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Denby Fawcett: Stress Eating In the Time Of Trump

In this period of increasing political unrest in Hawaii and daily rants from a panicked U.S. president facing impeachment, it is calming to know there are places of refuge in Honolulu to regroup.

"I find solace in out of the way establishments such as the Hare Krishna temple in a quiet residential neighborhood in Nuuanu where for $13 you can eat as much comforting Indian food as you want."

Since 1991, Honolulu devotees of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness have run Govinda’s café, offering vegetarian buffet lunches at the temple at 51 Coelho Way.

Tourists from India pull up in carloads at Govinda’s, often coming straight from the airport, to eat the food they consider true vegetarian because it is cooked without onions and garlic.

Tourists from India pull up in carloads at Govinda’s, often coming straight from the airport, to eat the food they consider true vegetarian because it is cooked without onions and garlic.

I go there to eat the papadams and curry and relax in the garden by taking picture of my friends under the giant Indian banyan tree.


The temple and restaurant are in a mansion on almost two acres of manicured gardens.

The property once was the family residence of my Punahou School classmate, Hugh Klebahn, a descendant of the missionary Wilcox family, whose parents Frederick and Lois Klebahn built it in the mid-1930s.

When the Klebahns sold their home in 1974 they thought the buyer was an attorney from Detroit. But the attorney turned out to be a representative of Alfred Ford, a great grandson of Ford Motor Company founder, Henry Ford.

Alfred Ford is a Krishna devotee who gave the property to the Hawaii Krishna group for its temple which surprised and upset the Klebahns who were worried their neighbors would be furious with them.

It was not unusual then for wealthy Krishna devotees to give a portion of their fortune to religious groups like Ford did. In 1973, the Beatle’s George Harrison donated a 17-acre estate in Hertfordshire, England, to the Hare Krishna movement.

One of the early devotees at the ISKCON Hawaii temple was Chris Butler, a guru with close ties to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and her parents. But in mid-1970s Butler broke off ties with the Hawaii temple to form his own sect called the Science of Identity Foundation. The Gabbards followed him.

All of these political connections might make the Govinda’s restaurant seem like a stressful place but it is strangely peaceful.

The devotees do not proselytize.

“We feel the food itself is our offering,” temple president Kusha Dayna Fiorentino says. “We don’t see a need to shove our beliefs down anyone’s throat.”

Fiorentino is a 1969 Kailua High School graduate who became a Krishna devotee during her freshman year at the University of Hawaii and has remained faithful ever since.

Once, she was among the Hare Krishna regulars chanting and seeking donations in downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. Since then, the popularity of the religion has grown in Russia, Australia and Japan but has declined in Hawaii and the rest of the United States.

With only seven devotees living in the mansion, Florentino says it’s difficult to round up enough followers to do “congregational chanting” which she says is an important part of their practice.

She estimates there is a total of 500 devotees who still practice in the islands. That’s about half the number of the faithful who were here when the religion flourished in the 1970s.

Florentino says nowadays more non-believers than Krishna followers come to the restaurant to eat. She calls them “the lunch crowd from downtown, primarily interested in inexpensive food, easy access and ample parking.”

Florentino says many of the regulars are families with children who like relaxing over lunch while their children play in the garden as well as people wanting to eat a lot of food.

Some regulars eat so much, she says, that the temple soon will raise the lunch price to $13 for the first plate and $5 for each additional plate or offer diners the option of paying $8.99 for each pound of food.

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