The Diet Detective: Locally Grown Foods
Isn't eating local restrictive, repetitive and boring?
Not necessarily. According to Rangan, the varieties of any one kind of local produce can be even more diverse than what you would find at a typical supermarket. In fact, "People who buy at the supermarket get the same selection 365 days a year. It gets boring to look at that same array. You end up eating the same spuds, broccoli, apples and pears. It's much more appealing to change foods frequently," says Nina Planck, author of Real Food: What to Eat & Why (Bloomsbury, 2006) and founder of farmer's markets in London and Washington, D.C.
What about my morning coffee?
Well, coffee is not grown in the continental United States. However, there are other labels you can look for to support sustainable farming practices, says Rangan. She recommends looking for coffee and other products with the words organic and fair trade on the label.
Is it more expensive to eat locally grown foods?
Typically, you can join a food cooperative or a Community Sponsored Agriculture program (where you support a local farm and get shares of the produce), and the costs are very reasonable. Also, if you shop at your local farmer's market (straight to consumer from the farm), the food may be even cheaper than in the supermarket because you are buying direct, without the middleman, says Rangan.
Does eating locally grown take an enormous amount of time?
Greenmarkets and Community Sponsored Ag programs offer easy ways to access locally grown foods. Also, how about sharing a program with neighbors and alternating pickups? You can start a cooking club, alternating cooking nights with friends and neighbors. "This is fun, time-saving, and you will build relationships and learn a lot about ingredients and food," says Pensiero. If you're interested in sustainable food production, conserving oil, polluting less, supporting local farmers, eating new and interesting varieties of food, then the effort to do those things may be worth it to you, Rangan adds.
Does locally grown mean better quality?
According to Susan Moores, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, "It can, but much hinges on growers and their farming/production practices." Local can and does mean wonderful things, but it's not an assurance.
Does locally grown mean organic?
No, these are two separate concepts, says Barnett. Some local food is organic, but certainly not all. However, according to Moores, "Many farmers producing great foods have opted not to become certified as organic, yet their practices are stellar." Still, the best combination appears to be both organic and locally grown foods.
How do you get started eating locally grown?
Take a look at LocalHarvest.org, which offers a national online directory of farmers who market their goods directly to the public. Other resources:
www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets (4,385 farmers markets)
www.eatwellguide.org (fresh food listings)
www.foodroutes.org (information and news)
www.sustainabletable.org (recipes and tips)
Charles Stuart Platkin is an Active Expert , nutrition and public health advocate, author of the best seller Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005), Breaking the FAT Pattern (Plume, 2006) and Lighten Up (Penguin USA/Razorbill, 2006) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Sign up for The Diet Detective newsletter free at www.dietdetective.com.