A recent survey by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture found that more than two-thirds of respondents "somewhat” or "strongly” agreed that local food is better for their health than food that has traveled cross-country. Eating locally grown foods has become the latest trend in our battle to eat better and live healthier lives. So, what is this movement all about? Read on.
•What is the concept of eating locally grown?
Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest.org, says, "‘Eating local' means different things to different people, depending on how ‘local' is defined.” Some define "locally grown” as within a 100-mile radius of where they live. But the overarching concept is that you buy and eat foods produced close to home. "You might be able to get eggs raised just five miles down the road but cheese from the state next to yours. Both choices take the food's geographical origins into account, and that is the decision-making tool at the heart of eating locally grown,” Barnett said.
Why buy local? "It often means getting fresher food,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., senior scientist and policy analyst at the nonprofit Consumers Union. The main reason, Rangan said, is that it hasn't been trucked thousands of miles so there's less time for food to spoil.
"But there are even more advantages to local food production. It saves on gasoline and reduces pollution from transporting food (which can help reduce global warming), and, in many cases, it supports smaller-scale farmers,” Rangan said. So, basically, eating locally grown supports the local economy; you eat fresher, less-processed foods, think about your food more, get to know your local growers and help the environment — not bad.
•Is it difficult to eat locally grown foods?
"Variety and balance are two key elements of a healthy diet. Trying to eat 100 percent local is difficult, impractical and can limit or eliminate some whole nutritious foods,” said Laura Pensiero, R.D., a chef and nutritionist in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Her approach: Eat local when possible.
•Is it easier to buy locally grown foods in particular areas?
"Certainly it is easier to buy fresh local produce in areas of the country with long growing seasons. But even in your region's off-season, you may find an excellent variety of pasture-raised meats or milk from family-owned dairies, or honey, or particular nuts, or seafood,” Barnett said. Also, there are many crops that can be stored and/or grown in winter.
•Are there studies that show that locally grown foods are more nutritious?
"Not exactly, as a study like that would be difficult to do. Absolute nutrient content has so many variables, such as soil fertility, ripening times, etc.,” Rangan said. However, research does show that produce picked at its peak has the highest nutrient content. Once picked, fresh produce will gradually start to degrade, she said.
•Isn't eating local restrictive, repetitive and boring?
Not necessarily. Rangan said the varieties of any one kind of local produce can be even more diverse than what you would find at a typical supermarket. In fact, "People who buy at the supermarket get the same selection day in, day out, 365 days a year.