The arena of health has always filled with buzzwords. Some of them are related to fads, corporate interests or marketing ploys. Think sugar-free, heart healthy, low-fat, the list is extensive. However, some of them are actually important to our survival as humans. One of those is the advice to eat local and seasonal. A lot of people don’t understand the importance of this advice, don’t know where to start, or just can’t be bothered because it takes extra time. Yet, it is one of the most important keys to health because it, not only, fosters your body nutritionally, but also has benefits to all areas of your life.
Health & wellness factors can be split into two groups; Primary Food and Secondary Food. Secondary food is the food you consume to nourish your body. Primary Food are those things that nourish your life; Things like relationships, exercise, a spiritual practice, joy, finances, home life, or career. A person can eat the healthiest food on the planet and workout 3 hours a day but if those areas of primary food are out of balance, dis-ease will inevitably occur. Health and wellness are naturally holistic. You must nourish body, mind and soul if you want to live your best life.
By now, you might be asking, how does eating locally and seasonally manage to check all these boxes? I was taught from a very early age how important it was, but I really didn’t realize how important until I got sick. Growing up as the parents of immigrants, I was sent every other summer to spend time with my great-grandmother in the French Alps. To a 6-year-old, 48 hours of straight traveling was grueling but exciting. I absolutely adored my Mamie. Her house was filled with amazing things and every morning, after hot cocoa and baguette for breakfast, our first and most treasured task of the day was always the market. Most people would wonder why going to the grocery store was so treasured. This was a small college town in France in the late 70’s. To be completely honest, I don’t even know if there was a grocery store there then. Mamie had never been to one. The market, le marché vert, was an eclectic gathering of every possible need in the square by her flat. It was magical. Gustav, the flower man, greeted me with a fresh, dewy bloom every day. It was the first place I learned that chickens had both heads and feet and did not come shrink-wrapped in plastic. There was more than food there. There was community. There was friendship. There was news. There were emotions. There were so many delicious ways to nourish our body and soul. It is an experience that I am so incredibly grateful for and yet, for some reason, completely forgot as an adult.
I get it. We are all super busy. We have deadlines. We have activities, kids, jobs, all these things that are expected of us. We just want to shovel in our meal and get on with what needs to be done. Therein lies the majority of the problem. As humans, the pace of our busy modern lives has practically eliminated our connection to our communities and to ourselves. This is one of the biggest drivers of disease in modern societies.
“ Local food is about getting the freshest, best-tasting food. It’s also about connecting to and strengthening our communities”
For me, the most important reason I eat local and seasonal is because it just tastes better. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out when I stopped liking strawberries. They were hard, half-white and completely tasteless. I hadn’t bought strawberries in years. Then, one day, at the farmer’s market, I spied a small container of bright red strawberries covered in dew. After speaking to the farmer, I learned that they were picked that very morning. He gave me one to try. The impact was instantaneous! The bright red flavor exploded in my mouth as I realized that I never stopped LOVING strawberries. Store bought strawberries were picked was before they were ripe and shipped across the country. How did I expect them to taste? When you buy local food in season, the food is allowed to ripen on the plant the way that it was intended to be eaten. The flavors are more full bodied, sweeter, fresher and when you cook with them, your meals taste like they came from a 5 Star chef.
The natural progression of local produce tasting better, is that it is so much more nutritious for your body. When produce is raised sustainably and allowed to ripen on the plant, the plant is able to nourish that produce with the full complement of phytonutrients that our bodies live on. That means your oranges will be higher in Vitamin C. Your greens will have more minerals and antioxidants. Every single bit of science supports this fact. Yet, year after year, grocery store food is mono-cropped in dead soil, pumped full of chemicals and amendments to increase yields and still manages to have little to no nutrients our bodies can actually use.
This brings us to one of the easiest ways to have an impact on the environment and climate change. Food bought in the grocery store, had to be trucked, shipped or flown from the growing location to the store. That is a boatload (pun intended) of carbon emissions. Not to mention, the amount of energy used to keep it refrigerated. The amount of energy used to display it. The amount of food waste thrown away because they were not pretty enough or the waste when it doesn’t sell. Where I buy my produce, is literally 7 miles from my home. I know the farmer. If I can, I go to the farm store instead of the market because the market is 5 miles further. There is a great organization called Foodprint (Foodprint.org) that has tons of research on the environmental impact of the food industry, as well as a quiz so you can test your own Foodprint. Not only can you see the carbon impact of your eating habits but they give you tips on ways to improve it.
The second part of the environmental equation is the damage that industrial agriculture and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) cause. The 3 top problems are:
- Air emissions from livestock operations make up 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Conventional crop production degrades soil health and causes soil erosion.
- The high content of nitrogen and other nutrients in manure runoff leads to dead zones in downstream waterways.
The next benefit is something that everyone can greatly use, especially in today’s economy. When you eat local and seasonal, it costs you less money. The most frequent complaint I hear about eating organic food is that it is too expensive and people can’t afford it. To get a USDA organic certification takes years of tending the soil organically and yearly fees are expensive for certification. This is reflected in the price. Most people who buy organic want to know for a fact their food is clean. The label does that. Do you want to know what else does that? Talking to the farmer, visiting the farm, seeing how and where your food was grown. This allows both you and the farmer to benefit. You know exactly where and how your food is grown and the farmer doesn’t have to spend years and money proving it to his customers. I regularly get a large amount of high-quality produce for around 60% of what I would pay in the store.
When you buy local, you are supporting families in your local community. You are helping pay for a little girl’s dance lessons or little league team, instead of some CEO’s 10th vacation home. This means that if you are a business owner, there is a greater chance that money will be spent back in your own business. According to the Institute for Self-Reliance, there are 10 reasons to support your local community businesses.
- Local Character and Prosperity
In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one-‐of-‐a-‐kind businesses and distinctive character have an economic advantage.
- Community Well-‐Being
Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes.
- Local Decision-‐Making
Local ownership ensures that important decisions are made locally by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.
- Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.
- Job and Wages
Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.
Entrepreneurship fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity, and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-‐wage jobs and into the middle class.
- Public Benefits and Costs
Local stores in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure and make more efficient use of public services relative to big box stores and strip shopping malls.
- Environmental Sustainability
Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers-‐which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss, and air and water pollution.
A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-‐term.
- Product Diversity
A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based, not on a national sales plan, but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.
All these reasons help to create community. You develop relationships with these producers. They become friends. They become people that you can trust. It contributes to the local vibrancy in your community, which in turns makes your community a more desirable place to be. How often do people live someplace where they don’t even know their neighbors? Humans evolved in tribes and villages. The old adage “It takes a village.” Is completely correct. When you develop a sense of community, it helps foster a sense of well-being that is the meat of primary food.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the topic of food security. We have all gone to the store only to find the food, brand, variety that we like to be not available. Since the start of the pandemic, supply chains have been struggling under the weight of the government’s health & safety mandates. Under staffing, lack of availability of ingredients or packaging, disruptions in shipping. All of these contribute to food insecurity. When you buy local, this becomes a non-issue. As the situation worsens, we will rely on our community food producers to step up to secure our local food supply. If you already have a relationship with them, it makes this step even easier. When we have a secure supply of food, this allows us to devote our attention to more important matters.
The benefits to shopping local and seasonal are many. For me, there is nothing like spending a Saturday morning at the farmer’s market. It invites us to slow down, to take a breath, to stop and smell the roses. This is an important element of health, wellness and self-care. Our lives are so busy that we need to make time to slow down and be a human being rather than a human doing. The level of stress relief and relaxation that brings cannot be underestimated.
There are many ways to implement eating locally. There are farmers markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), Private Member’s Associations, small local businesses. I have even talked to local farmers about doing a work trade for a market share of produce. There are many options available if you are willing to think outside of the box. Many farmers markets accept SNAP benefits, some will even double your SNAP dollars. Insurance companies are starting to offset the cost of healthcare by offering extra benefits of cash for healthy food. Small changes in the way we think and vote with our money will, not only help the environment, but also create wellness in our everyday lives and communities.
Stay blessed and have a great week!!
Resources for Finding Local Food