Expert Nutritionist- Saba Shaikh, Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
- What is Local Food?
There is no technical definition for local food. The general idea of eating locally is based on the following ideas:
- Eating food that was grown and/or produced within 100 miles of where you live
- Purchasing food directly from local growers with whom you interact
- Buying food from local farm stands/markets
- Growing/hunting/fishing your own food
With the increasing frequency of food imports and exports, an even broader idea of local eating may include:
- Food grown in your region
- Food grown in your country
As you can see, “eating local food” can mean many different things. It refers to both geographic proximity as well as a more direct relationship with producers (or becoming a producer yourself).
- Why eat “local”?
These are just a few of the numerous potential benefits of eating local:
- It’s good for the environment. Local food doesn’t have to travel as far to arrive on your plate, so it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to improving our carbon footprint.
- It benefits the local economy, including supporting local farmers and other producers.
- It encourages sustainable agriculture, and facilitates tracking the supply chain back to the point of origin to evaluate ecological practices.
- It may have a higher nutrient value, as food that is grown and harvested locally is usually given more time to ripen. This does not, however, automatically mean that local food is necessarily more nutritious, as other factors come into play. (1)
- Other Benefits:
Taste and nutrition
Two of the most important aspects of eating local food are improved taste and nutrition. Food grown locally typically tastes better, as it’s eaten soon after harvest. Local food is allowed to ripen on the plants and in the fields without additional chemical aid. Moreover, local food is harvested at the peak of the season, making it more nutritious. While someone may be expecting a wallop of vitamin C after eating an orange, that doesn’t always hold true. When a piece of fruit is harvested out of season and then shipped over many miles, the nutrient content deteriorates. Buying locally not only provides better tasting and more nutritious food, but allows individuals to enjoy seasonal food diversity.
There are several factors that influence the nutritive value of produce including crop variety, how it’s grown, and ripeness at harvest, storage, processing and packaging. Its vitamin and mineral content depends on the practices of people all along the line, from the seed to the table, whether or not produce is local or transported from a distance.
Produce such as broccoli, green beans, kale, red peppers, tomatoes, apricots and peaches are susceptible to nutrient loss when harvested and transported from longer distances, while those that are heartier such as apples, oranges, grapefruit and carrots keep their nutrients even if they travel long distances.
Local food is fresher
Local food is fresher, tastes better and is likely more nutritious. At a farmer’s market, most local produce has been picked within the last 24 hours, ensuring it is ripe and at its peak nutrient-density. In contrast, most supermarket produce was picked days or weeks prior to reaching the grocery store shelf. As soon as a food is harvested its nutrient content begins to deteriorate, specifically vitamins C, E, A and some B. Of course, produce that has traveled still has nutritional value, but the fresher the fruit or vegetable the more nutrient-dense it will be.
Supports your seasonal needs
When you eat locally, you eat with the seasons, and the cycle of seasonal produce is perfectly designed to support your health. If you get back to basics and consider how we ate before the modern grocery store, we simply ate what was available to us at that time of year. Eating seasonally is the most natural way to eat, and one of the most beneficial to our bodies. In the peak of summer, our bodies require cooling foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and berries to help us handle the elements, while in the dark and cold days of winter we need rich and warming high-fat foods, root vegetables, and fermented foods. Eating seasonally also helps to avoid eating the same thing all year round, which is less than ideal for your health. Our local seasons provide the ideal foods for our body’s natural needs based on our geographic location. (2)
Helps you discover new foods
Eating well can get boring if you stick to the basics; there are only so many times you can eat oatmeal for breakfast and chicken with broccoli for dinner. For instance, how many varieties of tomato can you find at your local grocery store? Maybe 3? Local farmers are keeping nearly 300 varieties of tomatoes alive every single year, leaving little room for boredom. (2,3)
Helps you eat mindfully
It’s easy to scarf down a microwavable meal when you know nothing about where it came from, who produced it, and how it got to your plate. However, when you shop locally you are more connected to the food you eat; knowing who produced it, what farm it came from, and exactly how it got from farm to fork. It’s the same way mom’s homemade tomato sauce evokes a very different feeling and connection than the stuff you grab at the drug store while buying your toothpaste. When it comes to eating mindfully, there are many more components than just what we are eating, the who, where, when, how and why are just as important, if not more. Shopping and eating locally make you more connected to your food and the impacts it has on your body.
Produces less waste
Because buying local shortens the distribution chain, forcing food directly from the farm to fork, less waste is produced in the process. Not only does buying local mean less packaging via transportation and shipping, but it also means less environmental waste from pollution and less food waste in the process as well. Buying a CSA from a local farm or shopping at the weekly farmer’s market means next to no food packaging at all, ensures food was moved directly from a local farm to you, minimising emissions and food waste in the process.
Supports local business
When you buy food in the grocery store most of the cost you incur goes to the transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration, and marketing of that food, and not necessarily to the farmers themselves. When you buy from a local farmer, farmers market, or local shop you are supporting your local community, and your money goes back into producing more local food for you.
Supports sustainable agriculture
Eating locally encourages diversification of local agriculture and crop variety. This, in turn, reduces the reliance on monoculture; single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils. The reality is that our food is only as nutrient-dense as the soil in which it is grown; although strawberries are known to contain high levels of vitamin C, these levels are heavily dependent on the quality of the soil in which they are grown, and their level of freshness.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of eating local food are endless, the greatest being the connection it gives you to your food. It’s scary to think how far removed we have become from our food; many of us eat foods never knowing if they grew from a plant, tree, shrub or bush. The more you eat locally the more you are able to reconnect with food and recognize the importance of real food and how it impacts your body. By supporting local farmers today, you are ensuring that there will be local farms in your community tomorrow, and that is something that we can all agree is important. (2)