Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, chances are you’ve heard the buzz about eating local: the lifestyle that has you visiting your local food markets and checking out where products are from at your local grocery store. Summer is the perfect time to start thinking about eating local, as there is an abundance of locally grown produce available at your local farmer’s market. To make it even easier, Canadian chicken is always available! According to experts, eating locally can help your community and slow down environmental damage. Sound complicated? It’s not! Here’s the low-down on eating local, and some easy ways you can get started.
It’s common sense: the further away a food is grown or prepared, the longer it has to travel before it gets to your table. When possible, buying and eating local fruits and vegetables means that you have the opportunity to eat food at its nutritional peak. The problem? Processed or prepared foods – think canned fruit or a frozen pasta entree - can be higher in trans-fats, sodium and sugars, and lower in fibre than their “cooked from scratch” counterparts. The fresher the food, the more likely it is more of essential nutrients that keep your weight stable, your body strong, and your mind full of energy.
Sound complicated? It’s not! Many foods, such as fresh chicken, are almost always from local – i.e. Canadian – farms. Once you know which foods are home-grown, shopping will be easy as ever.
Food isn’t just about the person eating it! Before dinner hits your table, there are hundreds of people involved in growing, processing, packaging, shipping, and selling even the simplest-seeming of foods. Purchasing food grown from local farmers allows you to support the farmers and business owners in your own community.
The area where a local diet can make the biggest difference is the environment. The greater distance a food travels, the more energy is used in transportation and storage. In particular, transporting foods by vehicle produces greenhouse gas emissions (GHEs) that contribute to global warming, which in turn can cause climate changes, the endangering of plant and animal species, and the erosion of human habitats. Choosing locally-grown, seasonal foods helps us reduce the amounts of GHEs in the air, which can help slow down global warming. You can feel good about buying chicken at your local grocery store or butcher, as it is usually from a local farm.
Before you can start eating locally grown foods, you’ve got to figure out what “local” means! A good rule of thumb is to consider foods farmed in your home province, and Canadian-grown foods. Whenever possible, choose seasonal foods that are produced in your area, and have not travelled far.
Like any lifestyle change, “going local” shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition. The key is to introduce more locally-grown seasonal foods into your diet, not to deprive yourself of your favorite staples or treats. If you can’t get locally-grown produce, choose the next best thing! And if you love chocolate, coffee or mangos – none of which are made from plant species native to Canada - go for it anyway! Use your local-eating plan as a chance to learn more about the environment, your community, and your tastebuds, and not as a hard-and-fast rule. You’ll be more likely to make positive changes if making them is fun.
Organic…free-range…”grain-fed”…these terms all sound great, but do you really know what they mean? Learning about nutritional claims can help you make more informed choices at the supermarket or at the butcher. While many terms are defined in different ways by different people, “organic” generally means that food is grown or raised without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Animals that are raised in “free-range” environments have access to the outdoors.
You will sometimes see terms like grain-fed or grass-fed. These terms simply mean that the animal was raised on a diet of mainly grains or grass. If you’re interested in introducing organic, free-range or grain-fed meat into your diet, you should be aware that many “organic” or “free-range” products are readily available at your local supermarket. However, the season for free-range meat products in Canada is short. You can feel good about purchasing conventionally-raised chicken all year round, as chickens are raised in large barns, where they have unlimited access to food and water.
You should also be aware that Canadian chicken is grain-fed and raised without hormones. In fact, the use of hormones or steroids in chicken feed has been illegal since the 1960’s.
Show your love for the people behind your meals by supporting a farmers’ association (sometimes called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA programs). Many programs allow you to share in a specific farm’s products year-round in exchange for a membership fee paid at the beginning of each season. Many programs include delivery services as part of the membership.
The most local of local foods? The food you grow yourself! Beans, tomatoes and herbs are all easy projects for beginning gardeners. If you don’t have a garden plot, consider getting planters you can stash on your apartment balcony, or look into community garden plots (most cities and many towns have them). Talk to a pal with a green thumb or ask a representative at your local gardening-supply store about how you can get your garden growing.