“Brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh!” I grew up in Massachusetts and I remember this commercial from the 70’s, with it’s addictively catchy jingle. A quick Google of the interwebs tells me that plenty of other people remember this jingle, and plenty of them, like me, for years bought nothing but brown eggs. (Of course, we now know, also due to the magic of the Internet, that brown eggs aren’t any fresher; brown eggs come from brown hens, while white eggs come from white hens, but the Rhode Island Red, a “brown” hen, is prevalent in New England.) Who knew a catchy jingle could impact our behavior for so long? It must be an advertising legend. But I digress.
Why eat local? The reasons are so numerous and so obvious, that perhaps the better question should be why wouldn’t we eat local? After all, if you can remember the not-so-very-long-ago 1970’s, you’ll remember that everyone ate locally-produced, seasonal food, pretty much all of the time. Milk was delivered in bottles, every day, from the “milk man” and was sourced from local farms. Corn on the cob and tomatoes meant summer; B&M baked beans, black bread and grilled linguica meant winter. An orange at the top of your Christmas stocking was a real treat; I can remember my Mom telling us that it came all the way from Florida. People seem to think that eating locally is a quaint, nostalgia-fueled exercise, like we’re all pining to be Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, when in reality, only 30 years ago eating locally was the norm. It’s been only a single generation in which our food system has become so dysfunctional that it’s easier to find a New Zealand Granny Smith apple in the market in October than the Empire apple grown by your neighbor 5 miles away.
Many people have written eloquent, heartfelt and thoroughly researched essays on the multitude of good reasons to eat locally grown & produced food: Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and Gary Paul Nabahn to name just a few. I offer just a short list of the reasons that I choose to eat locally.Taste
Yes, you heard it here, the #1 reason to eat locally: local food tastes better. It’s not only fresher (many times you can get it on the day of harvest) than food that has traveled the average 1500 miles to your plate, but it’s also not being raised to travel 1500 miles to your plate. That means you can find different varieties, ones that fell out of favor because they don’t travel well, or lack uniformity, or have a longer growing season. Tomatoes, lettuce, peaches, raspberries, cucumbers, potatoes, even onions & garlic: you’ll be amazed at how much difference freshness and variety can make. Taste. Try it and see.
Mine and my neighbor’s. Yes, buying local food can be more expensive than shopping at the supermarket, especially for meats & cheeses. But buying local blueberries in season and freezing for use out of season is much less expensive than paying $6.99 for a half-pint of Chilean blueberries in February. Additionally, the money I spend stays here, in the Hudson Valley. I like the fact that I know Betsey, my vegetable farmer, and Jen & Mike, my pig farmers, Pat, who raises my chickens, and Don, my “flour guy.” I like even more that I get to give my money to these people that I like: I help to keep them in business and they help to keep me in delicious, healthy food. The money that I pay to them in turn gets funneled back into my neighborhood, to my local schools and shops and industries. Pay it forward, as they say, just not too far forward.
The environmental benefits of not shipping all of our food 1500 miles every day are obvious: 1500 miles less of CO2-spewing transportation, each and every day. But there are many other environmental benefits to a local diet that are somewhat less obvious. Local eating by it’s nature requires many small, diversified farms. One 10,000 acre farm growing lettuce outside of Albany isn’t going to last very long without a huge transportation network to support it. But take those 10,000 acres and turn them into 25 small family farms, raising everything from apples to zucchini, chickens to goats, mushrooms to tilapia, and you instantly reap environmental benefits. Diversity in and of itself is an ecological benefit: monoculture is associated with pesticide-resistant super bugs, erosion & depletion of soil, and increasing fertilizer needs with each harvest season. Many small farmers, if they are not certified organic, practice sustainable farming practices. It just make good sense: less money out of pocket for inputs (fertilizer, pesticides) and higher productivity and healthier soil through sustainable farming.
Yes, I know the names and faces of the people who grow my food. I also get to know the people who care about local food the way I do: shop owners, restaurateurs neighbors. You see them, week in and week out, at the farmer’s market, at the CSA pick-up, at the farm. You trade recipes or talk about how fabulous the Sun Gold cherry tomatoes were last week. You discuss the best local cheddar or how to make butter from heavy cream. Community.
Increasing numbers of studies have shown that an organic diet is healthier than a conventional one; these results can be extrapolated to locally, sustainably grown food. In my opinion it seems that fresh, local food, grown without synthetic inputs, is obviously better for you, but this can be notoriously tricky to prove. (Damn those pesky scientists!)
“But what about coffee?” they say to me. “And chocolate? And tequila?!” True locavores may scoff, but I say life is too short without chocolate, and good coffee is one of life’s true luxuries. (We won’t even discuss life without tequila. Shudder.) Ditto French champagne and fresh-squeezed orange juice. I enjoy all of these things, in moderation. As a conscious, mostly-local eater, however, I try to remember that each of these items is is luxury. It’s easy to think of vintage Krug as a luxury; given the typical price tag of a bottle, very few of us are enjoying this every day. But orange juice, bananas, cashews, pineapples, avocados: if you live in the Northeast, each of these things was shipped here from very far away. A local-conscious diet reminds you to treasure the luxuries and enjoy them as such, but for everyday eating, the best food, for you, your community and the Earth, is the food raised next door.