Client: Gone Magazine
It’s All Gone: A Clean Environment, Healthy Economy, and Food Security
Why It’s Important to Eat and Shop Locally, and What You Can Do About It
By Katie McCaskey
Did you know that Virginia’s official state bird and state tree are listed as “urgently endangered” by the National Wildlife Foundation? That’s because global warming is changing our planet enough to alter migration patterns and growing seasons. That’s the reality we face. There’s little debate that climate change and other environmental issues are critical to our collective survival and require immediate action.
So what does that have to do with food?
As you make changes in your life to be more “green”, consider what you eat. How far did your food travel to get to your plate? In some cases, it’s literally around the world. Here, in a state with a long history of agriculture! We’re all a bit spoiled. We’ve grown to expect out-of-season fruits and vegetables around the calendar — damn the consequences!
And there are serious consequences… from carbon output to local job-loss (just for starters). But here are ten more reasons it is becoming more important than ever to support your local food economy.
1. Local food tastes better and it’s better for you. Food purchased from mainstream supermarkets or big-box stores has been in transit or cold-storage for weeks. The nutritional benefits erode with time. By contrast: food purchased locally has less distance to travel. It can ripen on the vine longer. It comes to you in better condition and is better for you.
2. Reduce pollution. Local producers travel a shorter distance to bring food to your table. You get all of this for prices similar to, or lower than, major supermarkets in the area. For those who shop only on price I say: you’re thinking of today, and not tomorrow.
3. Keep money here in the Valley. Spending your money on food that originates here keeps money in Virginia (for all of us!). A dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy according to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London.
4. Stay in touch with the seasons. Our food reflects what is available to our region. Buying food in season puts you in touch with what humans have long known but we’ve recently forgotten: it makes sense to eat in season.
5. Local food supports local farmers. We’re losing farmland and other natural areas because too many farmers find it too difficult to compete. Do we really need more strip-malls and pavement?! Farmers markets, restaurants and other retail shops that make a commitment to local food provide an additional, direct-to-consumer, sales route for local producers.
6. Local food protects genetic diversity. Mainstream grocery store food is developed to survive traveling long distances. So, the plants are genetically selected to withstand a lot of stuff nature didn’t intend — such as packing up a hard tomato and waiting for it to ripen in the store instead of on the vine. Oh, and did we forget that the mainstream industrial food complex contains plenty of genetically modified “Frankenfoods”? No thanks.
7. Preserve open space. Land used for food production isn’t converted to other purposes — like parking lots, roads, or mini-malls.
8. Food Security — Your Own: Know the source of the food you eat. Get to know the people who grow it. Or, if you choose to eat meat, is it processed as humanely as possible?
9. Food Security — Our Community: Hunger still exists in some pockets of our community. Many lower-income people choose fast food because they cannot afford the fresh food options. Encouraging and supporting outlets like a local farmer’s markets provides more members of our community access to healthy food.
10. Food Security — Our Country: We’re at the mercy of assembly-line farming and high-speed distribution. This results in little accountability as far as the quality of the food.
Worse, our food supply chain is vulnerable. It is difficult to trace a particular piece of food through the entire supply chain. This is a problem when there is a contamination (seen recently nationwide in spinach and tomato crops). It would be devastating if it were ever intentional (via orchestrated attack).
The safest way to eat is to know the exact origin of your food. It’s also one of the best and easiest ways to support positive change in the economy and environment.
Not ready to go off-grid and “grow your own”? Then make the best choice and spend your food dollars on local items. Participate in your local farmer’s market. Eat at local restaurants that make a commitment to local producers. Buy groceries that reflect a commitment to our environment, economy, and our local well-being.
Katie McCaskey is co-owner of George Bowers Grocery, a neighborhood store that features locally-produced “staple goods & fancy groceries”. It is located at 614 West Beverley at Fayette Street in Staunton. www.georgebowersgrocery.com