The Value of Eating Local

JUNE 2011

By Cynthia Ruzzi

I know what you did last summer…but I promise not to tell anyone that the only salad you got close to had the word potato in front of it.  It’s our secret that you said you’d stop at fifteen chips but only pulled your hand out of the bowl and away from your sixth handful because your second hamburger – on a white bread bun – was coming off the grill.

How about considering a makeover this summer – for your diet? Summer in California is actually a perfect time to ‘re-up’ those long forgotten January resolutions.  Not only is the temperate weather perfect for a long walk or a bike ride, but it’s easy to find delicious fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets Thursday through Sunday within ten miles of our community.

Our family shifted our diet toward local, organic foods and it has made a considerable change in our health and daily energy.  Since January, we have been eating a ‘90lov’ diet – ninety percent local, organic, vegetarian diet.  Without sacrifice – for me that would be giving up meat or ice cream entirely –– I’ve lost twelve pounds.  My husband’s results are even more dramatic as he’s down to his high school weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.  The best news of all, we truly feel we have enhanced our lifestyles by eating with ‘lov’.

So why is eating local a big deal?  According to the WorldWatch Institute, food consumed in the U.S. typically travels 1,500-2,500 miles to reach our plates.  In fact, the energy used for food production accounts for about 20% of all fossil fuel used in the United States.  Based on that, experts say that what you eat may be as important as what you drive.  A local-eating pioneer, Joan Gussow, once pointed out that it takes 435 calories of fossil fuel to get a strawberry across the country to provide the eater with only 5 calories of nutrition.

When you shift your diet toward local foods, you are protecting nearby farms, promoting sustainable agriculture, reducing carbon emissions and supporting your local economy.  Besides being better for the environment, local food generally tastes much better because it is picked when it is ripe and is much fresher when we eat it.

Do you need to eat only organic food?  If a conventional blueberry has the residue from 52 different pesticides1 when it gets to my table, then perhaps I do!  Yeah, I know scientists are doing tests on those pesticides, but are they testing all the combinations you might consume?  Do they know how much your particular body can burden of Chlorothalonil, Iprodione, o-PhenylphenolI and more?  I rather take a precautionary approach with my family’s food and choose organic whenever possible verses worry if my body build up of pesticides is ‘tipping my scale’.

However, eating organically can be a balance with the family budget.  Since organic products can be more costly than conventional items, there may be a time to make a trade-off.  We rely on the Dirty Dozen List from the Environmental Working Group. They offer a downloadable wallet sized list and an iPhone app http://www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php to help guide which fruits and vegetables are best eaten organically.

Yes the ‘v’ is for vegetarian, but remember, the ‘90%’ in front of the ‘lov’ part of our diet. While my husband has given up meat completely, my son and I still enjoy a grilled hormone and antibiotic free, organically grown, grass-fed local chicken breast or ribeye on the grill.  However, my dear husband is proud to point out his cholesterol is now lower than mine.

If you are interested in learning more about how our food choices affect ourselves, our family and our community, then Sustainable Danville Area and Chow Danville invite you to our special Locavore’s dining event on Thursday, June 16th.  Every ingredient, including the wine will be locally farmed within 150 mile radius of Danville.  It is an occasion for our community to support our local farmers and Chow’s chefs who are creating a sustainable food system of great tasting, locally grown food.  For a complete list of speakers, menu and to make reservations; please visit http://www.sustainabledanville.com.

1 WhatsOnMyFood website – test results obtained by the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program (PDP).

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today News

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