Gibbons is a licensed nutritionist and personal trainer who owns her own business in San Diego, California. She divides her time between training with clients and taking care of her three year old son, Reid – both great ways as well as reasons to stay in shape! Find her on Twitter: @healthnut2011 or read her contributions to http://www.eatbreatheblog.com
I recently read Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben; the author spoke at my college during my senior year, but it took me until now to read his “hopeful manifesto.” In the second chapter of his book, he outlines an experiment he conducted, in which he only ate locally-grown food for a year. During this year, he chronicles stocking up at his local farmer’s market, finding local farmers and CSA (community-supported agriculture) farms, and his yearning for oats (until he cheated by crossing the Vermont-Canadian border and buying some at a Canadian farm).
All of this got me thinking about my own diet, and that of my son. I am in-between health insurance plans at the moment, which makes being health-conscious extremely important. Consequently, I try to make the best choices possible, even if it’s something as minor as being choosy about where our food comes from, and what was done to it prior to it being on our plates. As a licensed nutritionist, I have learned a lot about healthy vs. unhealthy food choices, but I know very little about eating locally and its possible benefits.
While the effects of eating locally are still being examined, and many of the claims are based upon more wishful thinking than anything else, there are benefits to eating locally-grown food. The first and most obvious is that, because the food you are eating did not have to travel further than a few miles, it is fresher, and is therefore more nutritionally complete.
Indeed, studies have shown that food begins to lose nutrients as soon as it is picked, which seems to support eating locally.
When you take into account the jostling and temperature changes that food goes through while being shipped, it seems commonsensical to eat locally whenever possible. Additionally, because your food was not shipped via semi, train, etc., less fuel was used, resulting in less air pollution; cleaner air is always beneficial, both to you and your children, and to the planet as a whole.
However, it is important to note that not all locally-grown foods are organic, which means that pesticides may have been used at one point or other. Many people equate locally-grown with organically-grown, but you should be aware that these are two distinct categories of food. While it is true that some locally-grown food is also organic (and vice versa), you should make sure beforehand. To quote Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety who was interviewed for a TIME article on this subject,
“I don’t know what local means. Do they use local pesticides? Does that mean the food is better because they produce local cancers?”
On this sunny note, I would like to encourage you to eat more locally-grown food. While the health benefits may seem negligible, there are many benefits that are more intangible, such as encouraging and supporting local farms, which strengthens community as a whole. I am going to try Bill McKibben’s experiment for the summer, and I may make it part of my regular dietary routine. I can already tell you that I will miss bananas terribly, but I have a feeling that I will develop a taste for fruits and vegetables that I may have otherwise neglected while sorting through the bins at my local grocery store.