I love food. I love healthy & natural things. I love Austin and the cool people we have here. I love shopping for food and cooking—and I really, really love eating. So all of these things combined make me a perfect locavore.
What is that, you ask? It is a person committed to buying and eating local, organically grown food in an effort to support his or her local economy and farmers, be healthier and have a lower impact on the planet.
I’ve undergone a total lifestyle experiment for 2011. I call it “30 Days at a Time” and am blogging about it, as well as writing about it for CultureMap. Every 30 days during the year of 2011, I am taking on a new project—some of the challenges I have completed include giving or volunteering every day, meditating, living off deals and coupons, wearing only six items of clothing for a month and my own happiness project.
In July, I undertook 30 days of eating locally, buying food from farmers' markets and places like Greenling and eating at restaurants that source local, organic ingredients as much as possible. Fortunately, we live in a city where this is not as difficult as it might be other places. Austin has always supported home-grown industry of any kind, and there is a distinctly health-nut vibe to our town. And by the way, if you want to see how the prices of shopping at farmers' markets stack up against grocery stores, check out my price comparison.
Not only are locally and organically grown whole foods much healthier for us, they also taste a whole lot better. Like living sustainably, it’s not new or trendy or hippie—it is extremely old-fashioned. We have, as a society, become completely disassociated from where our food comes from, how it is produced and what is done to it before it goes into our bodies.
“If every U. S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels of oil every week,” says Barbara Kingsolver in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The dilemma of the "high cost of cheap meat" was also covered in the New York Times.
If every U. S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.
But I was surprised by the controversy that came with my claims that eating local and natural is better for you and the planet. Why is that so controversial? Maybe you can chalk it up to some nut cases out there, but my first blog post about the Locavore challenge caused quite a stir in the comments.
Here are a few reasons why Eating Local is the way to go:
Eating local means more for the local economy. According to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London, a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. When businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction.
Locally grown produce is fresher. While produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or even weeks, produce that you purchase at your local farmer’s market has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. This freshness not only affects the taste of your food (Ever tried a tomato that was picked within 24 hours? ‘Nuff said.), but retains high nutritional value.
Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because the produce will be handled less, locally grown fruit does not have to be “rugged” in order to stand up to the rigors of shipping. This means that you are going to be getting peaches so ripe that they fall apart as you soon as you take a bite, figs that would have been smashed to bits if they were sold using traditional methods and melons that were allowed to ripen on the vine until the last possible minute.
Eating local is better for air quality and pollution. A March 2005 study by the Journal of Food Policy found that the miles that organic food often travels to our plate actually creates significant environmental damage, outweighing the benefits of buying organic from farther away.
Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons. By eating with the seasons, we are eating foods when they are at their peak taste, are the most abundant and the least expensive.
Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story. Whether it’s the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal.
Eating local protects us from bio-terrorism. Food with less distance to travel from farm to plate has less susceptibility to harmful contamination.
Local food translates to more variety. When a farmer is producing food that will not travel a long distance, will have a shorter shelf life and does not have a high-yield demand, the farmer is free to try small crops of various fruits and vegetables that would probably never make it to a large supermarket. Supermarkets are interested in selling “name brand” fruit: Romaine Lettuce, Red Delicious Apples, Russet Potatoes. Local producers often play with their crops from year to year, trying out Little Gem Lettuce, Senshu Apples, and Chieftain Potatoes.
Supporting local providers supports responsible land development. When you buy local, you give those with local open space—farms and pastures—an economic reason to stay open and undeveloped.