Local Foods: More Than Trendy Shopping

By Joel DeVyldere

There’s a trend in the U.S. right now of people buying locally grown and processed foods. The local foods movement encompasses everything from the hyper-expensive suburban markets selling bread from downtown bakeries to the side-of-the-road fruit stand hawking fruits grown, picked, and packaged in the fields behind them.

But what, exactly, is “local” food? Well, it’s complicated. The advocacy site sustainabletable.org says “Local is shorthand for an idea that doesn’t have a firm definition.” This is largely because it has been developed in so many locations by so many different people, groups, and corporations (see Sustainable Table’s FAQ sheet on local foods).

Local produce at Farmers Market, photo copyright Jonathan Lange

I find a good definition for local foods is “any food grown, produced, or raised within 100 miles of the place sold.” When grocery shopping, there are lots of reasons to buy local: it’s good for small-time farmers, good for the local economy, and can but does not always lead to lower carbon emissions (more about local foods and carbon emissions here).

On top of all that, there is evidence that local fruits and vegetables are also better for your health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, local foods tend to have better nutritional value than foods shipped from far away. Here are a couple of the reasons cited:

  • Vegetables picked and immediately consumed keep more of their vitamins and minerals.
  • Local, and especially local small-time organic farmers tend to use methods—like organic composting and crop rotation—that make more nutritious produce to start with.
  • Large scale food importers tend to use mechanical picking methods and transport. This increases the chances that your produce will be bruised or broken which affects its nutritional value.

(You can read the full Harvard article here.)

P.S. For more on the benefits of local foods, check out nutrition.gov’s Top 10 Reasons to Shop at a Farmer’s Market.

Local foods at a grocery store, photo copyright Jonathan Lange

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