Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why Local?

OK, so I want to explain a little bit about what eating local is something I've decided to try, and why I'm so passionate about being conscious about my food choices. The most obvious reason is the desire to support local, small businesses. This often happens two-fold when you buy local: first of all, you're supporting local farmers. That's a no-brainer. But often, you're also buying that local food from a local retailer, like your neighborhood co-op or other local small business. Here in the Twin Cities, we have several wonderful co-ops, and in St. Paul there's also the small grocer on Grand Ave.,  Golden Fig.  These are great resources for anyone who wants better-quality, local food. While I still love buying from the Farmers' Market, I can't always make it there during its limited hours, and not all products that I need are available there, so that's when I seek out those local retailers.

But there are other, most subtle reasons to choose local food that we may not always think about. First of all, the concept of food safety is something that, for the most part, we have the luxury of taking for granted in this country. We don't have to boil our water in order to drink it; we don't have to wonder how old our milk is or whether the grocers' meat is rotten. Usually. As you are probably aware, there is a huge egg recall going on right now that has many people asking questions about our food supply and how safe it really is. Add that egg recall to a list of several other recalls we've had recently, including peanut butter, spinach, and green onions, and it becomes an alarming trend.

How does eating local protect me from contaminated food, you may ask. Well, it won't protect you from EVER having to think about food safety, but eating local drastically reduces your chances of buying bad food. Why? Because much of this problem of tainted food comes form the fact that there are fewer and fewer mega-farms supplying more and more of the food that we buy. This creates problems on a variety of levels, one being the existence of mega-farms. To be blunt, they're terrible. Terrible for the animals on the farm, terrible for the environment, and terrible for us when it comes to food safety and quality. To maintain such large-scale food production, land use quickly gets out of control, animal populations become very dense, contributing to disease, and quality control goes out the window. Take the case of the Iowa farm where the tainted eggs are coming from. This farm has been cited for numerous violations going back to the 1970s, but somehow people haven't been adversely affected. So, it was allowed to stay in business. Now, people are getting sick and people are finally asking questions.

Keeping such dense animal populations is the root of the problem. In order to do it, animals have to be given antibiotics, they can't be fed high-quality food so they're not healthy, and their waste products are a never-ending issue. Do you ever wonder how vegetables get tainted with eColi? eColi is a bacteria that is only found in the lower intestinal tract, and it only comes out into the environment in the form of feces. Yep-- poop. That means that somehow, poop got on those vegetables. Most of the time, it got there from runoff from a mega-farm. For me, that fact alone is enough to turn my stomach and make me want to get my vegetables from a reliable farm that is not right next to, or part of, a mega-farm.

Mega-farms aren't just contaminating food, though. They contaminate the water supply in the communities where they exist, and they contribute heavily to greenhouse gasses. Did you know that the emissions from livestock contribute more to greenhouse gasses than cars and trucks?  A 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that livestock contributes 18% of total greenhouse gasses; a 2010 study upped that number to 51%!

On a brighter note, choosing local food from a small farm means that your food is just going to taste better! Because it doesn't have to be shipped far and wide, the fruits and vegetables can stay on their vines, plants, or trees much longer, getting ripe and sweet and delicious! You may not even recognize the flavor of some fruits and vegetables when you try the local version. Heirloom tomatoes, ripened on the vine will blow your mind. Good, local potatoes and corn are so sweet, they need nothing added to be delicious. 

All of these reasons and more caused me to think long and hard about the food choices that I make, ultimately leading me to the decision to choose local whenever I can. I must say, it's been very easy and extermely enjoyable! Of course, at the height of the local harvest, it IS easy to choose local. Come winter, it's going to be a bit more of a challenge, but one I'm going up for.

Choosing local doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition! It's just not practical for me to choose local 100% of the time. But like I said, I do it as often as I can. If you choose to take on the challenge, you decide what is right for you. Maybe it's one meal a week that's entirely locally sourced. Maybe it's a little bit of every or most's up to you! Make it what you want, and have fun!


Beth Butterfield said...

Also, a few resources to back up the info. above:

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