The Benefits of Eating Local Food
The buy local movement has grown tremendously in recent years and with good reason, the benefits of eating local food are plenty; from nutrition to environmental and community reasons, now more than ever it is important to support your local farmer.
If you follow me on Instagram, follow me on Facebook, or have ever seen me at my local farmer’s market, you know how important shopping and eating local are to me. As a nutritionist, I get a ton of questions on different topics, be it supplements, post-workout snacks, nutrient timing, or the latest fad diet, and although all of this might be informative, when it comes to eating well nothing is more important than the quality of the food we eat. The foundation of any good diet, no matter what the goal is, is determined by the of the food you eat. Whether you are trying to lose weight, increase energy, train for a marathon, or simply looking to eat a little better, nothing will have more impact on your goal than the quality of the food you consume.
Although I wasn’t always one for shopping local and visiting the farmers market, the more I learned about nutrition and the more I understood how the food I eat impacts my body, the more I truly cared about where it came from and how it got to my plate. Eating whole foods it wonderful, and I will never knock anyone for doing so, but there is a big difference between the apple grown down the street and the orange flown in from across the world. To me, the benefits of eating local food will trump any powder, supplement, or organic ingredient you will ever use, and here are the reasons why.
The Benefits of Eating Local Food
1. 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 travelled still has nutritional value, but the fresher the fruit or vegetable the more nutrient dense it will be. So although the apples flown in from Argentina might look great on the grocery store shelf, the ones from the local farm are far fresher and better for you.
2. 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 provides the ideal foods for our body’s natural needs based on our geographic location.
3. 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. How often do you eat garlic scapes, kohlrabi or kobocha squash? Whether you chose to visit your local farmers market or join a CSA, eating seasonally forces you to try to foods and be more creative in the kitchen.
4. 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.
If you choose not to personally grow, harvest or raise your own food, you vote with your dollar every single time you buy your groceries or shop for food.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Gives power to the consumer.
People have very strong opinions about the state of our food and agriculture systems, be it positive or negative, but the reality is that as a consumer you have a choice. If you choose not to grow, harvest and raise your own food, you vote with your dollar every single time you buy food. So, if you buy processed foods or imported foods you are creating more demand for these products. In contrast, if you buy local and demand local foods at your local grocery store, you are creating a very different and important demand. Every time you buy from a local farmer you have an opportunity to ask questions, learn about their farming practices and gain a better understanding of your food.
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.