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September 20, 2010

Buying Local Foods

If you don’t seek out local foods you should try my taste test for proof that local food is better.

Take peaches for example. During our travels this summer we passed a South Carolina peach farm and stopped to sample their peaches. While dripping fresh peach juice down our shirts, we bought two baskets on the spot. I couldn’t believe the flavor. They were delicious. I remember thinking that I hadn’t tasted a peach like that in years. We ate peaches everyday for two weeks and we never had to refrigerate them. They lasted much longer than I thought they would. But with all good things, it came to an end. The peaches were gone and a few days later I found myself wishing that we could have just one more before the end of summer. Then I saw South Carolina peaches in the store. Wow, how wonderful. I bought four and I couldn’t wait to get home to try one. I was so disappointed. Not only were they tasteless but the texture was mealy. What could have happened? Why were they so bad? I decided to do a little research and this is what I found.

Grocery stores buy in bulk to keep costs down. It can take several weeks from the time the peach is picked to the time it reaches the store shelves so they’re often picked green and exposed to ethylene to force ripening. Naturally fresh foods are more flavorful with just the right texture since they have more sugar and starch. But flavor and texture is also determined by where the produce is grown. Greenhouse produce will disappoint every time, because all a grower has to worry about is getting it to the store looking good. Do you taste a peach in the store before you buy it? Probably not and that is what the grower is banking on.

There are many other benefits to buying local produce. You will be promoting good health, supporting the local economy, and protecting the environment. Better tasting foods will encourage people to follow government guidelines to eat five fruits and vegetables daily. Locally grown food has less additives and higher nutrients. Shipping foods uses more fuel for traveling long distances and more packaging materials that end up in our landfills. Foods that are shipped are often sprayed with additional chemicals to ward off insects.

According to an Iowa State research report, if we grew 10% more produce for local consumption it would result in an annual savings ranging from 280,000 to 346,000 gallons of fuel. It’s hard to believe that a typical carrot has to travel 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table. This summer I learned a great deal about where our foods come from. Imported food makes up a substantial and growing portion of the U.S. food supply. You could sit down to a meal and in one day eat foods from at least 20 different countries mostly from Canada, Mexico, and China but foods also come into the U.S. from Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand among others. As much as 80 percent of our seafood and 45 percent of fresh fruit is imported. Importing food brings with it a concern for keeping Americans healthy and safe.

Depending on where you live, the growing season will vary across the country. So plan ahead, purchase your produce during peak months, or plant your own small garden next spring. Freeze and/or can corn, beans and tomatoes for later. Studies have shown that frozen or canned food has more nutrients than foods shipped great distances. Buying local food tastes better, is healthier and is good for the environment and your local economy.

Next time I’ll share some tips for canning fruits and vegetables.

Posted by terri at September 20, 2010 03:28 AM