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Eating Locally, Eating Fresh

By on May 16th, 2012 Categories: Uncategorized

What does eating local mean? To some people, it means eating food that’s traveled fewer than 100 miles from the farm to your fork. That’s because moving food long distances can mean more fuel is used, which means a larger carbon footprint, which affects the environment outside our bodies. Food in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to a grocery store. So eating locally means trying to buy foods that are produced in the area close to where you live, whether it’s from a community garden, farmers’ market, or community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Even large retailers such as Walmart are starting to offer locally grown fruits and vegetables at some stores.

On the other hand, just because food is locally grown doesn’t mean it’s more likely to be healthier for your body. Finding locally grown, organic produce — fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, and herbs — is my goal this spring. And if I can’t find what I want locally (for example, I’m having a hard time finding organic blueberries near me), then I’m looking for the closest organic option.

This spring, what can you do to eat healthily and locally? Here are some good options:

As local as you can get: Grow fruits or vegetables yourself. In 2009, the number of U.S. households with vegetable gardens increased by 15% to 31 million, according to the National Gardening Association. A garden can take many forms, from a large plot of 10 different crops to a pot of tomatoes on your stoop or herbs on your windowsill. Having fresh chives or basil at your fingertips makes it easy to use these plants when you cook. And because you’re growing it, you know exactly what type of production techniques were used.

CSAs: You’re part of the farm. CSA farms offer membership “shares” before the growing season starts. Members pay a fee for their share and get a box of fresh-picked vegetables (and sometimes fruit) once or twice a week during the season (usually from June through October, but seasons can vary depending on the location and size of the farm). Many CSAs are organic farms. Depending on the success of the farm that year, the share can be quite generous and diverse. Other times there is more repetition than some prefer. You might be asking yourself, “What do I do with all this kale?” (One thing you can do: Visit registered dietitian Diana Dyer’s www.365daysofkale.com for a plethora of cooking suggestions.)  Some seasons, farming challenges such as tomato blight or drought affect the share. Some CSAs have varying prices for a share, based on income. Others allow members to work on the farm in exchange for a lower share price. Some CSAs accept Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) vouchers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. These are federally funded programs that provide food to pregnant women, children, and low-income people. CSAs may also accept Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons.

If you’re interested in learning more or finding a CSA near you, Local Harvest allows you to search for a CSA by city, zip, or state and has more detailed information about CSAs, including whether they use organic production methods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s CSA information also offers links to a number of CSA sites.

Farmers’ markets. In most cases, farmers from your area sell their products directly to you and can answer any questions you have. Some farmers’ markets accept WIC vouchers and SNAP benefits. Search for farmers’ markets near you using the zip code search box at Local Harvest or at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s site, which also allows you to search for markets that accept WIC and SNAP benefits.

It’s a good idea to ask the person selling the food if he or she is the one who grew the food. Some so-called farmers’ markets are really nothing more the outdoor grocery stores with wholesalers selling food that’s been trucked in. Try to find a farmers’ market where actual farmers are selling the food they’ve grown organically.

Bypass packaging. Buying local, fresh food allows you to avoid extra packaging that may contain chemicals such as BPA (bisphenol A). BPA is a weak synthetic estrogen found in many rigid plastic products, food and formula can linings, dental sealants, and on the shiny side of paper cashier receipts (to stabilize the ink). Its estrogen-like activity makes it a hormone disruptor, like many other chemicals in plastics. Hormone disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body’s hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen. Buying fresh food with no packaging helps you minimize your exposure to BPA.

Dietitians suggest eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (more than 5 cups per day) to make your body the healthiest it can be. Eating local, organic produce can help your body and the environment.

What are your experiences with eating locally? Do you belong to a CSA or grow more zucchini than you know what to do with each summer? Share your stories!

Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president, and chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org, the world's most trafficked online resource for medically reviewed breast health and breast cancer information, reaching over 14 million visitors per year. A breast cancer oncologist with over twenty years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing, empowering, and treating patients with breast cancer.

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