Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Why Eat Local?

This is a very complex and complicated issue and more than I can tackle in a single blog post. But I’d like to try and hit the highlights for you.
Spicy salsa brings summer to our plates all winter long.

Living in Canada, we are dependent on much of our food coming from abroad… that is, if what we want is to eat fresh produce and things that are not boxed, processed or canned throughout our long winters, we must take in food from other countries. These are foods that travel, in some cases, thousands of kilometers to go from their fields to our tables.

It is very ironic, considering the fact that we are truly the Bread Basket of the World, producing much of the world’s wheat as we do, that we are so dependent on the global economy to feed us year round. We have vast tracts of arable farmland… but that fertile land competes with our intensely populated areas for space, hugging our southern border with its warmer climate as they both tend to do.

We have the ability to produce quite an extensive variety of excellent quality fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs & cheeses, wines and grains. And yet we cannot feed ourselves independently. And, more often than not, we choose not to purchase local goods, when they can be found cheaper elsewhere.

A spicy pepper jelly that brings a bit of
golden sunlight colour and summer heat
to our crackers and cheese & to our roasted
chicken sandwiches throughout the year. Yum!
Even when products are available locally, often supermarkets, with their head offices in other cities, provinces, or even countries, will not use local producers, preferring a large scale contract with big importers or vast operations elsewhere. It seems crazy that we should be buying apples from, say, New Zealand, when local apples are available. Or that we should be purchasing tomatoes from California when our local growers are producing great quality fruit in season, virtually in our own backyard.

For two interesting short videos on this issue I highly recommend: Do you know where your food comes from? -Eat Real. Eat Local. and The Story of Stuff. (These are hyperlinks. Click on them to view the videos.)

With the writing of the 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Eating Local,  authors Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon brought into the forefront of our minds an interesting experiment on this issue: was it possible to eat locally year round when living in Canada. Granted, they lived along the BC coast: truly a land of plenty with a decadent zone 9 climate (we are a zone 3b here in Edmonton). But even that had its unbelievable challenges, given the nature of our market and the way that our dependence on the global economy shapes it… like the difficulty surrounding finding a store to sell fish that truly was locally caught and not from far away: being able to see the ocean, did not necessarily mean they could purchase anything to eat from the sea. It is a very interesting read.

So in a nutshell, what are the advantages of eating local?

1.     Eating locally, our food is not transported great distances, leaving tremendously costly environmental footprints on our world, contributing to the use of valuable resources and emitting harmful greenhouse gases.

2.     Eating locally, our food is not picked in an unripe state to prevent it from spoiling during the transportation process, making it less nutrient dense than food picked at the height of freshness and the peak of ripeness. 

3.     Eating locally, our food is not raised and harvested in countries that use pesticides and growing practices that we do not allow here.

4.     Eating locally, our food does not have to be excessively packaged to prevent items from bruising during shipping.

5.     Eating locally, our food does not have to be coated with waxes and products designed to prevent spoilage… things that we do not need to digest.

6.     Eating locally helps us to support our local economy. Food purchased locally creates profits that are mostly spent directly in our community.

7.     Eating locally, you can enjoy food that is at its peak of freshness, quality and taste. Your food will look better, taste better and work (from a health and nutrition standpoint) better in your body.

8.     Eating locally can mean eating seasonally… which brings tremendous variety to your table and to your nutritional goals.

9.     Eating locally can open the door to creative cooking practices so that you can freeze and/or can fresh produce when it is in season, to be enjoyed later on in the year. You can reach back to your family roots and rediscover your past through those old recipes. Jams and pickles, frozen rhubarb and berries, frozen beans and applesauce are all extremely simple to make and do. It is an investment in time, but it is very rewarding.
Raspberries freshly picked & ready for the freezer.

Eating locally means that the food you are eating, if it is produce, has been picked at the most 24 hours before it comes to market. Nutrient value decreases over time. Eating locally grown food at your local farmers' market is the next best thing to growing and harvesting it, or going to a U-Pick Farm and harvesting it yourself.

Black currents, ripe and bursting with intense scent
and flavour,  ready to be mixed with sweet and mild
flavoured saskatoon berries to make the most 
delectable jam!
Your local farmers’ market is a way to vote with your dollar and to support your local farmers, food producers and growers. By consciously shopping and eating locally when and where you can, you are making a more informed, healthier and better choice for your family, your community and for the environment.

And when your local seasonal market is unavailable, check out the Eat Local website http://www.live-local.ca to find out what you can do and where you can go to incorporate more of “the eat local” ideals into your daily life.

Visit our website at http://www.swefm.ca
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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

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