Eva Killeen explores the compelling reasons why it’s best to shop for local produce
Locally produced foods are back in the spotlight, where they belong. More and more of us are seeking out fresh, local options. Meanwhile, restaurants are increasingly opting for so-called ‘farm-to-table’ approaches and filling their menus with locally grown ingredients.
Eating locally means choosing food that is grown and harvested close to where you live, and then distributed over shorter distances than is usually the case.
Currently, there’s no officially agreed-upon distance for what constitutes eating locally. For some, local means anything produced within a 150-mile radius. For others, it includes produce harvested within the same county. Being able to eat locally depends on the production ability of your area.
People in regions with high agricultural productivity often enjoy a wide choice of local food to choose from. Those of us in colder, more sparse areas will likely find their options more limited. Choosing local produce may not always be the most convenient option to go for, but here are seven reasons why it’s absolutely worth it in the long run…
1. Higher quality food
It’s no secret: locally grown food simply tastes better. As soon as produce is separated from its source, a higher rate of respiration occurs, resulting in moisture loss, nutrient degradation and potential microbial spoilage – all of which inevitably compromises flavour.
Most of the produce you’ll find at farmers’ markets has been picked within 24 hours. It’s not just about freshness though: growers who cater for local customers aren’t constrained by the conditions enforced by supermarket chains around harvesting, packing, transport and shelf-life quality.
Instead, they have the freedom to select, grow and harvest their produce, and can ensure the highest qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste. You can’t beat the zest and crunch of freshly picked produce. This food is made for taste; not coated with chemicals so that it can withstand the long commute.
2. It’s more nutritious
Eating local is not only tastier; it’s also healthier!
- Ripe produce contains the most nutrients, as the minute they’re picked, their plant cells begin to shrink and their nutrients diminish.
- Supermarket produce is grown and processed with its shelf life in mind, and not necessarily its nutritional benefits.
These products have been transported over long distances. Frequently, they will have been sitting in distribution centres before arriving at the store and eventually making it onto the shelves of your neighbourhood supermarket.
3. Local food preserves green spaces
Questioning where your food comes from is about more than its carbon footprint. By opting for foods grown and produced close to home, you’ll help maintain farmland and green space in the local area.
4. You’ll be eating seasonally
Farmers can only grow what the current season will support. Before transporting goods over long distances became commonplace, we had no option but to eat seasonally. And we based our meal choices on the ingredients we had available.
Luckily, the natural cycle of produce is perfectly designed to support our health. And building a lifestyle around seasonal food supports the body’s natural healing processes. Leafy greens, abundant in spring, help our bodies alkalise and detox after a winter of heavier foods.
While in summer, water-dense fruits like berries, watermelon and cucumber keep us hydrated. Left to its own devices, nature does a very good job indeed of providing us with what our body needs.
5. An investment in your community
Every time you buy non-local, your money leaves the local economy. Shopping locally ensures the money stays in your area. Instead of making supermarket shareholders wealthier, your cash is sustaining local jobs and producers.
Supporting a local farmer today helps ensure your community has farms tomorrow – vital for long-term food security, especially with an uncertain energy future.
6. It’s better for the environment
According to Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the average fresh food item travels 1,500 miles to reach our plates. That’s a big carbon footprint for a bulb of garlic.
Buying food from local sources eliminates the need for fuel-intensive transportation. Where possible, select farmers with sustainable farming practices to minimise the environmental impact of your food.
7. Make sure it’s organic
Farmers selling at local markets are more likely to offer better quality produce because they want to offer the highest standards to the customers they interact with day today. A face-to-face buying environment means you can quiz the seller on their standards. Organic means working with nature, not against it.
It means lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers,4 and more environmentally sustainable land management – and, above all, more wildlife! However, small farms can’t always afford to become certified organic, despite using organic methods, so ask the producer directly at a farmers’ market.
If it’s not possible to buy organic, then my tip is to keep up-to-date on ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘The Clean 15’, an annual list of produce with the highest and lowest pesticide loads. One of the stones often cast at vegans is that our food, namely some of the plant-based proteins, have to travel further to reach us. The implication is that plant-based eating causes more harm to the environment than a meat-based diet.
There are many reasons I can list why that is inaccurate, but regardless, there’s good news on the plant-based proteins front. After many failed attempts, inventive UK farmers have managed to produce their own locally grown chickpeas. The first batch went on sale in September 2019.
Lentils and chia seeds are also now produced in the UK. These UK-made proteins are not yet widely available, but the future of the local plant-based market is looking bright, with growing interest from innovative farmers country-wide.
Eva Killeen is a nutritional therapist and freelance health writer, editor and content creator. Eva’s key areas of interest include nutrition and wellness, veganism, cruelty-free beauty, plant-based food and the environment. You can keep up to date with Eva at @ASprinkleofHealthy