By Caitlin Joseph
ANN ARBOR – You’ve heard it all before: buying local supports the local economy, creates jobs, helps the environment, and saves energy. But have you thought about the impact that buying and eating locally produced food can have on your health? Eating a locally focused diet has the potential to increase your physical, emotional, and social well-being.
If you are concentrating on eating food grown or produced within a few hundred miles of your home, it is less likely that you will be consuming high amounts of processed food, which often contain high amounts of refined carbohydrates, sugar, fat and artificial flavors and preservatives. You are more likely to consume higher amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, which will be higher in minerals and micronutrients than their conventional counterparts from thousands of miles away, especially if they are also grown organically. While it’s true that there is no assurance that foods are healthier just because they are grown locally, all of these factors make it more likely that a diet intentionally made up of local foods will be better for you.
Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state, with California being first, and once you start trying to eat local, you may be surprised at the plethora of fruits and vegetables available in our food shed. With many local farms producing heirloom and rare varieties, and local markets bringing these as well as wild and foraged foods to their shelves, eating fresh local food doesn’t feel like a chore, but rather a joy!
“Foods grown by industrial farming methods are no healthier just because they are grown by local farmers,” said John Ikerd, professor emeritus, University of Missouri, Columbia. “However, we have an opportunity to know how our foods are grown when we buy food from local farmers.”
It can be a lot to think about to intentionally buy local, but Joel Salatin, a farmer and influential voice of the sustainable food movement today asks us, “Don’t you find it odd that people will put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food?”
It’s true that we often eat without thinking, and mindful shopping can mean mindful and more healthful eating. Ikerd also said that, “(Due to) the nature of the industrial food system, the only way to get food we can trust is to buy food from farmers we trust. As such the only dependable source of healthy food is local food.”
Knowing the person who produced the product you are buying provides a sense of trust, of kinship and contribution, all of which are basic human needs that we each strive for in our relationships and interactions. When possible, purchasing products produced locally can improve not only your physical health, but your sense of connection to those around you, therefore improving your outlook and emotional state.
“This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal,” said Salatin. But with awareness of the impact sustainable local food systems can have on our health and well-being, a local food reality could become the new normal.
The People’s Food Co-op of Ann Arbor is presenting a talk by Joel Salatin entitled “Local Food to the Rescue” at 8 p.m. April 24 at the Michigan Theater. Get tickets at www.peoplesfood.coop to find out how Joel’s farm serves as a model for local food that’s healthy for people and the planet.