Becoming a “Locavore”
At the Farmers’ Market this weekend, I was talking to one of the regulars about his diet. He said he was a “localvore”, a term I hadn’t heard before. Though I grab a loaf of bread and some apples from time to time, I never used to do the bulk of my shopping at the Farmers’ Market- I don’t get to call myself a locavore. Why not?
First of all, what is a locavore?
Locavore (the officially dictionary term, also known as “localvore”) is a way of eating within your own community, promoting the local economy, protecting the environment, and eating food at it’s peak of flavor and nutrition. The term was advertised in a June 2006 issue of time magazine. The article, “The Lure of the 100 Mile Diet” described a month long local food challenge where all food comes from a 100 mile radius for one entire month. More on that here.
Why would I avoid foods from afar?
Foods from the supermarket have often been shipped as far as 1,500 miles to make it into your grocery cart. The pink lady apples on special this week at my market are from Chile. The catfish from Asia, the grass fed beef from Iowa, and even the winter squash were from afar. When produce is picked from the tree, ground, or vine the nutrients immediately begin to deplete. Julie from Savvy Eats talked about this in her brain food post yesterday. She pointed out that produce frozen fresh can have as much as 60% more nutrients than “fresh” fruits or vegetables that are consumed much longer after they’re picked.
As fresh food ages, the flavor and texture is also lost. Have you ever tried to snap a two week old carrot? How about bite into a mealy apple? To prevent the rapid deterioration of produce, many industrial farms genetically modify their plants or breed long lasting produce, trading off nutrition in the process.
Produce of ANY kind is good for the body, mind and soul. You will never hear me say “because the apple isn’t local or isn’t organic it isn’t nutritious.” Local food may be more nutritious or flavorful, but it isn’t the only way to eat.
How does one become a locavore?
One step at a time. Search for a Farmers’ Market in your region, look for a co-op that supports local agriculture and search your zip code to find a local CSA participating farm. (More on that in another post!)
Start slowly. Farmers’ markets can be more expensive than super markets, but if you cut back on processed food and replace it with produce your grocery bill will even out. Replace a few things you buy weekly, like apples and milk, with local apples and milk. Reduce how much you buy from afar and increase what you bring home from the Farmers’ Market. Before you know it, you’ll be able to skip the grocery store for weeks at a time!
Local or organic?
Because organic food is grown without synthetic fertilizers it is often more nutritious. Organic food also has the benefits of being healthier for the planet, and keeping toxins out of what you eat (in the form of pesticides.) But if you must choose between local food and organic food, I personally prefer local.
It’s more sustainable to eat within your own community and many smaller farms just haven’t filled out the USDA organic paperwork. If you’re concerned about the fertilizers and pesticides used, you can always ask the farmer at the Farmers’ Market: another benefit.
Is there a happy medium?
Yes! If you enjoy pineapple, go ahead and buy that pineapple! Don’t cut back on produce consumption just because you can’t find it locally, just try to shift to eating food that’s in season. When I was talking to Becca, she told me her favorite food was blueberries. But she refuses to buy them when they’re not in season because the taste is so compromised. Making efforts to “shift” your produce intake from grocery store to Farmers’ Market, from imported to seasonal can benefit your health and surely your taste buds!
But, as a future food scientist I certainly believe there is a place for food science! Food science can teach you how to enhance nature’s flavors, or how to make the nutrition most accessible. It can teach you what fruits can replace each other in recipes, or how to freeze vegetables correctly. I think even reductionist science has a place. (more on this in another post.)
I plan on doing much more of my shopping at the Farmers’ Market every week and beginning a CSA subscription soon. There is something to be said about the enjoyment of fresh food right from the source. The apple farmer at my Farmers’ Market cuts each variety open so everyone can taste to find exactly what they want. The garlic I bought this week is so aromatic and flavorful that I have to keep it in a separate cabinet. In my personal opinion, knowing the farmer makes all their food more enjoyable.
[Edited to add] Savvy Eat’s Top Five Reasons To Buy Local
How about you? Have you ever eaten local food? Does you community have a Farmers’ Market? Do you think it’s worth the extra $.25- $.50/ lb to support sustainability?