This week's newspaper column: (Read it in the Hatteisburg American)
Most Americans are very sure they know exactly where their food comes from: the Grocery Store.
That’s right. We drive to the supermarket when convenient and fill ever-larger shopping carts with seemingly endless varieties of familiar and exotic edible offerings. And why not? It’s easy and predictable. Today’s corporate agribusinesses have become so very efficient at factory farming, processing, and the logistics of moving things from place to place that it’s no wonder most citizens are disconnected from the source of one of our most essential necessities of life - food.
Of course, much of what is on grocery shelves isn’t exactly food, or at least not simply food as we would recognize it growing on the earth. Most groceries might be more accurately described as a “food-like products.” Look at the list of ingredients on the packaging and you will find dyes, hydrogenated oils, and chemical preservatives - which humans would never consider eating otherwise - inserted for the sake appearance or for extending shelf life of food that was grown half a continent, if not half a world, away.
The result? A high calorie, low nutrition American diet that is, in part, responsible for record levels of obesity and ill-health.
It wasn’t always this way. Up until the mid-twentieth century, most of the food we ate was grown within a one-day driving distance. The pre-World War II landscape was full of family farms. Outside every city, town, and burg was farmland, with much of the crop going to feed local appetites. If you did not grow up on a farm, you certainly knew someone who did. People were connected to the source of their food, and fresh seasonal produce always graced the dinner table.
Now I’m not saying we should get rid of grocery stores; they are quite essential. But there are many sustainable reasons to eat locally grown food.
Let’s take a quick tally. 1) Locally grown food uses less fossil fuel getting to market, 2) fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier than packaged foods, and 3) buying locally grown food supports your local economy possibly keeping your would-be deadbeat friends employed.
My favorite reason to eat locally grown foods is the taste. Go to a farmers’ market and load up on freshly picked tomatoes, bite into a raw crisp green bean, take home some succulent zuccinni and eggplant to stir-fry – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more delicious meal.
It’s hard to have a conversation about eating locally without addressing the reality that fruits and vegetables are seasonal by nature. But instead of thinking about what isn’t available at some point in the year, get excited about what is in season. In summer, celebrate watermelons and tomatoes. In winter, enjoy cabbage and broccoli.
So a little food for thought: What local food can you incorporate into your diet?