The first thing they did when they arrived in Nova Scotia was go to the beach which is where they saw people surfing and he and his brother said, “We need to do that.”
  • It started a long and semi-dangerous career in surfing in Nova Scotia given the freezing cold water and the huge swells during the winter months
  • They couldn’t afford good wetsuits so they used to tuques
  • Without wetsuits, they would surf as late into the season as possible (September/October) until it was literally too cold to enter the water
  • Being on a budget, the first surf board they made was using styrofoam and duct-tape
  • To up their budget, he and his brother started a grass cutting company and they were able to buy a real wetsuit and surf board
  • I just fell in love with the ocean.” says Jake

 

How volleyball brought Jake to Hawaii where he met the Molokai people [14:00]

Beginning of his volleyball career

  • The last year in Northern Alberta, Jake and his older brother Josh started playing volleyball and they picked it up pretty fast
  • When they moved to Nova Scotia when Jake was 16, they used volleyball to integrate into the new community and volleyball just stuck
  • He competed at a really high level—including Canada’s Youth Olympic Program and then Junior Olympic Programs
  • When he was at a Junior Olympic Program, the University of Hawaii saw him play
  • It turns out that when deliberating on whether to recruit Jake to U of Hawaii, Tino Reyes (the assistant coach) saw pictures of Jake surfing with icebergs in the background
  • He was about 6 feet tall (short for volleyball) but they said, “If this kid can do this, whatever we’re going to get… The level of resiliency we’re going to get out of him, it’s going to be worth it. Even if we’re losing a couple of inches.” 

“Volleyball’s taken me all over the world. It’s been amazing.” —Jake Muise

Arriving in Hawaii

Minor culture shock

  • The initial shocks were tiny
  • Funny example: 
    • On his recruiting trip they first showed him the university and the volleyball facilities and next they took him to the beach and gave him a pair of boardshorts 
    • Having never seen board shorts before, he put “tighty whities” on underneath them since there was no liner
    • So I put the tighty whities on underneath the boardshorts, tie them up, head out to He headed out to Kaiser Bowls ane when paddling out his tighty whities were hanging out the back

Meeting the Molokai people—An awesome accident

  • When he got to the University of Hawaii for the fall, they messed up him dorm assignment, “which turned out to be the best, probably the best thing in my life
  • They put him in the dorm for all of the local kids that didn’t have good enough grades so they were taking this summer program to get into school
  • He happened to get placed in the wing with all the kids from Molokai
  • Jake was astounded how big these people were
  • Jake was pretty obviously out of place but in true Molokai fashion, they quickly accepted him into their “family”

“It was the best thing that ever happened in my life. They took me under their wing, and all of the best parts of my life have come from walking into the wrong dorm.” —Jake Muise

More about Molokai—geography and culture

  • The island is only 10 miles by 30 miles, roughly 180,000 acres
  • There are only 7,000 people, most of which are true locals
  • What makes it so special is they have fought for years and years and years to keep Molokai the exact same way it has always been—no stoplights, no major resorts, etc.
  • The people are very active in maintaining the community—no poverty, no homelessness, etc.
  • Food they eat
  • About half the food they eat comes from the ocean or the land
  • They do a lot of subsistence hunting—deer, black buck, goats, and pigs
  • They have the longest standing reef in Hawaii, on the south shore of Molokai which is still teeming with fish
  • They fought to protect all of these natural resources. They fought to protect their way of life, because Molokai’s beaches are extraordinary.” says Jake
  • There was actually a failed attempt to put up a fancy resort on the north shore at La’au Point

Getting “adopted” by a local family

  • Getting back to Northern Alberta was too far away so he spent every long weekend, Christmas break, holidays in Hawaii
  • In Hawaii, the term for adoption is hānai — Jake got hānai-ed by a Molokai family along with a friend of his named Mike

“I’ve been a part of that family as long as I’ve a part of my family in Canada. . .just so lucky and so fortunate to get to be a part of that place, and part of my adult life. I grew up as a function of that place, and the cultural values it has.” —Jake Muise

Volleyball career at Hawaii [25:30]

  • Jake had a very successful career at the University of Hawaii
  • They won the title in one of his 4 years but some rules get changed after the title is won—for political reasons—they take the title away. “It was a mess.”
  • They were top three in the country every single year

Figure 1. Jake playing volleyball.

 

Jake’s introduction to axis deer [26:30]

  • While in college, being able to go to Molokai and learning more about that culture, learning more about axis deer, it was an amazing experience

{end of show notes preview}

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