Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some thoughts on local food.

Hello, stock imagine of vegetables that has already
been used in a blog post this year..
It was one of my New Years resolutions, to start eating more organic/local food. Now, I am aware that organic and local mean two very different things....but frankly, local > organic > non-organic.

Local food means less energy put into getting my food to me in terms of gas/diesel, energy associated with running a grocery store for me to shop at, etc. It also means I get food that has been picked/harvested/collected a lot more recently than the stuff that's getting picked green and shipped here from other countries. The fresher the food, the more nutrients it retains.

I remember during my freshman year of college, there were little table toppers with info about the new program where the school was growing fresh produce to use in the dining hall. It had the staggering statistic that about 50% of the nutrients in fresh produce was lost within 7 days of being picked.

Think about that. 7 days. It can take days for food to get from a farm to a grocery store, especially if it's being brought across the country or from overseas. Thus, it's likely that a lot of the produce we get in the grocery store is not as nutrient rich as if we grew it in our back yard, picked it and ate it that same day.

Now, you might question that statistic, but after a thorough internet search, I found a scientific paper that supports this statistic. I might be overly zealous in the use of scientific paper search engines, but when google or bing yield nothing, it's time for drastic measures. Anyway, the paper I found studied the loss of nutrients in spinach. It found that, even when refrigerated, spinach lost 53% of its folate over the course of 8 days. At higher temperatures it hits that rate of loss a lot faster. Carotenoids were found to be lost a a similar rate, also dependent on temperature, with only 54% of initial levels remaining after 8 days.

So I may have just used to much science-y talk there, but the basic idea was that, even while refrigerated, spinach loses about 50% of some of its nutrients after 8 days. Just because this is true for some nutrients, doesn't mean it's true for all of them. In theory though, it makes sense. Heat and light destroy nutrients...when a plant is growing it is making more. As soon as you pick the plant though...all it has is what was there when it was picked....which steadily decreases as time marches on.

Ok, so fresher is better. Can we all agree on that point? In that sense, shopping local is better. At Farmer's Markets, food tends to be picked the day of, maybe the day before so it really is fresher than what you'd find at a grocery store.

"My life long goal is to be checker at Wal-mart and take constant abuse
 from customers who are pissed that the shitty plastic crap they are buying
 isn't ringing up as cheap as the sticker on the shelf said."
Local also means supporting the farmers around me. I'm not supporting Wal-mart and the truck driver who drove the food here and the laborers who picked the food. I am just supporting the farm that grew the food. Often, that means that stuff that is in season is cheaper than at the grocery store AND the farmer gets more money for what they are producing. That's pretty awesome, if you ask me. I might be supporting fewer jobs on a superficial level, you know, a farmer and the laborers he hires vs. all the employees at Wal-mart and everyone who worked to get the food there and the farmers who grew it, but the local farmer is getting paid a better wage. Besides, with a return to a smaller farming system and more local food consumption, we'd need more farmers and laborers. Those Walmart checkers can pick produce instead of bagging groceries! I mean, who really wants to work at Wal-mart anyway?

The problem I have begun to notice though, is that a lot of produce stands simply advertise that they are selling fresh fruit. Upon closer inspection, said fruit has a produce sticker on it. What. The. Fuck? If I wanted imported cantaloupe, I would drive my ass to Walmart. I don't want to stop by a roadside produce stand and PAY MORE for the same shit they sell at a big box store. Yes, I am supporting locals who are selling food from far away, but it feels like they are lying to me. If you are a produce stand, I expect you to sell food that you grow yourself. This is apparently not how it's done and that upsets me. Apparently, you have to look for the 'local' tag, to find local produce, even at a roadside stand. What is wrong with people?

I only want to eat food that comes from 10,000 miles away.
Moving on.

There are some though, that think the local food movement is actually a bad thing. When I talk about eating local food, I mean food that is in season and is available locally. I don't mean going to extreme measures to grow food in my area that normally can't be grown here. When I talk about eating local food, I don't mean eating ONLY local food, to the point where I spend all my time trying to figure out how to make a meal out of locally farmed dirt, the only thing in season during the winter months. I also don't mean eating ONLY local food to the point where I spend all my time and energy hunting for food that I can eat. I mean being conscious about what I am buying and where it is coming from and making a few changes.

When you stop being a soulless Walmart employee and
start farming, you can join THIS site!
My point here is that local farms are more transparent with their growing practices. When you know your farmer, you can ask them how they grow things. Just because a local farm isn't organic, doesn't mean their produce isn't better than Safeway's line of organic foods, because it probably is. Getting certified to be organic is expensive so many smaller, local farms might not pay the extra cash to get that certification. Keep in mind though, that also goes the other way. Just because a farmer is local, doesn't mean they don't use nasty pesticides. Ultimately, you need to be smart about what you buy and who you buy from.