Whenever I can, I choose to shop independent businesses. They are just more inspiring, creative, fun and local. I wrote about the benefits of shopping locally in an article this past July. And now, even though farmers’ market season comes to a close in the next month or so (at least for us in the North), there is still time to advocate for the Eat Local cause. That goes for restaurants, of course, but here I’m mainly speaking about food shopping. Locally grown stuff.
I’m sure you’ve noticed. There is a whole Locavore (or Localvore) movement going on. A locavore is someone who makes an effort to eat foods that are grown and harvested locally. And locally, in this case, means about 100 miles. Of course, being a locavore for fresh produce is easier done year round if you live, say, in California as opposed to Vermont but still, there area good 6 months out of the year when we can all participate.
Why eat locally? The considerations range from for political to environmental, economic and health reasons. For example:
Long distance shipping: Food in most supermarkets has traveled many, many miles. This has pollution and ecological consequences: The World Watch reports that the ingredients typically travel between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers, a 25 percent increase from 1980 alone. This average meal uses up to 17 times more petroleum products, and increases carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount, compared to an entirely local meal (source).
Loss to local farmers and producers: of course, all this imported consumption means that we are not supporting our local farmers.
Know where our food comes from: Going to your local farmer’s market means that we can choose food from farmers who employ more sustainable agriculture process, i.e. no toxic fertilizers or pesticides, hormones & antibiotics, has not been irradiated or genetically modified. We cannot be assured of the quality of the food produced by Big Agra in remote areas or even close to home. The recent contaminated egg scandal and that of tomatoes and spinach of some time ago come to mind…
Better tasting food as opposed to seasonless produce now available in all grocery chains. Strawberries the size of kiwis in January? No problem. But what do they taste like? What made them get that big and look so “perfect”?
Connect with your community: I love the community feel of the farmers’ market. I can’t even recall how many great exchanges I have had with the vendors and other customers. Recipe and preparation advise mostly, from like-minded people who are passionate about what they put on their plate.
Connect with your food: Personally, I love carving out the imperfections out of my tomatoes or other produce. It makes them feel more real and I’m not taking them for granted. And I know that they will taste like tomatoes should taste. Real. We asked one farmer how come his organic produce looked so great. He said he just brought the good stuff, as he shares about half of his crop with “them”. Who? The bugs, that got into the rest it. It’s a labor of love and I have great respect for it. Also, it’s a great idea to bring small children along to the farmers’ market. Have them talk to the farmers who will be more than happy to tell them how the peaches and pepper and onions are grown. Even better, get the kids to a farm to pick their own fruits & veggies in season. They’ll have a much better appreciation for the bounty on their plate after that.
If you want more reasons to Eat Local, you will want to read John Ikerd’s fantastic article on the subject “Eating Local: A Matter of Integrity”. Here’s an excerpt:
The new American food culture values quality; its members demand that their food to be safe, wholesome, attractive, and flavorful; they don’t take these things for granted. They also want their food to be produced in ways that respects people – including farmers and workers in the food system, as well food consumers. And, they want their food produced in ways that respect the natural environment. They also expect food to be reasonably priced, but price is not the determining factor in their purchase decisions. They want food that reflects their preferred lifestyles and values. They want food with integrity. They are willing to compromise, at least to some extent, on cosmetic appearance, convenience, preparation time, and price in order to ensure the overall integrity of their food.
For inspiration to try an Eat Local exercise, here are some simple and very do-able ideas (adapted from Upper Valley Localvores website):
Shop at farm stands and farmers markets in season and at stores that support local producers
Add one new local food to your repertoire, like cider, eggs or dairy from a local farm
Experiment with substituting local ingredients, such as maple syrup and honey in place of sugar
Make a complete meal from local ingredients
Host a potluck, inviting guests to contribute a dish prepared from local ingredients. Have guests introduce their contribution, naming the sources for the local ingredients
Commit to eating one local meal per day or per week
Commit to eating foods grown within a 50, 100, or 150 mile radius for a week, a month, a year — maybe allowing for wild cards for nonlocal treats such as coffee, tea, spices, peanut butter, olive oil, chocolate.
And let me leave with this helpful map of the US that shows you what produce items are in season in which area and will refer to local Farmers’ Markets. In October, I will look forward to apples, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, lettuce, okra, onions, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, rhubarb, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and turnips.
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