Fifty years ago, it was a rare treat to see foods like kiwis, coconuts, or mangos in the grocery store. Foods were grown and eaten more seasonally and locally then. However, with the global economy of today, many people can purchase any food they like, at any time of the year, and in most any part of the world. While there’s a lot to be said for convenience, the flip side of this convenience could be harming your body and the environment.
The good news is that eating locally has a host of benefits to you as well as to the planet. And with farmers markets cropping up everywhere these days, it’s easier than ever to eat locally and seasonally when it comes to produce, meats, eggs, and even foods like artisan breads, cheeses, and honey. Here are some compelling reasons to eat locally to nourish yourself and the environment.
How Sustainable Is Your Food?
Let’s take a look at the carbon footprint of your food. The average meal travels 1,500 miles from where it was grown to your plate. According to Michael Pollan, “It takes 56 calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver 1 calorie of food energy to your plate.”
Food that’s grown and produced locally travels a shorter distance and doesn’t burn as much fossil fuel as food traveling to you via airplanes, ships, and trucks. Local farmers and artisan foodies also tend to be small, conscious organizations that use less fossil fuel in the manufacturing processes and production of the food. So locally grown food typically has a smaller carbon footprint.
What about bananas, coffee, or chocolate that may not grow in your local area? How can you live without those things? In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, author Barbara Kingsolver chronicles a year in which she and her family ate as locally as possible, buying everything from within a 50-mile radius of their home. They were each allowed one “splurge” item that came from afar as long as they were fair-trade. Her husband chose coffee; one daughter chose bananas; and another one chocolate. While this may not be a practical solution for everyone, it does remind us that we can make conscious choices about what to purchase based on how far something has traveled, and how it’s been grown and harvested. Next time you purchase something that traveled a long distance, consider if you really need to buy it. Or at least try to ensure it’s fair-trade certified, meaning the growers and pickers were paid a fair wage.
What About Organic?
Researchers at Newcastle University in the UK published a study in the July 2014 British Journal of Nutrition indicating definite nutritional benefits from eating organic produce, saying “Switching to organic crop consumption is equivalent to eating one or two additional portions of fruit or vegetables per day.” And “The quality of food is directly influenced by the way it is produced.”
That being said, it can be cost prohibitive for small, local farmers to become “certified organic.” While not all local farmers are certified organic, most are pesticide- and toxin-free. And they also tend to take great care of their soil so it’s likely richer in nutrients, even if not certified organic. When you’re at your local farmers market, talk to the growers and ask them about pesticides and toxins. Many will have signs saying “pesticide free.”
Eat Local to Save the Honeybees
American honeybee colonies have been dying at a rate of about 30 percent per year, every year, since 2006. The decline of the honeybees could be detrimental to the planet and humans as a species. Without honey bees plants can’t be pollinated and grow. Sadly, increasing evidence shows that the use of pesticides is killing off the honeybees. Luckily, local farmers are realizing they need honeybees for their crops to survive.
Most small, local farmers don’t use pesticides and many are even starting to keep beehives on their farms to help repopulate the honeybees. That means you’re often able to find delicious, local organic honey at farmers markets as well.
Eat Seasonally for Your Health
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine recommends eating foods that are in season. By eating locally you’re also more likely to eat seasonally as well, meaning you eat things that are in season and grow naturally in your particular climate. When you eat locally, you nourish your body with foods that are in season, which helps to warm you in the winter and cool you in the summer. This would include grounding, root vegetables in the fall and winter, and lighter, cooler fruits and vegetables in the summer.
Eating seasonally will also provide you with a healthy rainbow of colors to eat. From yellow squash to orange carrots, red tomatoes to green beans, blueberries to pink watermelons, aiming to eat every color of the rainbow in each meal makes for a healthier you.
Energetics of Food
Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine both advocate that the energy of a food can affect the energy of the person eating that food. If you eat a food that’s mass-produced in a conventional, large agribusiness facility, it will have a different energy to it than something that was locally grown and harvested by hand on a family farm. Because we’re all made of energy, our own health and wellness can be affected positively or adversely by the energy of the plants and animals we consume.
Eating Local Fosters a Sense of Community
There’s also some belief that eating locally is more nourishing to your body because the foods take in the same water and air that you do, which is more symbiotic to your body. While the science behind that idea can be debated, there is evidence to show the health benefits of being part of a community. And a weekly shopping trip to your local farmers market can provide just that sense of community, as well as keep you in touch with where your food actually comes from. You’re likely to see and talk with the same growers and artisan foodies each time you go. As you get to know them, you start to realize that shopping locally provides socioeconomic benefits to small, local farmers and the region, and that will make you feel good as well.
Shopping at local food co-ops also helps to ensure the food dollars you spend stay within your community where you can actually see the benefits. As an added bonus, you may even run into friends and neighbors shopping at the same farmers market or co-op each week.
Where to Buy Local
Many small towns have weekly farmers markets now, and larger cities sometimes have one market each day in a different neighborhood. In the U.S., LocalHarvest.org is a great online resource for finding local farmers markets, farms, shops, and restaurants that carry locally grown foods near you.