For You and For the Rest of Us
The debate rages on… vegetarian, vegan, high protein-low carb (Atkins), South Beach, Fat-Flush, Macrobiotic… which diet is the healthiest for you?
In the past, my stock answer to this sticky question has been, “it depends”. There are many factors that would determine which is right for an individual… genetics, metabolism, blood type, ethnic background, health, personal preferences, etc. If I saw five patients in one day that all asked me that very same question, the conclusion drawn would have been that there is a different answer for each one of them.
Herbivore? Carnivore? Omnivore?
Nope… if we really want the healthiest way of eating… for you, and for the rest or us, how about LOCAVORE!!
Factoid: The New Oxford American Dictionary chose locavore as its word of the year for 2007.
A “locavore” is someone that eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius of where they live. The distance considered “local” may vary depending upon your sensibilities, but a generally accepted rule of thumb may be within 100 miles.
This would be taking the question to a whole different level – one that transcends whether you are eating meat or not. And one that eschews the organic vs. non-organic argument. Or, better said, decide to eat locally first – then you can argue about all the rest of it. Vegetarian or carnivore, organic or not – if you are getting your food locally, chances are it will be healthier for you than if it traveled in a truck, boat or plane to make it to your plate. And, just as importantly, it will be healthier for me if you did that too!
The average American meal has traveled at least 1,500 miles to make it to your plate (that is further than the average American family goes for vacation). So what is the true cost of a meal when you consider the fuel costs of transportation and refrigeration, packaging, labor, etc? The cost to the environment and the inflated cost of gasoline (because of supposed scarcity) makes that 99 cent hamburger one heck of a lot more expensive.
Get this – according to Barbara Kingsolver (author of many novels including Poisonwood Bible) and husband Steven Hopp in their book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – if every American citizen would eat just one local and organically grown meal a week, the savings in fuel would amount to 1.1 million barrels of oil every week! How many of us have considered trading in our SUV for a Prius? Want to make a real difference, and help yourself in the process… become a locavore… the impact can be tremendous, even if you only partially dedicate yourself to the idea.
Locally grown food makes up less than 1% of the $900-billion food industry. The reasons for this are numerous, including grocery chains & wholesalers and fast-food producers finding it easier and more profitable to buy from huge factory farms. Government subsidies also contribute to the appearance of economies with the large-scale food delivery system.
Imagine what would happen if there were no more local farms in our area. All it would take is one natural disaster between here and the Mid-West, or one ill-timed political decision, or one trucker’s strike to render us helpless.
Here are additional benefits (other than saving gas) that come from encouraging and supporting local farmers…
Eating foods harvested locally also means eating them almost immediately after harvest, which translates into better taste and increased nutritional value, because local foods ripen on the vine, not through an artificial process while in a truck.
Keeping local farmers in business helps to control urban sprawl – a family farm going out of business is what leads to the land becoming available to developers.
Eating locally encourages multiple cropping; growing multiple species and a wide variety of crops at the same time and place… this is healthier for the land and also makes the farms less susceptible to the likelihood of an entire crop loss caused by one factor (meaning if all you grow is soy beans and a soy bean virus attacks your crops – you’re done).
Multiple cropping also allows for more efficient use of labor and materials because different plants come in at different times, as opposed to 80% of the work happening in a short period of time.
Local economies are strengthened by protecting local jobs and local suppliers.
You should realize that foods in packages marked as “local” may mean that they were grown locally, shipped abroad for packaging and processing, and then shipped right back to your neighborhood for sale. This would hardly result in the intended outcome or conserving resources, etc. And, it would also mean that too much of the cost of the food would be going to all of the middle-men in that process, not the local farmer. So, when you buy locally, you should be buying from the actual farmer (at a farmer’s market, perhaps) or from a food co-op or local grocer who can certify the source and processing of the goods.
When you go to a farmer’s market to make your purchases, take the time to actually talk to the farmer. First of all, it’s the neighborly thing to do (and he or she IS your neighbor). Also, you can find out about the farming methods used – organic or not – and you can get the opportunity to let your preferences be known. You are the consumer, the customer, after all, and farmers want to grow the things that you are interested in buying.
And don’t forget about restaurants that advertise local foods used in their establishments. Eating at these places has a tremendous trickle down effect in supporting local farmers and encouraging more of them to continue to do their thing.
There are a lot of resources around to help you find local farmers and farmers markets. You can go to http://www.localharvest.org/ and click on the map where you live. Bring up http://www.futureharvestcasa.org/ for more regional resources and information.
I really encourage you to think this through very carefully. Think about how simple it would be to make a small change in your habits that could reap huge rewards down the road. One meal a week, that is less than 5% of your total eating activity, can make a huge difference in your health and mine. Even if you aren’t interested in helping yourself, you could at least do it for me!