So buying and eating locally - at one time it wasn't a choice, it was just the way things were done. America was back-to-back farmland with a few cities thrown in between. Local farms supplied local groceries. If you wanted watermelon and fresh sweet corn, you longed for the heat of summer. If you wanted the taste of a sweet, crisp apple, then thankfully fall was just around the bend. But as transportation, refrigeration, and trade between countries have developed over the last umpteen years, so has the expectation that we can enjoy just about any food we desire the whole year round.
Of course, somewhere in the midst of this progress of having any food, any time we want it, we've made some serious compromises. For the most part, I think we've done this without realizing it, as it happened so gradually. Foods just don't taste like they used to. Tomatoes are a perfect and very obvious example. Certain breeds of tomatoes dominate the groceries, not because they taste the best (we all know grocery store tomatoes pretty much suck), but because they look pretty and are durable enough to make it through a lengthy shipping process. But it's not just tomatoes. It's the same with all our whole foods. Fresh (picked within a few days of eating) just tastes better.
Last fall, when I began my eating local challenge (click here for my original guidelines; here for lessons learned during the experiment), I really had no idea what I was getting into and was convinced that even here in Texas, where we have a year-round farmers market, that I was sure to end up crawling into the nearest grocery store, half-starved, begging for a bag of baby carrots. Let's just say, I was VERY pleasantly surprised and that little scenario never happened. Why, even after the experiment is over, and I am allowing myself the flexibility to buy non-local items, do I continue to buy most of our food locally? Frankly, it's just better.
I'm not talking just about taste, although my taste buds alone would never let me go back, but also about health. Whole foods, eaten at the peak of freshness, grown on pesticide free land are more nutritionally dense. They are better for us? And let's not just talk about us here. It turns out, what's better for us is better for the earth too. There's no catch 22 here. Buying locally means better tasting food, better health, and a healthier environment. What could be better?
Now, I'm not saying it's always easy. It takes a little bit of extra planning, effort and creativity. But you can do as little or as much as you like and still make a difference. For instance, you could decide to buy all your eggs locally, or honey, or a few veggies. Or maybe you decide to grow your own herbs. The key is, as in other things, to be mindful and take things one step at a time.
Oh, and don't forget, it's not about being perfect. I'm in Texas. This isn't exactly wheat country here, but I'm a sucker for a good sandwich. What I can't buy locally, I make from scratch with whole ingredients. Give yourself some good clear goals, but also be sure to allow some flexibility to mindfully enjoy your favorite foods. Love ice-cream (oh yeah)? Learn to make your own. Even better, do you have a local dairy nearby to get your milk and cream? Love bread (that's me too)? Baking bread can be wonderfully fulfilling (not to mention the house smells awesome) and many areas of the US have access to local wheat if you take a little time to look and ask questions.
Sure, the world has changed and it seems that every day we have new and sometimes disturbing choices about what we put in our mouths (i.e. I recently saw an ad for whole grain Pop-tarts - are we supposed to believe that Pop-tarts are healthy now). But somehow, it turns out, buying and eating locally (old-fashioned though they are), is the tastiest, healthiest way to go. But don't take my word for it, try it for yourself.
One last thing - A great resource for finding local food near you is the Local Harvest Website. Enter your zip code for a list of local suppliers in your area. But don't leave it at that. Ask around. Even your grocery store might carry some locally sourced foods. And if you're local to me (Bryan-College Station, TX), I already have a running cheat sheet for you. Be sure to check out my list of local food suppliers.
Happy (and mindful) eating!