Emeril. Paula. Giada. Over the last several years, CHEFS HAVE have attained such star status that last names are no longer necessary. But while we may not be on a first-name basis with them yet, the latest food celebrities could turn out to be local farmers. Across the country, foodies and health and environmental experts alike are urging folks to “eat local,” focusing on foods sourced typically within a 100-mile radius of home. But is the so-called “locavore” movement really the key to a healthy diet?
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Rachel Beller, The Biggest Loser nutritionist and author of Eat to Lose, Eat to Win, says while there is no easy answer to that question, eating locally has definite benefits. “The minute a fruit or vegetable gets picked from its source, it starts to lose its nutritional value,” Beller says. “Vitamins like C, E, A and the B vitamins all begin to deteriorate and decrease after they’ve been picked.” Growers who sell at farmstands or local farmers markets typically harvest just before selling, so you’re getting the freshest, most nutritious stuff, she says. And local farmers may use fewer pesticides, too, even if they’re not officially organic. “Many farmers are growing under organic conditions but might not able to afford the certification,” Beller says.
And then there’s the flavor factor: The fresher the foods, the better they taste—and the more likely you are to want to eat them. “You can taste the life in food,” says Amy Cotler, author of The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food.
But how can busy families eat more local food without sacrificing the convenience—and cost-consciousness—of typical grocery-store shopping? Try the tips on the following page.
- Think small. “Don’t try to replace every item in your pantry—set a goal to source one new food each month,” says Becky Elmuccio, a passionate locavore who blogs at CraftyGardenMama.com.
- Start at your supermarket. Look for signs in the produce section touting local sources as more and more traditional markets have begun highlighting area growers. And do some careful label-reading. “You may find that the milk or eggs you buy at the store are already local,” Elmuccio says.
- Consider a CSA. Sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to receive a box of fresh produce from a farmer at regular intervals during the growing season. The catch? You typically won’t know ahead of time what you’re getting. “Sometimes people waste the food since you don’t choose what’s there,” says Beller. Find CSAs in your town at LocalHarvest.org.
- Try independent restaurants. Many locally owned restaurants use produce, meat and poultry from area growers. Search at EatWellGuide.org, check USAFarmstars.com for city-by-city guides, or ask the vendors at the farmers market which restaurants use their ingredients.
- Plan ahead. Stock up on summer produce to get you through the winter. To freeze fruits, remove pits, slice and seal in airtight bags. Blanch vegetables (place in boiling water briefly, then cool in ice water), lay flat to freeze, and then divide into small containers to preserve storage space.
- Grow it yourself. Even if you don’t have the space (or time) for a full-blown garden, even planting small pots of herbs is a step in the local direction.