Friday, September 16, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: Why Eating Local Matters

Happy Friday!  I am more than halfway through the 2-week Locavore Challenge, and having a blast!  After-work commitments and activities are starting up again in my life (happy fall!), which makes dinner a little trickier, but I'm making it work.  This weekend is going to be a big one in terms of food-related activities, including the Slow Food $5 Challenge tomorrow.  We're having a few friends over for dinner to show that great food doesn't have to break the bank.  We'll also be volunteering early tomorrow morning at the Slow Food Chicago booth at the Green City Market - stop by and say hi between 8 and 10:30!

This week, I wanted to utilize my quick takes to talk about reasons why eating local is important to me, and should be important to you.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it touches on the basics: local food is more nutritious, pleasurable and ethical.  Let me explain...


Local food tends to be more nutritious than conventionally grown supermarket produce.  Most of the varieties of produce found in supermarkets have been chosen for specific genetic traits: they grow to maturity quickly, bear lots of fruit, and can withstand the sometimes global journey to the supermarket.  Farmers that plan to market to a local customer base can select varieties for reasons like superior taste and nutrition, rather than durability.  They also tend to use farming practices that maintain the micronutrient content in the soil, which translates into more nutritious produce as well.  The produce you buy at the farmers' market has usually been harvested within 24 hours before purchase, whereas supermarket produce might take a week or more to get from the farm to your grocery cart.  All of that time (and any additional processing - even slicing!) contributes to nutrient loss as well.


Another thing about travel: it doesn't just cost nutrients, it costs precious fuel!  Think of the difference in the amount of energy consumed and pollution created!  When you buy local, your carbon footprint is drastically reduced.

Image from
Like I said in #1, smaller farms tend to use better farming practices.  While commercial farms use petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides to grow giant fields of monoculture crops (and contaminate nearby water sources), smaller farms use methods that improve the soil; fertilizing with composted manure, planting cover crops, and planting a variety of different plants.  These methods also improve the nutritional profile of plants grown in this soil.
Buying locally grown food supports the local economy and provides a better income for farmers!  Farmers take home about 90 cents of every dollar spent at the local farmers' market.  Of every dollar spent at a grocery store, the farmer only sees about 21 cents.  Think about this: without farmers, where would we be?  They should be duly compensated.


Local food tastes better.  It's fresher, and it tastes better.


Cooking with local food is more fun!  If you're going to eat locally, that means you're also going to be eating seasonally.  I find this to be an infinitely exciting prospect.  Variety is so important in food; it helps you to get a full range of nutrition, and keeps you from getting bored!  And the anticipation of seasonal things like rhubarb, peas, strawberries, tomatoes, and peaches makes eating them in season so delightful.  There are also more varieties available locally - when farmers aren't concerned with supermarket demand for uniformity, they can grow unique heirloom varieties and educate us about them!

Image from Roland Bello
Eating locally brings people closer together.  In an age when people are constantly distanced from each other through various forms of social media, local food brings us together in a very basic way.  It brings us close to the very people who woke up before dawn and assumed great risk and worked hard in order to grow our food, allows us to see their faces, gives us an opportunity to talk with them, smile at them, and thank them.  It brings us together in our kitchens and at our tables as we prepare and eat food, connect with each other, and rejoice in the amazing gift that good food is.

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