Heading into the summer months is a great time to consider the benefits of eating local. We live in a time when most foods are available to us year-round. But does this benefit us? Let’s consider a few reasons why eating local is a great option for your health.
With the current food system, food can travel an average 1,500 miles before ever reaching your local grocery store. As well as the miles and time it takes to reach you, produce is often stored for weeks or months at a time. The cost of this type of system includes reduction of nutrients and impacts on the health of our environment.
Let’s take vitamin C for a nutrient example. Vitamin C is widely available in fruits and vegetables. Among its’ numerous functions, this nutrient works as an antioxidant and is necessary for production of collagen and making certain neurotransmitters. Vitamin C is also very susceptible to damage from heat, oxygen and storage over time. Vitamin C content in foods starts to decline as soon as it is harvested. Studies have shown vitamin C degradation can be as high as 55% within one week of harvest.
Storage is another issue. The average storage time for apples is 6-12 months, lettuce 1-4 weeks, carrots 1-9 months and tomatoes 1-6 weeks. So ‘fresh’ isn’t particularly fresh. Beyond the loss of nutrients, chemicals such as chlorine are often used to prepare produce for storage. To be able to store produce, many are picked before they are ripe. Gasses are used to ripen produce after transport or preservatives, irradiation or other methods are used to stabilize them for transport and sale.
Picking produce before it is ripe leads to a loss of taste and aroma. Additionally, studies have shown phytonutrients increase as produce ripens. So, that not-so-ripe container of strawberries may not offer as many health promoting compounds.
Shopping local has the advantage of supporting small farmers in the community; many of whom are producing food in a way that supports the environment rather than depleting its’ resources. It also leaves money in the local economy which benefits all of us. Local transportation also decreases the use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions.
Eating seasonally increases the odds of your produce being grown closer to home. So even if you are shopping in grocery stores, opt for seasonal items. Also, look for labels on produce that indicates where the produce originated. If you are interested in finding out more about what is in season in your area, check out – SeasonalFoodGuide.org
Ready to start? Discover ways to eat local.
Farmer’s markets: Farmer’s markets are a great way to start eating local. These markets offer a wide array of food items from farms within a short distance of where you live; from vegetables and fruits to meats, honey and eggs. These also often include food crafters offering locally made food items such as kombucha, salsas or other artisan foods.
CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): With this option, consumers buy shares of locally sourced, seasonal foods. Depending on the option chosen and availability this can go beyond produce to include items such as eggs or meats. Drop off sites are established within the region where you pick up your share.
Pick your own farms: These are more limited but can be a great way to spend part of your day picking items such as fresh berries. It is also a great way for kids and adults alike to learn more about how food is grown.
Community gardens: Would you like to give gardening a try but don’t have the option at your home? Community gardens are a great option for this. Renting a plot is a minimal commitment that can offer great rewards. Community gardens also allow for socialization as you meet other like-minded folks in your community. Additionally, community gardens in school settings often contribute produce to the school lunch programs so you are contributing the health of children as well.
Container gardens: Small space, no problem. If you have a sunny balcony or small patio, growing some vegetables in pots is a great option. Spring lettuce mixes, patio tomato plants, peppers, and herbs are all good options that grow well in containers. Even a sunny window inside will do for items such as herbs.
What’s in season?
For much of the country, it is asparagus season! Enjoy this simple powerhouse recipe below.
· Arrange asparagus in a single layer on baking sheet; lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400° for 8-12 minutes or until tender (depending on width of spears).
· Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat; cook for 3 minutes or until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally. If you are using another oil, skip the browning step and just warm/melt the oil. Remove from heat; stir in tamari/coconut aminos and vinegar. Drizzle over asparagus, tossing well to coat. Serve immediately.