Cooking Recipes

Hide
Show

In her 2007 memoir “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” Barbara Kingsolver drew attention to local eating by suggesting that if every American ate just one meal a week composed of local and organic ingredients, we could reduce our country’s weekly oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels. A few years earlier, journalist and activist Michael Pollan offered support to the relatively new concept of organic and local eating in his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by encouraging Americans to give a moment of thought to what we eat and where our food comes from. Since that time, economic difficulties and growing concerns about fossil fuels and climate change have cast new light on the subject of local eating, and a wealth of new studies and publications have provided growing evidence for the environmental and health benefits of choosing local food.

Many of us have long since learned that our lifestyle decisions can have a lasting impact on our health, our communities and the environment overall. Eating involves choices that we make several times a day, every day. So in the interest of making our resources last and taking care of ourselves and others, there may be no better place to start than at the dinner table.

What Is Local Eating, and How Does Local Food Differ from Organic Food?

When applied to foods, the word “organic” means grown and harvested without the use of potentially toxic chemicals, like pesticides and injectable hormones.

The term “organic” means different things to different people. It may be applied to foods grown in a rigorously chemical-free environment, or it may suggest loose standards of cultivation–but in either case, it refers to methods of cultivation and harvesting.

Not to be confused with organic food, local food items are those that have been grown and processed within a limited geographical area. A local tomato purchased at a neighborhood market was presumably grown only a few miles away. However, not all local food is classified as organic–even vegetables grown in your own backyard may not be classified as organic if you’re using chemical pesticides.

The Benefits of Local Eating

The difference between the local tomato and the non-local tomato on the shelf beside it may not seem obvious. Unlike organic foods, local food may not be distinguished by its chemical composition. To understand the immediate benefits of the decision to eat locally, it’s necessary to take a closer look at the methods and fuels used to bring a tomato from farm to shelf.

To make that journey, some of our produce travels for hours or days. Consider a handful of berries from Argentina and the jet fuel used to carry them from another hemisphere. When we try to trace the branching effects of the decisions we make throughout the day, following gallons of jet fuel back to its origins–where was it drawn from the earth? By what methods? Who did it, how much were they paid, and where did that money come from?–can be far more difficult than following berries or tomatoes back to a farm down the road.

Since packaging, shelf life and travel are rarely an issue for local food, these fruits and vegetables are usually grown with qualities in mind like flavor, juiciness and size. Non-local growers must often push these priorities aside in order to produce foods that can withstand long hours and days of travel. The result may be admirably hearty and enduring, but not very nutritious or tasty.

Making the decision to eat local food also keeps money circulating within a local economy. Just like patronizing any other neighborhood business, deciding to eat locally and pay for food grown at home keeps our farms healthy and our communities diverse and strong.

 Posted on : September 18, 2013