As published in Examiner.com May 25th, 2010
There is something to be said for being able to trace where your food comes from and know it is well taken care of before it gets to your kitchen. The health benefits of eating food that comes from a farm and not a processor are exponential. Knowing your farmer and your food is an ode to eating local and staying healthy.
Anyone who has read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation", Michael Pollan's "Omnivores Dillema" or watched "Food Inc" knows the disconnect between what we are buying and what we are eating. Over the past year the Department of Agriculture has launched "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food". The initiative aims at creating new economic opportunities for the nations small farms by helping to link them directly with the consumer.
According to the Center for a New American Dream, each time you buy one pound of locally produced food, you help keep 13 pounds of carbon emissions out of the environment. That fact alone is a compelling reason for eating the fruits of our local bounty, but there is more;
1. Food Safety;
In Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle her daughter Camile speaks of their family's decision to eat local stemmed partially from the horror of driving past feed lots on their trips from Arizona to Appalachia. Modern feedlots have the capacity to house 37,000 cows, which are kept in pens and fed a processed diet by dump truck. Cows are factorially beefed up in 14 month, the historic average is 60. Of the many problems this has created is e-coli contamination. This infection is inadvertently spread to crops being fertilized with cow feces. Over 80% of the beef produced in this country is processed by only 4 corporations. One pound of ground beef can come from a thousand different cows. In those numbers there is no way to trace the ultimate source of your food.
2. Proper Identification of what we are eating;
Recently two students at Trinity High School in New York City completed a science project, discovering the DNA of foods found in their local grocery store. They teamed up with scientists from Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History to complete the tests. Shockingly 11 of the 66 foods examined were incorrectly labeled. Of the mislabeled foods were such high end items as Sturgeon Caviar (actually Plyodon spathula, a fish) and Sheep's Milk Cheeses (actually cows milk). For anyone with food allergies, the report is alarming.
3. Eating healthy;
As westerner's our diet consists of processed sugars, red meat and saturated fat which has led to a considerable increase in certain cancers and type 2 diabetes. Whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables are best for us. Michael Pollan counsels “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," in his new book "Food Rules".
By Pollan standards the book is a tiny tome but it's message is just as important as his previous works. His 7 cardinal rules to eat by point at eating local as an obvious option and essential way to stay healthy.
4. Preserving local resources
Buying locally grown supports both the farmer and our economy. The health of both translates into the creation of jobs and less farmland being developed. If farms are growing organic they must make a commitment to let the land rest free of pesticides for a number of years, this is a difficult commitment for them to make when many lease different parcels to expand their operations. While Department of Agriculture now has a number of programs they can take advantage of to purchase new sites outright, taking the plunge is not easy for a farmer who is relying on the elements to make a living. Our support helps to make it a sound business decision for them.
There is a transparency in buying local. If you know where your fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, poultry and fish are coming from, you can research the conditions of the farm and growing practices. Buying farm direct or at a farmer's market allows you to question, in detail the farm's philosophy. Each week we will be profiling a different local farm. We will get to know why they are so dedicated to what they do and learn about their hopes for the near future. If we are fortunate we may even get a few tips, tricks and recipes for how best to enjoy their offerings.