Should you be a ‘locavore?’
Much of America’s produce is either imported from other countries or shipped across the country. Yet, locally grown produce may offer some key benefits that long-distance produce just can’t match.
Why buy local?
The term “locally grown” refers to the transport distance from where the produce is grown to where it is sold to the consumer.
The 2008 Food, Conservation and Energy Act requires this distance to be less than 400 miles for a product to be considered local. To put the distance into perspective, 400 miles is about the same distance from Chicago to Cleveland. Yet, for some, this distance is too far.
In recent years, people known as “locavores” have emerged. These individuals restrict their diet to locally sourced products within 100 miles – approximately the distance from Chicago to Milwaukee.
The local food movement has spread beyond just locavores.
Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for ConAgra (the food giant behind brands like Healthy Choice and Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup) told the New York Times that concerns over food safety, quality and cost were driving people beyond hardcore locavores to seek out food that has traveled less distance.
It’s worth the effort
According to Harvard Medical School, produce begins to lose nutritional value from the moment that it is picked. That means the faster the food reaches the consumer, the more nutritious the produce. This favors local food that doesn’t need to travel as far.
“If people are going to buy fruits and veggies, they need to be sure to eat them within five days of purchase,” says Robin Rinker, clinical dietitian for Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “Otherwise, they lose their nutritional value.”
Additionally, locally sourced food is much better for the environment, Rinkers says.
What you need to know
Many apples in Illinois are flown in from New Zealand – over 8,000 miles away.
The difference in the amount of fuel burned from a jumbo jet traveling over 8,000 miles compared to one tank of gas for a truck traveling just down the road is substantial. Not only that, but the apples just down the road reaches the consumer much faster, making it fresher, better nutritional value and lasts longer.
Rinker says that is why it is important people determine the origin of their produce.
Grocery stores are beginning to improve their local options, but they aren’t always the best source for local produce. Farmer’s markets and cooperatives, farms that ship local produce directly to your door, are also good options to explore.
Wherever a person decides to shop, experts agree that buying local may be the best option this summer.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.