This sounds like blasphemy in the real food world doesn’t it? When would buying local not matter? Even the purist of locavores do not strictly buy only local. Not in this day and age.
When Local Doesn’t Matter
Think about it, where does that vanilla extract come from that you buy in the store? Certainly not from North America! Oh, and that coconut oil that you love so much and use in just about everything from cooking to healing, where is that coming from? Not from the US mainland (mostly). These little gems of our real food kitchens are nutrient dense and tasty. They are also completely appropriate to use liberally in our real food kitchens because there is seemingly little negative impact on the local cultures that produce it. In other words, it does not devastate the environment to harvest and ship because these foods can grow easily and quickly. It also tends to improve the economies of the locals that can raise it rather than destroy their traditional food supply.
Secondly, these items are not easily perishable. They have a longer shelf life and can withstand some shipping time between harvest and table preparation. The above are just a couple of examples.
When Buying Local Does Matter
Buying local matters most when you are talking about many food items like seasonal fruits and veggies, meats, milk, eggs, etc. The more local you can get these foods the better. You should consider buying a majority of your food from local sources (80-90%) There are several reasons for this.
1) You can get to know who grows your food. A local farmer who knows his customers is more accountable to producing good quality food. He stands to lose a lot with poor quality and will likely be more cautious about the food he/she produces.
2) Local is fresher and more nutrient dense. You can often get your food fresh within days of harvest or slaughter. From there, its up to you how you store it. But fresh means better taste and more retained nutrients.
3) There are less people between you and your food. I don’t know about you, but I like to know there was only one other place that handled my food. Too many handlers and middlemen means various methods for “safety” and that does not make me comfortable.
4) Buying in season matters! If you live in the northeast you should eat local food of the NE even in winter. I know that sucks sometimes, but there are so many creative ways to prepare traditional meals from root vegetables in the dead of winter. I am so amazed at the various ways to prepare foods even with just a few ingredients. Traditional cultures did it for years, and we can too. Besides, have you ever tasted a strawberry in winter that came from California? EEEEW! They are not very tasty after they travel all that way. Plus, they hardly have any nutritional value left. If you want strawberries in winter, then you should buy them in season and preserve or freeze them.
5) Sustainability and respect for other cultures. There are certain foods that we consume in the name of health, that are depriving the traditional locality of its traditional food. For the sake of making money, they will sell their local food supply to Americans because of demand which drives up the cost for the local population. In some cultures, this may be a staple food which was once inexpensive for them to prepare. But now has become too expensive for the locals and they choose to eat cheap processed junk instead. We need to be VERY conscious of this. Just because we have the money to buy anything we want, does not mean that we SHOULD.
6) To avoid supporting
Monsatano Monsanto. Enough said?
Examples of Foods that You Should Consider Not Buying
1) Quinoa — It pains me to say this. I even have recipes on this blog that use it. But I read an article that describes the very thing I discussed in point number 5 above. The locals can no longer afford to purchase quinoa because of its demand in North America and elsewhere. So, the local culture is eating less expensive non-traditional foods and cheap junk since their staple food supply is now out of reach for them financially. I have since stopped buying quinoa until I can find a source that makes it in the US..
2) Coconut Sugar – Tapping coconut sap actually reduces the life of a coconut tree. According to the article, the Philippine government has requested that coconut sugar farms be planted to keep people from harvesting coconut sugar from trees that are meant to produce coconuts. Now how would you know for certain how coconut sugar is harvested? Can you know for certain that it is harvested sustainably? This goes back to knowing your source of food (and why local knowledge of farming practices is important). There is speculation on both sides whether coconut sugar can be harvested acceptably. But when you can’t verify for yourself and there are other acceptable sources of sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and palm sugar why would you take the chance that you are buying an unsustainable product that maybe damaging the coconut trees? Personally, I’d rather have the whole coconut.
3) Foie Gras - Pretty sure I am going to get a lot of flack for this one in the real food world. But I hate that we are so glib about what happens to these ducks and geese. Just because they gorge themselves in the wild does not mean that farmers should force feed them in the manner that they do. I realize that this considered a nutrient dense food in some circles, but I would argue otherwise if the animal is stressed. See my article on the new California ban for more info. In it there is a TEDx video about a farmer in France who makes Foie Gras the way nature intended. If more Foie Gras producers would produce this way, this would be a better product to consume. Buying local ensures that you know EXACTLY how these animals were treated. I will not eat Foie Gras because of the manner in which they are produced in this country. Regular liver pate is sufficient for me.
Do Your Research
I realize that there are some of you reading this blog that are surrounded by Big Ag and
Monsatano , I mean Monsanto. Your local farmers may not have the best solution for you. There are options. Sometimes local for one person is not the same as another. Your ‘local’ healthy food might have to be purchased via a US company such as US Wellness Meats or Tropical Traditions. Or you may not have enough in the budget to buy from these producers and grocery store meat is all you can afford. There are things that you can do.
1) Buy the lean cuts of the cheaper meat as the toxins are stored in the fat. Then consider buying the bone marrow and tallow/lard from a producer like Tropical Traditions or Wellness Meats to add the healthy fats back into your diet. This is a very cost effective solution.
2) Consider starting your own garden.
3) Learn to preserve food through lacto-fermenting, canning, and freezing to buy in season when things cost less and are the most nutrient dense. This way you can have these items throughout the year.
4) In a recent post, I told you that I purchase my seafood from an American company called Vital Choice that fresh freezes their seafood off American shores. Most of us do not have access to local sustainable fresh seafood sources within a few miles of our homes. There is a large ocean out there in which there are plenty of acceptable sources of seafood to consume. You just need to find a company the properly sources and cares for the seafood.
Keep in mind that HEALTH trumps LOCAL. But, I am trying my darnedest to avoid unsustainable practices that are going to hinder future generations from finding acceptable resources to live. Just because I want it doesn’t mean that I should have it when other seasonal and local foods can sufficiently feed and nourish me. I am enjoying being creative with my food now. It’s a new phase for me, but it really is helping me think outside of the box in the kitchen. Try it for yourself. Focus on trying to eat seasonal and local this year and see where it takes you . . . .
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