It’s Healthier for You and Better for the Environment
Discover why it’s important to buy
local food, the health benefits of eating locally grown produce, and why
choosing local food benefits the environment.
Have you wondered why it’s important
to buy local food?
Local food is now a mainstream trend,
with more and more people seeking out fresh, local options for produce and
other foods. And more restaurants are sourcing locally grown ingredients as
well, often using the term farm-to-table.
But what is “local” food? How big of
an impact does eating local food have on your health and the planet? And why is
it important to know more about where your food comes from?
What Is Local
Food and Why Should You Care?
There’s no formal definition of the
term local food. But one common definition of “local” food is food grown within
100 miles of its point of sale or consumption.
But it’s up to you to decide what
buying local food means to you. Maybe it means foods grown and produced in your
state or your region. Or maybe it means that it comes from farmers you know and
can talk to — for example, at a farmer’s market or through a CSA. And for some
people, “local” is more about the values of small-scale and community-based than
about a specific geographic configuration.
More and more people want to know
where their food comes from and the farming practices of the farmers that grow
and produce it. And this is important for many reasons:
helps you develop a connection with food.
become more aware of what you’re putting in your body.
vote every time you shop, and with knowledge comes the ability to support foods
and growers you believe in.
Why Buy Local
Food? For One Thing, It May Be Better for Your Health
Local food can be better for your
health for a few reasons. To begin with, local foods often retain more
nutrients. Local produce is allowed to ripen naturally, while food
that travels long distances is often picked before it’s ripe. And food picked
fresh and in season doesn’t have far to travel before being sold.
Choosing fruits and vegetables
grown in season may also be healthier. When researchers at Montclair State
University compared the vitamin C content of broccoli grown in
season with broccoli imported out of season, they found the latter had only
half the vitamin C.
Another study published
in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that
the levels of health-promoting anthocyanin pigments more than quadrupled as
blackberries became fully ripe.
In addition, locally grown
produce may be safer. When they are imported and out of season, fruits
like tomatoes, bananas, and pears are often picked unripe. And then, they are
artificially “ripened” with ethylene gas.
Also, foods from local growers
may contain less (or no) pesticides. Farmers have to pay an extra fee to
become certified organic. Some small-scale farmers use organic methods but
aren’t certified because they simply aren’t big enough to be able to afford the
certification fees. Even if they aren’t organic, small farmers tend to use
fewer chemicals than large, industrialized farms.
If you can, talk to your farmers at
your local market and ask them what (if any) pesticides they use. And be sure
to wash your produce thoroughly to reduce your exposure to
pesticides — which is especially important for pregnant women and children.
Why Buy Local
Food? It Can Be Better for the Environment
Food is one of the leading drivers of
Eating more local food reduces CO2
emissions by reducing
food miles — the distance food travels from farm to consumer. The average piece
of produce in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles, while local food may only travel
100 miles (or less), according to researcher Rich Pirog at the
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.
Local food helps preserve green space. When local farmers are well
compensated for their products, they are less likely to sell their land to
developers. Likewise, with growing consumer demand, young farmers are
increasingly likely to enter the marketplace by developing unused space, such
as empty lots, into thriving urban gardens — many of which are grown
Eating more local food can be one part
of the solution. But, local is not the whole picture of food
sustainability. The impact our food choices have on the environment
includes many factors.
In some cases, food produced farther
away may be more sustainable if it’s grown more responsibly, if it carries a
smaller ecological footprint, or if it’s in season.
Choosing more plant-based
foods is an important part of the equation as well. If you want to eat
a more sustainable diet, look for foods that are local, organic, and low on the
food chain. The higher the percentage of your protein intake that comes from
plant foods, the more earth-friendly and healthful your diet will be.
Other Reasons Why
It’s Important to Buy Local Foods
Health and sustainability are two excellent
reasons to eat more local food. But they’re not the only reasons. Here are some
surprising, and not-so-surprising, benefits:
food tastes better –
When food is picked and eaten at the peak of freshness, it not only retains
more nutrients, it also tastes better.
local farms offer more variety. Our industrial agricultural system uses
a monocrop system. But smaller, organic farmers may grow a variety of organic
and heirloom produce, which you might not find at the supermarket.
local food aids your local economy. By choosing food produced locally,
you’re supporting your community, and you help keep local producers in
food creates community and connection. In our increasingly online and isolated
world, loneliness is a growing problem. Getting to know your local food
producers counteracts this trend. And doing so can help you build meaningful