We sat down with our resident holistic health counselor, Kristy Rao, who wholly advocates the overall health benefits of eating locally-sourced, artisanal foods. She noted that “despite living in NYC, I grew up spending summers on my family’s farm in Norway, so I was lucky enough to taste the difference between farm fresh, local food from a young age. When I came home, the strawberries and carrots tasted shockingly different.”
Kristy insists that eating locally-sourced food is one way to avoid genetically modified fruits and vegetables that strip them of flavor. “If you don’t believe me, try having one of those perfect-looking tomatoes without blemishes at the grocery store and compare them to your farmers’ market heirloom tomatoes while they are in season which are sweet, juicy and replete with flavor.” Not only is the taste better, but they are also better for you. They lack the chemicals and pesticides which are toxic to your body. In addition, they have less nutrients and “are subpar in their overall nutritional value.” When food does not have to travel long distances, it preserves its vital nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. “If you are buying your sliced apples at Starbucks, you’re also consuming preservatives. Eating seasonally and locally is what nature intended for us.”
Benefits of Eating Artisanal Foods
Below we’ve listed our top five reasons you may want to consider eating more local, artisanal foods:
1. Local foods are seasonal, fresher and taste better
Naturally, when food is picked at peak ripeness and eaten immediately, the produce is saturated with flavor, which ultimately pleases your taste buds. The main reasons for local, seasonal produce tasting so good are that it’s grown in optimum conditions and it’s fresher because it reaches you sooner after being harvested.
2. Local foods are better for our planet
Locally-grown food reduces the present average of 1,300 miles of food travels from “field to plate.” According to the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC), “Transporting food long distances uses tremendous energy: it takes 435 fossil-fuel calories to fly a 5 calorie strawberry from California to New York.” Another astounding fact that we found from the CENYC is that “Over the past 50 years, close to a million acres of local farmland have been buried under cement and asphalt. The farms that attend Greenmarket preserve over 30,000 acres of regional open space.”
3. Local foods promote food safety and prevent contamination
The fewer steps there are between your food’s source and your table the less chance there is for contamination. Organic, locally-sourced food doesn’t rely on synthetic or petroleum-based pesticides or fertilizers, resulting in less water and soil contamination due to run-off. Buying organic at local farmers’ market ultimately reduces your carbon footprint.
4. Local foods promote variety
Locally-sourced food stimulates biodiversity. Green-market farmers grow thousands of varieties of fruits and vegetables, including over 100 varieties each of apple and tomato. In contrast, industrial agribusinesses cultivates high-yield hybrids bred for faster maturation and thicker skins to withstand mechanical harvest and transport. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than 75% of agricultural genetic diversity was lost in the 20th century. Ultimately, small, bio-diverse farms helps preserve our food heritage.
5. Local foods support local economies & create community
According to American Farmland Trust, “New York lost 127,000 acres of farmlands between 1997 and 2002 – an average of 70 acres of farmland a day.” There were 36,000 farms in operation in 2004. A May 2005 survey by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets reported that New York represents a $30 billion per year market for food. Market demand for locally grown and processed products amounts to more than $866 million per year!
And, locally-sourced food also improves smaller neighborhood economies. According to the Observer, “In peak season, the Union Square Greenmarket draws 60,000 shoppers a day; in a recent survey, 82% cited Greenmarket as the primary reason for their visit, and 60% spent up to $50 in area businesses.
How To Get Started
Now that we’ve listed all of the reasons why eating local is better for you and your environment, you may be wondering how to get started on the locavore path. Below are our top five ways you can jump start buying and consuming local, artisanal foods:
1. Learn what’s in season
Knowing what produce is in season within your region will help you determine what to expect at farmers’ markets and help you decipher which items at other markets and store might be from local, regional sources…and which ones are definitely not!
2. Shop at farmers’ markets
Shopping at farmers’ markets that offer locally-sourced produce is a fun, easy way to increase the amount of local foods you purchase and eat. You know where the food comes from; the grower is right there and you can ask them directly! Not all farmers’ markets have the same guidelines, so check to see if stands are required to sell products grown or produced on local, regional farms. If you are unsure of where your nearest farmers’ market is, LocalHarvest has tons of information about local markets and events.
3. Shop at stores that label food origins and shop the perimeter of grocery stores
If you have a choice of markets, choose one that notes where it sources its products. In particular, look for signs marking the source of seafood, meat, poultry, and produce. Co-ops and health food stores are more likely to clearly denote the origins of the foods they carry. And if there aren’t any signs at your local market? Express your interest in locally-grown and produced foods to the manager. A good tip is to shop the perimeter of grocery stores. The aisles around the perimeter of grocery stores contain more ingredients then processed foods. Shop these perimeters for fresh produce, meats, and dairy. And, in particular, pay attention to the produce aisle: if you’re familiar with your seasons, you’ll increase your chances of finding some locally- or regionally-grown items.
4. Get uber-local and plant a garden
Growing your own food is ultimately the best way to ensure you’re eating local. There are lots of ways to grow your own food- from a simple herb garden to container vegetable gardens to miniature and dwarf fruit trees!
5. Choose restaurants that source locally
The trend towards sustainable, locally-grown food is growing. There are approximately 8,031 restaurants nationwide currently listed in the Eat Well Guide, a hand-picked list of eateries that meet high standards for providing their guests with locally-grown ingredients and focusing on sustainable food sourcing. Ranging from vegan take-out to fine dining, these restaurants all hold in common a commitment to supporting local farmers and producing the best food, local ingredients, and unique flavors each region has to offer. To stand out in the always competitive New York City restaurant world, some green restaurants are going the extra mile to meet the strictest standards of environmental sustainability, animal welfare standards and fair treatment for their workers. So, frequent restaurants that buy from local and regional farms, growers, and purveyors. You can continue your support of local farmers and producers even when you eat out.
It’s what’s inside that counts, right?