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.
Better For Environment and Local Economy
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 organically.
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.