Locally Grown Food Healthier?

Food bought at a farmers market or a CSA tastes much better than food from large commercial food companies, but, could it also be better for you? The New York Times Well blog investigates:
A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a grant to study the public health impact of moving toward a local, sustainable food system. An increasingly vocal local food movement calls for consumers to try to buy and eat foods produced within 100 miles of their homes.

So far, there’s not real evidence that eating locally farmed food is better for you. But there are many reasons to think it might be. By definition, locally farmed food is not going to come from large commercial food companies, so people who eat locally aren’t going to consume as much processed food, which typically contains lots of refined carbohydrates, sugar, fat and preservatives.

By focusing your diet on products grown and raised within 100 miles of your home, you will likely end up eating more fruits and vegetables as well. Shopping for fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets is also pleasurable and may lead to more variety in your diet. Eating local often means you can meet the people who produce your food, and you can also ask questions about pesticide use and farming methods.
I think a big plus is the environmental factor. Locally grown food means less fuel burned during transport.
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don stewart - June 9, 2008 9:46 AM

I disagree that 'eating local' is likely to improve overall health appreciably. It may do wonderful things for the environment if local distribution methods are attended to very carefully. And it definitely does something wonderful for the sense of community. BUT, let me relate the story of an 'eat local' seminar I attended on Saturday. The seminar was sponsored by several very well-meaning groups, including a group of dieticians. To celebrate the occasion, we had a small table with local treats. The table included kale from a local farm as a 'decorative item' scattered between the platters. Half the local farmers with products on the table were cheese producers. I have concluded that the Poster Child of the 'eat local' movement is cheese. In fairness, there were some excellent fruits and berries also available. My point is that just because something is produced close by does not make it healthy.

Any fool can see that all is not well in terms of the health of the population and our demand for petroleum products and the steady deterioration in the social fabric which requires enormous public expenditures for things like prisons and health care. A couple of years ago I had lunch with a guy who runs the 'assistance of last resort' program for the State of New Jersey. He fundamentally gives money to people who have no friends, no family, no means of support, no place to live, etc., etc. The size of his program was, if I remember correctly, 10 or 15 times the size it was 20 years ago. And the numbers were staggering. So people look around for scapegoats. If 'local food' really meant eating a lot more green leafies and a lot less feed lot cattle, then I would be all for it. But I was seated opposite Carlo Petrini of Slow Food a little over a year ago. He didn't look healthy to me--pot belly and all. Just because it is local and slow doesn't make it healthy.

The number of people advocating a slow, fair, healthy, local, food system which repairs the social fabric is vanishingly small. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all better.

Don Stewart

Foodaroo - June 9, 2008 10:37 AM

I think it depends on the fertilizers & water that the farmers use. I learned from an apple farmer that not all farmers use clean water to grow their produce.

Sara - June 9, 2008 10:53 PM

Healthy food grown locally has many advantages. When the vegetables and fruits we need are grown locally and organically this is best- but I am certainly not going to stop eating mangoes, avocadoes or bananas or various other great foods because they do not grow in New Jersey. And in the winter most of our good food has to come from warmer climates.

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