Know Your Food: Think Globally, but Eat Locally

I was in the produce section of my favorite local supermarket the other day when I walked by an aisle display of California strawberries that looked as if they’d had Botox treatments, steroid injections, and structural enhancements before catching the bus out of LA. The Yankee side of my brain pointed out that any strawberry that looked that big and perfect must be all fancy and no flavor, while the more primitive side started salivating at the sight of all that juicy packaging and the promises implied.

Well, I got these bulbous berries home and rinsed them off, all the time hoping against experience that the taste would live up to the tease. We’ve all been there, right? … just spent four dollars for a pint of perfection that ends up tasting pretty much like the packaging it came in.

How could this be? I mean everything in the supermarket produce section looks like a postcard at just about any time of year. Sure, I wouldn’t give you a nickel for an out-of-season tomato, but all this GMO-altered, steroid-infused, chemically-treated, atomically-irradiated produce sure does make for a nice photograph.

Of course, we’ve all heard the news stories about failing family farms, genetically altered seeds, chemically fertilized and sterilized soils, questionable food preservatives and additives, and E. coli outbreaks associated with corporate- and foreign-grown produce. So the question is … can we find better tasting and more healthful alternatives closer to home? And, of course (Yankee side kicking in here), how much more will it cost to regain control over what goes into our bodies?

Some reasons to eat local:
The food just taste better: Food grown locally doesn’t have the packaging and shelf-life issues imported produce faces. Famers are able to select and harvest their crops at the peak of the growing cycle, ensuring the product’s freshness, nutrition and taste.

Health benefits of locally grown food: A Consumer Reports review of 16 studies showed that eating locally grown food is “a healthy move” because nutritional values benefit from harvesting the produce at the peak of ripeness and quickly offering it for sale, sometimes within hours of being picked. Local farmers are also less aggressive with chemical sprays and enhancements, choosing instead to practice Integrated Pest Management, mechanical weeding and natural soil enhancements.

Local farms protect seed gene pool: Because small farms are more likely to grow a greater variety of crops, they play a crucial role in protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food security … especially these days when food sources are becoming more centralized and, thus, more vulnerable.

Buying local helps to reduce global warming: According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, consumers can help in the fight against global warming by eating more locally grown foods. The Center reports that the average fresh food item on our dinner plate travels 1,500 miles to get there. Buying locally-produced food eliminates the energy cost associated with all that transportation.

Local food products are cost effective: Okay, most of us have that knee-jerk reaction when it comes to local naturally- or organically-grown produce … “it’s going to cost us more money.” However, when you look for what you’re getting for your money the real value of buying local shines through. For all the reasons mentioned above, and because local produce is fresher and more nutrient packed, consumers are really getting a greater bang for their buck at the local farm stand.

Anyway, I ended up throwing away most of my picture-perfect California strawberries, disgusted with both the taste and the waste of money. I think I will wait until the end of June, when I’ll pick up some of those small, juicy, flavor-packed, mouth-watering, tee-shirt-staining, vanilla-ice-cream-topping local strawberries featured at the Dimond Hill Farm stand each summer.

In the meantime, my advice is to don’t let those out-of-staters fool you with all their rouge and makeup – hold out for the real thing. Our New Hampshire beauties might not widen anybody’s eyes, but what they advertise on the outside they carry through right to the core … remember to buy local.