Our lives revolve around food. We nourish our bodies with it; we celebrate, entertain and express affection with it. Many of you turned to the Paleo lifestyle in search of the healthiest, freshest, best-tasting food. This is important for your health and has the ability to trigger positive effects on the economy, the soil, wildlife and the welfare of those who raise and grow what you eat
A recent article in the New York Times discusses the idea that much of what we consume is not always what it claims to be. Fraudulent food is everywhere and we often blindly trust that the origin and pedigree of certain delicacies are what is written on a menu, package, sign board or label.
This got me thinking (yet again) about the importance and relevance of knowing where your food comes from. There is definitely a unique kind of assurance that comes from looking a farmer in the eye at farmers' market or driving by the fields where your food comes from. Local farmers are not anonymous food labels, corporations or pictures on a package and they take their responsibility to the consumer seriously. There is a deep connection that happens when you know the farmer who raised your animal protein, fed and cared for the animals, grew your vegetables, fruits and herbs and through his/her personal story allows you to be nourished, well and strong.
When buying directly from a farmer, you are engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower. Knowing farmers provides insight into the seasons, the land, and your food. In many cases, it gives you access to a place where your children and grandchildren can go to learn about nature and agriculture
Whether it is the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread (Paleo, Primal, WPF or any whole foods protocol you choose to follow), knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal. The stronger your local farmer gets, the more you ensure local goods can be grown and raised for generations to come.
When you choose to buy or demand local food you create the need for greater variety. Farmers who run community-supported agriculture programs, sell at farmers’ markets and provide for local restaurants then have the community based support they need to raise more types of produce and livestock than multinational commercial enterprises looking to squeeze every dollar out of one type of crop.
The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food. Food imported from far away is older and has traveled on trucks or planes, and sat in warehouses before it gets to you. Produce that is purchased in the supermarket often has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks, while produce from your local farmer’s market or farm gate has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. It is estimated that 18 cents of every dollar go to the grower when purchasing fresh foods at the supermarket. The remaining 82 cents go to various middlemen. Purchasing from your local farmer is a well-needed boost to the local economy of your region.
This freshness not only affects the taste of your food, but the nutritional value. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are often allowed longer to ripen, because they do not have to stand up to the rigors of shipping and can be handled less. This says nothing of the environmental impact of the storage and transport of these foods across borders and hemispheres.
In the modern agricultural system, plant varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen uniformly, withstand harvesting, survive packing and last a long time on the shelf. There is limited genetic diversity in large-scale production. In contrast, smaller, local farms often grow many different varieties of crops to provide a long harvest season, an array of colors, and the best flavors. Livestock diversity is also higher where there are many small farms as opposed to a few large farms. Furthermore, well managed farms provide ecosystem services; they conserve fertile soil, protect water sources, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. The farm environment is a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, ponds and buildings that provide habitat for wildlife in their respective communities.
Shopping locally and for locally grown and raised produce and livestock gives you a chance to engage your growers directly. You get to learn something new about your food, including when the freshest produce is in-season. You are reassured when you ask growers directly about sustainable production, including whether pesticides are used. Inquiring after growing practices is always important because buying local does not automatically mean the food is sustainably produced.
I personally find a trip to the farmers’ market to pick up some seasonal, freshly harvested produce is encouraging and inspiring. I often head straight to my kitchen, whipping up favourite family recipes and applying a few of my creative juices. Savouring and enjoying the bounty with loved ones, creating memories and experiences, talking about the effort and the end result is a huge and welcomed contrast to scoffing down processed reconstituted food while attempting to multitask with a TV or smartphone.
Chef Pete’s creations use and are inspired by local ingredients too which is always illustrated in his ever-changing, creative and temptingly delicious weekly menus. Buying local ingredients and supporting small farms is why Pete’s Paleo opened a second location in Atlanta, so that they can use local produce from both coasts and more appropriately supply our customers with the most fresh and local (to the two kitchens) produce possible.
When local foods are grown sustainably, using humane animal practices and without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, you can also be confident that your food is healthier and more environmentally friendly. Bottom line is locally grown food tastes better because it is seasonal, recently harvested and did not have to travel too far to get to your plate.
Our present industrialized food system involving transporting food long distances is dependent on the artificially low energy prices that come with inexpensive oil. This will not last forever. World oil production has already peaked while demand for energy continues to grow; supply will soon begin to dwindle, sending the price of energy (and food) through the roof.
Why wait to re-evaluate your food systems when you become forced to? By supporting your local farmers today you can begin to create resilient local economies by ensuring and demanding energy efficient agricultural methods, like smaller-scale organic agriculture, and local production. You will be helping to encourage and continue the existence of farms in your community for future generations. This is important and relevant for food security, especially in light of an uncertain energy future and our current reliance on fossil fuels to produce, package, distribute and store food. It is also the only sure-fire way of ensuring that the food you are fueling your body with, is indeed the nutrient source you wanted and intended it to be.