What does eating local mean to you? I picture farmer's markets with fresh produce and homemade goods driven from a farm no more than a few hours away. I posed this same question to my mother and grandmother. For my mother, local is picking vegetables and herbs from her garden as needed. My grandmother who lives in a small Asian coastal town believes local means seaweed harvested and fish caught within hours of appearing at her morning market. While my idea of local produce is still not as fresh as that of my mother or grandmother, there are many advantages of buying locally.
1) Better taste. Local varieties do not need to be selected as much for shelf-life and durability and can be chosen more for taste. This produce also does not have to be picked as early and has more time to ripen naturally allowing the fruits and vegetables to become more flavorful. In addition, the produce reaches your dinner plate more quickly which is important for many food items. For example, fresh picked corn begins to lose its sweetness within the first twenty-four hours. The faster it gets to you, the better it tastes. In fact, there is a whole field of study known as food science where researchers try to determine the best methods to preserve the fresh flavor of fruits and vegetables.
2) More nutrition. In general, when produce has more time to ripen, fruits and vegetables also have more vitamins and minerals. For example, ripe apples and pears have a higher concentration of antioxidants which can help fight cancer. Ripe red or yellow bell peppers may have two to four times as much vitamin C as green bell peppers.
3) Less energy consumption. Local produce does not travel as far, requiring less gas than food that earns frequent flier miles. Produce that is shipped long distances also usually requires more packaging to preserve freshness and prevent damage. Less gas usage and packaging also means less pollution entering the environment.
4) More support for local economy. Buying local puts money back into the hands of our local farmers and allows them to continue providing such fresh produce. Large and international corporations may be able to provide these products at cheaper prices, but small local farmers can provide better quality.
In short, eating local is a tastier, healthier and more sustainable way of life. It is better for our bodies, our planet, and our future. Whether eating local means having your own garden, shopping at a farmer's market, or buying milk from a local farm at your nearest grocery store, simply paying attention to where your food is coming from is an important first step.
Published On: December 10, 2008