5 Ways to Eat Local

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The grassroots food movement has gained traction in recent years as people look to get away from processed, industrialized food and literally get back to Earth with their food. Eating local, even organic, has been popularized by books such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, television programs such as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and movies such as Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives.

Tanya Denckla Cobb, who teaches food system planning at the University of Virginia, explores further how Americans are demanding more fresh, local foods at home, in their schools, in restaurants, and at food markets in her new book Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat.

By eating foods locally grown, she writes, we inevitably eat healthier. That’s because such foods are not grown to survive long voyages—an average of 1,500 miles in the case of many supermarket foods—and also are more nutritious and flavorful. Locally-grown foods are less likely to be treated with harmful chemicals. By “eating local,” you’re likely to reinforce the connection to how food is supposed to be produced—as opposed to the processed food that makes up most American diets. Here are five ways to eat local:

1. Plant a Garden

It doesn’t get more local than your own backyard. Cobb says you don’t need a green thumb or significant space to grow your own food; many do so in urban areas. “You can start with herbs that have a tremendous impact on your health: basil, dill, oregano, sage,” she says. “All of them are easy to grow. Tomatoes are pretty easy and there are wonderful varieties that you can’t get at the store that are sweeter and tastier than the cardboard tomatoes shipped thousands of miles.”

2. Shop at Farmer’s Markets and Festivals

Farmer’s markets have proliferated in recent years, providing locally-grown produce, often for less than that sold at the supermarket, which may or may not be local. Some farms have pick-your-own opportunities and food festivals are becoming increasingly popular.

3. Seek Out Restaurants That Use Locally Grown Foods

Some restaurants feature locally-grown produce and locally-raised meat, and not just because they want to help out fellow local businesses. “Chefs are seeking out more local food because it tastes better,” Cobb says. “So one way to eat more local is to patronize restaurants that offer it and thank them for doing so.” Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has more than 1,200 U.S. restaurants, has made a commitment to using locally-grown produce wherever possible, along with meat and dairy products that come from animals free from hormones and antibiotics. Cobb’s book explores Chipotle’s relationship with Polyface Farms, the Virginia farm made famous by The Omnivore’s Dilemma for its old-school, free-range farming methods.

4. Join a CSA

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a popular way to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. With a CSA, a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” or subscriptions to the public. Shares typically consist of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Customers purchase a share or subscription and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

5. ‘Vote’ With Your Wallet

A recent study at Virginia Tech revealed that if every resident of Virginia spent just $10 of their weekly grocery bill on locally-grown food, it would have a $1.65 billion annual impact on that state. “Whether you’re partaking in a community garden or opting to buy something locally grown, you can make a big impact not only on how food is produced but on your own health as well,” says Cobb. “Plus you’re making this connection to your local farm and to your food that many people lost touch with in the last half of the 20th century.”

Written by: Pete Williams (Core Performance) April 9, 2012

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