Missionary Praying to Like the Native Food

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Joseph Fielding Smith

From the book, Biography of Joseph F. Smith, by Joseph Fielding Smith, discussing the challenges facing the first LDS missionaries to Hawaii, where missionary work began in 1850:


Another disturbing element in the minds of some of the missionaries was the fact that they had to eat the natives' food.  Some of them almost rebelled against it and avoided it whenever it was possible. 

Most of the missionaries strove to overcome their dislike for certain dishes held choice by the natives because they felt a keen desire to help them in all things and the eating of their food was to these missionaries an essential part of their daily work. 

The Elders had to make their homes entirely with the native people, and that made it necessary for them to accept their diet in the main.

This diet consisted principally of ‘poi,' which was made from the kalo root, baked underground and mashed on a large wooden platter with a stone pestle, and then mixed with water until a thick paste was formed.  This was left to ferment until it soured, and in this condition was eaten with the use of the fingers. 

Fish also formed a large part of the diet, also the meat of the pig and frequently the dog.  The missionaries usually could avoid partaking of dog meat, but most of them learned to enjoy the ‘poi' and fish, and other native foods.

The kalo resembles somewhat in its leaves and taste, the wild Indian turnip.


Elder George Q. Cannon (later a member of the First Presidency) writes:

"Before leaving Lahaina, I had tasted a teaspoon of ‘poi,' but the smell of it and the calabash (a bowl made from a gourd from a tropical fruit) in which it was contained were so much like that of book-binder's old, sour, paste-pot, that when I put it to my mouth, I gagged at it and would have vomited had I swallowed it." 

He continues:  

"But in traveling among the people, I soon learned that if I did not eat ‘poi,' I would put them to great inconvenience, for they would have to cook separate food for me every meal.  This would make me burdensome to them, and might interfere with my success. 

"I therefore determined to live on their food, and, that I might do so, I asked the Lord to make it sweet to me.

"My prayer was heard and answered; the next time I tasted it, I ate a bowl full and I positively liked it.  It was my food, whenever I could get it, from that time as long as I remained on the islands. 

"It may sound strange, yet it is true, that I have sat down to a table on which bread was placed, and though I had not tasted the latter for months, I took the ‘poi' in preference to the bread.  It was sweeter to me than any food I have ever eaten."