Monthly Archives: July 2016

Eat Local, Eat Fresh

Every time you grocery shop, you have an opportunity to do great things for your body. You buy the highest quality food you can afford, you pick through the produce to find the freshest stuff, and you try to buy organic. Great. Except that most of the stuff you get from the grocery store is not the best stuff – although it’s priced like it is.

Yeah, it might look pretty good, but that meat only looks bright red because it’s been dyed or irradiated to react well under the fluorescent lights – that’s why when you open the package and turn over your steak, it suddenly looks brownish. They do that because the meat is generally trucked in from far away, and they have to keep it looking fresh somehow, or nobody would buy it. That’s also why they pick produce before its fully ripe – it has to survive a week in the back of a truck without going moldy. The result is a product with lackluster taste and a too-firm texture.

Even if you don’t care about the environmental impact, irradiation, GMOs, etc., you should still care about getting great-tasting food for your hard-earned money. Especially as food prices are set to rise – in some cases, triple – in 2013. The solution is to eat locally-grown food.

You usually won’t find it in the supermarket – ironically, Florida grocery stores sell oranges from South Africa and limes from Peru, and similar shenanigans go on in your state. No, you have to look outside the big box store to find the best food for your money.

CSAs

Community Supported Agriculture is your best bet for a steady supply of fresh foods. What happens is this: local farms sell shares in their upcoming crop, and the holder of a share is guaranteed a big box of that crop weekly for however long the term lasts. Your share will vary throughout the year as various things come into season, and there’s usually a pretty nice variety.

The websites for these farms usually list an example of the typical share so you know what to expect. Fruits and vegetables are most common, but some farms offer meats and dairy as well. Check the Local Harvest website to find participating farms in your area. Share prices vary, but most farms offer the option of a half-share so you don’t end up with more food than you can handle.

Meat Shares

So there’s a rancher down the road with beautiful grass-fed cows. Great. Chances are, though, he won’t just sell you a single Ribeye. Smaller farms generally sell meat by the whole, half or quarter animal – that can be an awful lot of meat. If you have a deep freezer and a spare $2,000, this may not be a problem – but if storage or cost is an issue for you, consider a meat share.

A meat share is basically a group of people who get together to split the cost of a whole cow or pig, and divide the meat equally. It’s best to do this with people you know, because money will exchange hands and you have to trust them to not take all the steaks and leave you with the organs (unless you like that kind of thing), but there are options. Some farms organize meat shares themselves, and all you have to do is sign up for however much you want and pay – in some cases, you can even choose your desired cuts. Some CSAs that offer meat do this, or they may offer a separate meat and dairy membership. If all else fails, try Craigslist or your favorite foodie forum for volunteers.

Farmer’s Markets

True farmer’s markets are great because you don’t have to make the long-term commitment of a CSA, and you can just go pick up what you need for a couple of days instead of buying a huge amount of food at once. But make sure the food is actually local – there are open-air markets that call themselves “farmers’ markets” but they actually sell trucked-in grocery store rejects.

If there are no farmers’ markets near you, check your city’s Chamber of Commerce website’s local calendar to see if there’s a weekly green market. These affairs are usually held in open public spaces, usually early weekend mornings. The selection may be limited, but what you do find is often very high quality. Always ask if the food is local though, because there usually isn’t a law that says it has to be.

Garden Swap

If you enjoy gardening, try growing as much produce as you can. Make friends with other like-minded individuals, and you can trade wares at harvest time. This can be great for those with limited space – you only have room for an herb garden, but the guy down the street with the beautiful heirloom tomatoes might be willing to trade for a bunch of fresh tarragon. Never hurts to ask. Some neighborhoods have community gardens that operate like a mini-CSA, where everyone gets a share of the crop – as long as they put in their share of the work. For bonus points, try starting one of these in your neighborhood.

Buying local doesn’t have to mean buying expensive. In many cases, it’s actually cheaper because of the lower transportation costs. It may mean sticking to foods that are in season (no strawberries in February), but once you get used to just-picked produce, you’ll feel spoiled rather than deprived.

The Concept of Local Food

Technically speaking, local food refers to regionally or locally produced food. Buying food products from mass scale producers is one thing, but in recent years we have seen a major awareness and local food movement to give more importance to locally manufactured food products. This movement lays importance on economic and environmental benefits associated with local food as well as its general health benefits to the consumers.

Buying from Local Markets
Believe it or not, transportation distance for local food is on an average 1500 miles lesser than the distance crossed by food products from mass scale producers. Farmers and local producers are now encouraged to sell their produce in large quantities directly to big supermarket chains or these products are made available on retail basis in many smaller outlets as well. At other times, one can see a steep rise in farm sales with fresh vegetables, grains, fruits, eggs etc sold by farmers in outlets adjoining their own farms or poultry. One of the most popular variety of foods available in local foods includes organic food products, organic dairy products, organic poultry, organic meat and fish, etc.

Economic Benefits of Local Food
Buying and selling of local food is beneficial not only to the producers and buyers but also for the nation as a whole. With a rise in local food movement, there is a sharp rise in demand for organic food products. The total sales doubled in a span of 4 years from $3 billion to approximately $6 billion by the end of 2006. This gives an assurance of ready markets to the local producers. Local food manufacturers have reported that selling their produce to local supermarkets is more viable than selling products to local farmer markets. Similarly local food purchases happen to be cheaper because there is slashing of expenditure on transportation and warehousing. As far as the national economy is concerned, there has always been an impetus to local food markets since it helps to curtail the drainage of cash reserves on account of import payments. By year 2007, producer to customer sales of local foods accounted for approximately 0.4% of the total sales. Increasing popularity of local food has created a sharp increase in job opportunities in this field too.

Environmental Benefits of Local Food
Local foods are produced keeping in mind the environmental sustainability issues. Here, farming activities take place without usage of any chemical fertilizers, hybrid seeds or chemical pesticides. A natural farming method devoid of any contamination of fertile soil is the main plus point of local food as it helps to keep land pollution under check. This also has long term benefits to the health of the consumers. Similarly, there is a sharp fall in transportation distance between farm and consumer’s kitchen. This helps reduce carbon emissions that contaminate the air during transportation. Some biodiversity issues give a ‘thumbs up’ to local food. This is because food products like fruits and vegetables manufactured under commercial agriculture banner use hybrid varieties of plants for faster and larger quantity of food production. These hybrid plant varieties may yield larger quantities but nutritional value of these products is poor.

Health Benefits of Local Food
The quality and health benefits of local foods are so high that many of us keep wondering as to why we stopped their consumption in the first place. It is like looking out for health and nutrition all around the world and then discovering that, all that you wanted was right there in your backyard. Local food products are definitely fresher due to their proximity of farms to their markets. Similarly, consumers vouch for their better taste too. There are no traces of artificial fertilizers in these foods, thereby making them safer for human consumption. Organic meat and poultry products are produced, keeping in mind animal welfare. Organic poultry farms are maintained without the usage of harmful chemicals.

Rising Local Food Movement
Local food movement is also known as food patriotism. While all those people who stress on consumption of local food are known as localvores. Here’s more…

There has been an increased awareness about local food movement since the past 10 years. Many local manufactures pack their food products with specific tags stating ‘Certified Organic’. Many supermarkets have demarcated sections or aisles specifically selling organic food products.
We can see a steep rise in farm to school sales for school meal programs with numbers having crossed 2000 schools by the end of year 2009.
There is a growing importance for organic milk products with dairy industries engaging in maintenance of organic pastures for producing better quality milk.
New York state has even passed a legislation in the year 2001 stating “The legislature hereby finds and declares that farmers’ markets provide a vital and highly effective marketing mechanism for thousands of New York farmers, improve the access of consumers and wholesalers to New York farm products, and contribute to the economic revitalization of the areas in which the markets are located.”
A closely related but a sister sector of organic food farming is growing importance of organic clothing wherein natural fibers like cotton are produced by strictly following organic practices.

They say, it’s better late than never. It is always a welcome idea to shift to a healthier lifestyle and opting for the local food movement in your personal life is like crossing a new milestone. I cannot end my article without mentioning the words of late President John F Kennedy. He said, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We also need this planet to provide us with food. Maybe we ought to figure out some way to take care of it.”