Eating Locally & In-Season

Eating Locally & In-Season

Depending on where you live you probably have access to at least one farmer’s market or local produce stand. There is a lot of interest these days in shopping local, supporting local farmers and businesses and eating food that is “in season.”

While these are all noble endeavors and I can certainly get behind the movement to shop local, I want to offer a different perspective to the ‘eating local and in season’ trend.

First off, let’s talk about why someone would find this attractive.

  1. Fresher food. When your local farmer picks his produce there may be a few days in between the time of picking and when you’re actually consuming the produce. More than likely you’re purchasing it within 2 days of its harvest, which is why it can be said that locally grown produce is often fresher.
  2. Increased phytonutrient content. When we eat plants during a particular season, we are harnessing the phytochemicals produced during that time of year, which prime our physiology. There was a study done in rats showing the power of eating seasonally. The rats were kept under a long-light period (mimicking summer) and a short-light period (resembling winter). When they were fed a "summer food" (orange) during the short-light period (a.k.a., winter), they had a number of metabolic changes that were not experienced when the orange was fed during the "summer" period, namely, increased fat production, percentage of large adipocytes, and reduced activity in the brown adipose tissue (which is supposed to be metabolically active). Here's a link to the study.
  3. Reduced food miles/environmental footprint. If you live in the northeast region of the United States and purchase avocados grown in Mexico, the environmental footprint of your purchase is much greater than if you were to have access to and purchase the avocado from a local grower.
  4. Saves money (in theory)
  5. Known food source
  6. Contributes to local economy

With all of those positive points, what could I possibly say that would cause someone to reconsider the idea of “eating local?”

Well, here are some thoughts from history that touch on the issues that can arise from eating local:

  1. Only “eating local" is how "goiter belts" develop around the world. When the local soil lacks nutrients and people are only eating food from that local soil, the population’s health will reflect the soil deficiencies. Iodine is just one example of this.
  2. Eating only locally grown food in regions of the country where there are just a few months without frost means having a very limited goes against the maxum "eat a variety of foods". In the early 1800's there was a famine in Vermont when volcanic ash from the other side of the world changed the climate and there was no summer one year. Rather than starve in VT, farmers chose to move west to better farmland.
  3. The idea of "eating local" is romantic, but not practical when drought or blight wipes out the state's entire tomato crop (or as in Ireland's case, the country's potato crops every twenty years).

I mention these few historic examples, lest we forget the past and so repeat it. While shopping local and eating in season are trendy and offer some benefits, it is unrealistic to expect the whole country to adopt this idealogical way of eating.

I want to hear your thoughts on this! Comment below and let me know what your non-negotiable shopping rules are, and what you tend to be a little more lenient with.