We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are. — Adelle Davis
Following the convenience-food craze of the '90s, the last decade has seen a new, local food movement gaining a great deal of momentum. People have begun to recognize the numerous environmental and economic benefits of fresh eats grown nearby. But what kind of impact does buying locally have on our health? The answer: a big one!
Here are the top health reasons to "get local":
It's more nutritious
In the larger, globalized food system, fruits and vegetables are bred for growth rate, yield, and transportability over nutrition and taste. Each strain offers a different taste and appearance, and varying mineral, vitamin, and phytochemical content. That perfectly round, red tomato on the grocery store shelf is but one of 7,500 varieties!
Food produced for a local market is picked at the peak of ripeness and contains more vitamin C and other nutrients than what's shipped prematurely to ripen during transport. Studies show that fresh food can lose up to 50 per cent of nutrients three to five days after harvest, which means produce may have lost the majority of what's good for you by the time it hits your dinner table! Buying direct from local farmers helps ensure that key nutrients are retained.
Factory farms really stink
"Factory farm" or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) refers to livestock raised in a dense and confined manner to produce the highest output at the lowest cost. Aside from the ethics of this type of farming—and trust me, I could go on—there are serious health risks associated with it.
Large-scale farms produce a huge quantity of waste in one location, which sits in giant, open-air lagoons until it can be pumped away, releasing noxious gases that produce an almost unbearable stench, contribute to global warming, and can negatively impact human health. People who live in the vicinity report increased occurrences of headaches, excessive coughing, and burning eyes.
These lagoons are also notorious for breaking and leaking waste, contaminating water supplies. Food produced near giant feedlots also faces contamination. Recent incidences of E. coli found on raw spinach and tomatoes were linked to waste run-off from nearby animal farms. Smaller farms produce manure in manageable quantities, so it acts as a valuable fertilizer for crops, and not a hazard.
The natural diet of cows is grass, but since grains such as corn fatten them quickly and require far less land, that's become the feed of choice for large-scale agribusiness. Benefits to grass-fed cows from smaller farms include improved food safety (up to 80 per cent less pathogenic E. coli in their guts than grain-fed animals) and better nutrition (grass-fed beef has a lower fat content, and higher levels of vitamins A and E, and omega-3 fatty acids).
In factory farms, diseases can easily spread between animals. To combat this major problem, low levels of antibiotics are added to the animals' feed, which encourages bacteria to develop a resistance. The U.S. Center for Disease Control states that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are one of its top concerns, noting that people infected by drug-resistant organisms face longer hospital stays and higher risks of death. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that up to 70 per cent of antibiotics used in North America are for non-therapeutic use in animal feed, and many of the antibiotics used in animal agriculture are also used in human medicine.
The spread of disease is greatly minimized by less crowding, so smaller local farms do not need these inputs.
It's less processed
Experts unanimously agree that a diet rich in whole foods—like those found at your local farmers' market—is the best choice. The World Health Organization identified processed food as a key cause of the rise in obesity and chronic diseases worldwide, recommending a diet with less sugar and salt, and more fruits and vegetables. Farmers' markets are bursting with fresh, whole foods that contribute to a healthy diet.
Eating food from nearby, small-scale farms is an excellent way to improve your health while protecting the environment and benefiting the local economy. Make local food a part of your sustainable lifestyle today!
Check out our suggestions for eating for a healthy planet.