This is an article I wrote a couple of years ago. It is still true today, if not more true, than it was then. Those of you who watched Today Tonight's story last night on where our food comes from, will see the importance in these words. As the old saying goes, 'from little things, big things grow' - start small and enjoy the adventure!
The Importance of Eating Locally
Do you know where your food comes from and how far it has travelled to reach your plate? Why is this important? These two questions should be in the forefront of our minds at all times, particularly for those of us that believe our planet’s survival is of the utmost importance.
The further your food has travelled, the greater your carbon footprint. This means that if your food has had to travel by plane or a long distance by train or truck, the more greenhouse gas emissions will have been created to get it to you. This is particularly the case for imported foods and drinks. For those of us that want to reduce our impact on our wonderful planet, eating locally is something we should strive to do. Not only is it better for the environment, it is also better for our health as it means eating much fresher, tastier, often organic and in-season foods.
Often it’s not easy to find locally sourced foods, particularly if you are a city dweller. This may mean that if you really want to challenge yourself to eating locally that you may need to reduce or stop your intake of things that are not produced nearby. Did you know that most of the food that the average American eats has travelled almost 2500kms to reach their dinner table? It is probably the same here in Australia given our distance from the rest of the world, and each other in some cases! This is quite a horrific statistic, particularly in this time of global warming awareness.
There are many websites and organisations dedicated to the process of eating locally and they are a fantastic resource for finding out where to start. The 100 Mile Diet (www.100milediet.org) is a movement in the USA and Canada who are devoted to only eating food sourced within a 100 mile radius of their homes. It’s certainly not an easy task, and one that requires great dedication. For those of us not quite so dutiful, why not at least make the first step and try to only consume food made and grown in Australia? Just check your labels at the supermarket and use farmers markets where possible. Pretty soon, you’ll be addicted...
Thanks to the folks at the 100 Mile Diet website, here are 13 great reasons to eat locally. The list was put together by an American couple who followed the 100 Mile Diet for 12 months. Be aware though, that many of the foods mentioned below are from North America, but you’ll get the picture – let them inspire you...
1. Taste the difference. At a farmers’ market, most local produce has been picked inside of 24 hours. It comes to you ripe, fresh, and with its full flavor, unlike supermarket food that may have been picked weeks or months before. Close-to-home foods can also be bred for taste, rather than withstanding the abuse of shipping or industrial harvesting. Many of the foods we ate on the 100-Mile Diet were the best we’d ever had.
2. Know what you’re eating. Buying food today is complicated. What pesticides were used? Is that corn genetically modified? Was that chicken free range or did it grow up in a box? People who eat locally find it easier to get answers. Many build relationships with farmers whom they trust. And when in doubt, they can drive out to the farms and see for themselves.
3. Meet your neighbours. Local eating is social. Studies show that people shopping at farmers’ markets have 10 times more conversations than their counterparts at the supermarket. Join a community garden and you’ll actually meet the people you pass on the street. Sign up with the 100-Mile Diet Society; we’ll be working to connect people in your area who care about the same things you do.
4. Get in touch with the seasons. When you eat locally, you eat what’s in season. You’ll remember that cherries are the taste of summer. Even in winter, comfort foods like squash soup and pancakes just make sense–a lot more sense than flavourless cherries from the other side of the world.
5. Discover new flavours. Ever tried sun chokes? How about purslane, quail eggs, yerba mora, or tayberries? These are just a few of the new (to us) flavours we sampled over a year of local eating. Our local spot prawns, we learned, are tastier than popular tiger prawns. Even familiar foods were more interesting. Count the types of pear on offer at your supermarket. Maybe three? Small farms are keeping alive nearly 300 other varieties–while more than 2,000 more have been lost in our rush to sameness .
6. Explore your home. Visiting local farms is a way to be a tourist on your own home turf, with plenty of stops for snacks.
7. Save the world. A study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country. The ingredients for a typical British meal, sourced locally, travelled 66 times fewer “food miles.” Or we can just keep burning those fossil fuels and learn to live with global climate change, the fiercest hurricane seasons in history, wars over resources…
8. Support small farms. We discovered that many people from all walks of life dream of working the land–maybe you do too. In areas with strong local markets, the family farm is reviving. That’s a whole lot better than the jobs at Wal-Mart and fast-food outlets that the globalized economy offers in North American towns.
9. Give back to the local economy. A British study tracked how much of the money spent at a local food business stayed in the local economy, and how many times it was reinvested. The total value was almost twice the contribution of a dollar spent at a supermarket chain.
10. Be healthy. Everyone wants to know whether the 100-Mile Diet worked as a weight-loss program. Well, yes, we lost a few pounds apiece. More importantly, though, we felt better than ever. We ate more vegetables and fewer processed products, sampled a wider variety of foods, and ate more fresh food at its nutritional peak. Eating from farmers’ markets and cooking from scratch, we never felt a need to count calories.
11. Create memories. A friend of ours has a theory that a night spent making jam–or in his case, perogies–with friends will always be better a time than the latest Hollywood blockbuster. We’re convinced. Cooking with children is also a fantastic - educational, fun and great family time.
12. Have more fun while travelling. Once you’re addicted to local eating, you’ll want to explore it wherever you go. On a recent trip to Mexico, earth-baked corn and hot-spiced sour oranges led us away from the resorts and into the small towns. Somewhere along the line, a mute magician gave us a free show over bowls of lime soup in a little cantina.
13. And always remember: Everything about food and cooking is a metaphor for sex!