When people talk to me about what they can do to improve their diet, I don’t advise an outrageous overhaul. Instead, I encourage people to make small shifts they can stick with such as choosing water over soda, having a second serving of veggies at dinner or grilling instead of frying. Although these small changes are easy to stick too, over time, they add up to a big benefit. The same approach can be used when thinking not just about what you eat but where that food comes from.
Did you know that, by some estimates, that the average US meal travels about 1,500 miles to get from farm to fork? Eating food that is grown or produced within a (much) smaller radius, also known as “eating locally”, has many benefits to your health as well as your local economy and the planet. First, produce that is grown locally is allowed to “ripen on the vine” and gets picked when it is bursting with nutrition. That also allows the food to be at peak quality, enhancing the flavor and enjoyment of your meal. Purchasing meats raised in your region, eggs from nearby farms or seafood from local waters provides you a true taste of your local landscape.
The shorter the distance food travels, the lower the carbon emissions related to that food by reducing everything from fuel to refrigerants. And by purchasing food grown in your community, you are keeping your hard-earned dollars in your local economy to support farmers, truckers, grocers, etc. who live and work near you and who are true stewards of our local resources.
You can support the ‘eat local’ movement with small shifts in what you choose to purchase and from whom. For example, purchasing produce directly from farmers at farmers markets, participating in a CSA (community supported agriculture) and buying regional foods from the grocery store, which are usually labeled with the ‘certified South Carolina’ seal, are all ways to make a shift. You can also encourage the local food vendors and restaurants to ‘buy local’ by asking which items on the menu are from South Carolina.
Eating foods grown close to home also means eating what’s in season. As Spring blooms in Charleston, my family and I look forward to enjoying asparagus, spring onions, fresh lettuces and herbs plus strawberries and blackberries. Cooking with what’s available, instead of what’s listed on a recipe card, can be a challenge for many. Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer for tips on how to prepare a food that’s new to you or use a website (like this one https://www.supercook.com/#/recipes) that allows you to search for recipes based on what you have on hand. With this assortment of foods, you can be sure you are getting all the various nutrients your body needs – and dinner never gets old.
For more inspiration on how you can “make the shift”, visit https://lowcountrylocalfirst.org/events/2019-eat-local-month/
– Written by Debbie Petitpain, MS, RDN; Sodexo Wellness Dietitian at MUSC
MUSC Health and MUSC Urban Farm are supporters of the 2019 Eat Local Month Campaign. Learn more about them here: https://muschealth.org