Move over, organic. The new buzz in food circles is “eat local.” Wondering why you should care where your food comes from?
To start with the obvious: it’s the taste, silly. There’s an old New England saying that one should put the water on to boil before picking the corn. Produce in a chain grocery has usually been picked before its time and shipped around the world, then left sitting in cold storage until the store has space for it. A farmer who’s planning to sell his peaches locally lets them ripen on the vine until they’re perfectly sweet and juicy – way too fragile to survive transport across the country, but perfect for immediate consumption. And, by the way, fresh veggies are more nutritious than their stale counterparts; vitamin content starts deteriorating as soon as they’re plucked. When they sell to individuals rather than chain stores, farmers are also free to experiment with niche crops like heirloom tomatoes and aesthetically unpleasing but delicious apples.
Second, when you shop at locally owned farms and shops, your money stays in the community. Not only do local farmers keep a much larger share of the profits when you cut out the middleman, but you also enable them to maintain open space that might otherwise be developed.
That brings us to our next point: it’s better for the planet. The truth is, when you buy organic raspberries flown in from Chile, the environmental damage from the fuel consumption outweighs the benefits of eliminating pesticides. Besides, food grown for local consumption doesn’t need as much fungicide and artificial ripener as mainstream produce. Experts say there may also be less risk of contamination and even bio-terrorism with locally grown foods.
Finally, there’s a lesson for kids in knowing where their food comes from and in eating in season. When they meet the bakers and farmers who made their food or scrub the dirt off fresh veggies, they’re more likely to try something new. (Did we mention that Cheetos, Coke, and Twinkies probably aren’t local products?) And by buying in season and cutting out the middleman, you’ll save money.
Easier said than done? Farmers’ markets are sprouting up all over the country, selling everything from locally made cheeses to freshly caught fish. In many families, an expedition to the U-Pick Farm is a beloved tradition. Your grocer may already label some products as local, and if you garden, you’ll grow the freshest produce of all. Don’t have time? Try signing up with a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): a local farm will deliver boxes of produce right to your door for a moderate fee. To find a market near you, try www.localharvest.org.
One of the downsides of eating locally is that you won’t find peaches in December or wild salmon in February. There’s an easy fix; can, dry, and freeze your finds while they’re at the peak of freshness and flavor, and you’ll be able to enjoy them year round.