Eat Local, Eat Well

The local food, or locavore, movement has become a hot topic. The premise--eat a farm-fresh diet grown close to home--is simple, and it appeals to runners who want to maintain a healthy, well-rounded diet full of fresh fruits and veggies.

Beyond the taste, local eating advocates say one of the best reasons to eat locally is to reduce "food miles," therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Studies back their green rationale: According to Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, most conventional produce travels approximately 1,500 miles before it ends up on our cutting boards--nearly 25 percent farther than it did a few decades ago.

As researchers take a closer look at the environmental impact of eating locally, however, more nuanced positions emerge. Some challenge the premise that more food miles automatically means greater fossil fuel consumption, arguing that other production factors--water use, harvesting techniques, means of transportation and the kinds of fuel used in transport--must be taken into account.

Admittedly, eating locally is a complex issue and, ultimately, a personal choice. But there is one point not up for debate: Fresh tastes best. Because community farmers don't have to worry about long-haul transport and want your repeat business, they'll often wait until produce is lip-smackin' ripe before they harvest it.

For a woman on the move who strives as hard for a healthy diet as a PR, there are plenty of reasons and ways to seek out local food.

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Carrie Tollefson, 31, a 2004 Olympic runner and spokeswoman for Minnesota Grown, an organization that promotes homegrown agriculture, advocates eating locally to boost health: "I'm aware of the source of the food I'm fueling my body with," Tollefson says.

Considering the frequency of events like the 2008 salmonella scare and Chinese melamine scandals, knowing where your food comes from may be one of the best reasons to seek out local fare.

"Eating local also means you can meet the people who grow your food, so you can ask them about farming methods," explains J.B. MacKinnon, co-author of Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. "To me, it is especially important to know how the animals live that provide me with my eggs, dairy or meat," he adds.

In turn, picking up dinner straight from a farmer gives you the opportunity to learn about how different foods are produced and gain an appreciation for the care farmers put into them. "Taking your children to the market and letting them interact with the farmers or growing a home garden with them is a great way to teach them about proper nutrition," says Tara Gidus, R.D., a marathon veteran and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Boost Nutrition

While studies comparing the health benefits of a diet focused on locally grown foods versus well-traveled fare are lacking, there are convincing arguments for why eating locally improves nutrition.

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