Contemporary issues like the on-going drought in California beg the question: What would we do—those of us living in the most developed nations of the world—if the primary means by which we feed ourselves were no longer available? One luxury of our post-industrialized society is being able to acquire just about any food we can fathom (or agribusiness corporations can conjure up) any time of year, in any region of the country, with little effort on our part besides strolling down a local supermarket’s aisles.
But how much of the food that ends up in your pantry or refrigerator is ethically and/or locally-sourced? And, why have we as consumers stopped asking or caring about the answers to those questions? We all know the saying, “Change begins at home.” Challenge yourself to eat local for a whole week—or a month, if you dare—and see what you discover about your local food economy and perhaps how to better vote with your food dollars.
I did, and here’s what I learned:
1. Be Open
Part of eating local is changing what you eat and how you conceptualize your meals. I consider myself to be a healthy eater, and though I may be used to using brown rice, quinoa and millet to craft my standard nutritious fare. Guess what? I live in Wisconsin, and none of those grains can be locally sourced within 150 mile of where l live or from anywhere in the state, for that matter. So I had get a bit more inventive about how to round out my vegetarian entrées, using spelt tortillas from a local vendor or combining fresh veggies from this year’s CSA into hearty, new creations. Eggplant-stuffed peppers, anyone?
2. Be Aware
Locally purchasing 90 percent of the food and beverages I consumed for 30 days opened my eyes to how much money I was spending and to whom that money was going. I paused to ask questions about the owners of the new neighborhood café up the road and spent a much more time figuring out what I could find locally than missing the products I couldn’t. For example, I discovered a new Madison, Wis.-based online grocer Square Harvest. When I purchase food from Square Harvest, I buy directly from farmers and give back to my community. For every dollar spent on Square Harvest, 97 percent stays in the local economy (only 3 percent credit card fees leave the state), and 82 percent goes back to farmers (see pie chart).
3. Waste Less
All of the produce I ate came directly from my CSA, a local co-op, farmers markets, friends’ gardens or directly from my backyard. I felt a greater responsibility to honor the hard work I personally knew went into growing the food I was consuming, which lead me to read up on how to preserve items I had not bothered to store in the past, like kale, Swiss chard and green beans.
In addition, I felt good supporting Square Harvest, which is a zero-waste grocery store. The food is requested from vendors to fill direct orders, thereby significantly reducing food waste during distribution—in comparison, typical grocery stores waste 10 percent of food. This also helps reduce the carbon footprint of grocery shopping thanks to the short distance deliveries travel to reach the warehouse, energy efficient warehousing and minimized driving distances to reach end consumer.
Eat well, buy local and help support small farms and food-based businesses in your area. Take the challenge for yourself, and tell me what you learn!
About the Author: Rachel Werner is the assistant editor of BRAVA, a magazine created by women for women. She is a fitness instructor, personal trainer and blogger, and her passionate commitment to holistic wellness and sustainable agriculture makes Madison, Wis., a wonderful home.