Local Food: Is It Really Better For You?

By Mira Calton & Jayson Calton

There is a massive locavore movement spreading like wildfire. People across the globe are banding together in their commitment to eat only locally grown foods – or, more specifically, those produced within a 100-mile radius. Sure, 100 miles seems like a far enough distance to travel, (when walking, or even driving, anyway); but just think: the average carrot travels 1838 miles before reaching your plate and a typical American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States. Suddenly 100 miles seems small (like ‘walk down the block’ small).

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For many of us, being a locavore seems like nothing short of a massive inconvenience and sacrifice: goodbye mass-market grocery stores, so-long strawberries in January. Yet there has to be a reason why many top chefs in restaurants all over America are now demanding that much of their produce be locally grown (and it’s not just to make their kitchens seem like the latest episode of Top Chef, forcing them to conjure up award winning recipes with a limited ingredient list).

So why would anyone voluntarily give up avocados from Mexico in December? Well, the locavore movement is catching on because of the large upside. A locavore lifestyle is not only environmentally friendly (because less fossil fuels are used in transportation), but also supports local farmers, boosts the local economy, lowers food costs (primarily because of the dramatic decrease in shipping costs) and even boasts of better nutritional value. And although local does not, by definition, ensure that the food has neither been genetically modified nor treated with pesticides or chemicals, (this is where organic has the edge,) many local food sources are nevertheless raised in accordance with the USDA organic guidelines, but are merely not certified organic (because of the lengthy and pricey process). Another upside: you can go to the farm and meet with the people who are growing or raising the food you are feeding to your family, without having to fly across the globe.

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Perhaps the greatest benefit of eating locally grown foods (and certainly one of the most overlooked upsides), though, is the greater nutritional value, which ultimately means better health. No, it’s not that your hometown inherently packs in the vitamins more effectively than your rival city’s does; but foods picked fresh and eaten within the next few days do contain considerably more essential vitamins and minerals than foods shipped from far away. Because foods that must be shipped from distant lands are usually picked before they are ripe (so that they will ripen along their journey and show up in your produce department looking their best), the nutrients that should be obtained from the soil during ripening aren’t being absorbed. Even worse, exposure to air, heat and light during transport further depletes nutrients. So, as your unripe produce is being shipped in from where ever it was grown, it is losing nutrients along the way – mean that your “fresh produce” may not be so “fresh” after all.

Thinking of “going local”? If you’re in NY, The Lower Eastside Girls Club of NY, in partnership with Breezy Hill Orchards, sells fresh-off-the-farm foods, added value products like homemade pasta and other goodies from the Girls Club’s Sweet Things Bake Shop at La Tiendita at the Essex Street Market. Open Monday – Saturday from 9am-6pm, visit them at NYC’s historic Essex Street Market on Essex and Delancey!

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photography credit: girlsclub.org