Over the weekend, I took some time to consider the question, “Why do this?”
It was tough when I began to think about writing this particular blog post because there is a whole host of reasons why I’ve chosen to eat clean and as local as possible. Much of my reading as of late has been devoted to this topic and has inundated me with a great many statistics. While these are certainly important, what I am trying to do and the motivation behind it can be explained in much simpler terms by someone who has done far more research:
“Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience and “value” or they can nourish a food chain organized around values–values like quality and health. Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon as you begin to treat that expenditure as a kind of vote–a vote for health in the largest sense–food no longer seems like the smartest place to compromise.”
For tens of thousands of years, our ancestors ate the food provided by their local habitats. Even in (relatively) recent history, items transported from other places were rare commodities, saved for special occasions and relegated to things which simply could not be produced in the local climate.
With the advent of modern technology, we’ve learned to do it all quickly and efficiently. But is this really the best way to do things? Consider that most commercially grown products are bred for quantity (thus those watery, mealy tomatoes that pop up in the store in January) and visual appeal (but they looked so nice on the shelf!), and it becomes clear that what is being provided in the grocery store is nothing more than a mirage. Sure, the produce section looks full even in the middle of winter, but at what price? By the time those tomatoes reach the store, they’ve been shipped hundreds (if not thousands) of miles and their nutrition has degraded significantly. And since it’s the middle of winter, you guessed it, you’re going to pay more for them anyway. Paying more for an inferior product doesn’t make sense, does it?
So, as Pollan puts it, you have to put forth the effort. This means buying tomatoes from a local farm when they are in season and preserving them as best you can. While canning, dehydrating, and freezing all cause nutrient loss, products grown using sustainable agriculture practices contain significantly more vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants than their commerically grown counterparts. So, while you’ll still lose some in the “saving” process, you’re left with more than what you’d get from the grocery.
Even much of that can be avoided by eating what is in season at any given time. Googling farms in your area can give you an idea of when certain products peak and what time of year you can expect to have certain vegetables and fruits. It’s really forced me to try some new veggies, which is never bad! Plus, many farms are open for “pick-your-own” fruits and vegetables, which is a great way to get kids involved in healthy cooking as children are more likely to eat something which they’ve had a hand in choosing and preparing.
And yet, while all of these are fine arguments for local food, none capture what it is that drives me: I feel better. I am very curious to see how my blood work comes up this week after finishing iron treatment and really devoting myself to better eating habits. But it’s not just a physical feeling of well-being either. It’s embracing my place as a citizen of the world. It is accepting that food, in its most basic form comes from a complex web of relationships between living beings. It is understanding that while the lifestyle comes with its sacrifices, it embraces the harmony between those living things that provide us with sustenance and a sense of community.
While I’m not a member of a religious faith, this connection to what fuels us has brought me a profound sense of peace and has reminded me that nature is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.