Why You Should Eat Locally Produced Food?

Take a look inside your fridge.

 

Chances are, unless you consciously go out of your way to purchase local food, most of the contents will be imported from an international destination. Even food that can plausibly be produced right here in Kingston.

While any food purchased in Canada needs to pass standards set forth by regulatory bodies, many argue that eating food that has been grown and sold within a certain radius of your home has its benefits - both for your health and the local economy.

Eating locally has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Technology has intensified the trend's popularity and whether you're a fan or not, it seems to be here to stay. Local and national food guides now have a "local" category and many restaurants around the city boast of their locally grown produce and livestock with pride.

Kingston has been a trendsetter in this area for many years, with numerous restaurants in the downtown core and beyond boasting with pride of their use of local ingredients. As it turns out, our city has been onto something.

Andrea Bartels, a Registered Nutritional Therapist and Natural Nutrition Coach/Practitioner, has been providing holistic nutrition coaching and education in Ottawa for the last 13 years. She says there are countless reasons to eat and buy local food, but the most important reason is for its health benefits.

"I believe the No. 1 reason to eat and buy local food is because it gives us more control over the quality and safety of our food supply," she says. "This is because the food is usually grown by smaller, locally owned farms, so it is harvested ripe. Foods that are allowed to ripen naturally [contain] more vitamins than product that has been picked unripe, artificially ripened by gas and shipped by truck from a farm thousands of kilometres away."

This led to her second-most important reason to eat locally - it lessens the environmental impact.

"Long-distance packaging is less necessary and fuel can be saved and the air spared of pollutants," she says.

James Mihaychuk, a candidate in Ottawa South for the Green Party of Ontario, suggests the benefits of sticking to local food reach the city at a community level.

"My family buys local organic vegetables and other products from local producers," he says. "We know what we eat and we get to know local farmers. We subscribe to programs like Roots and Shoots Farm and Grazing Days, [which provide food] within 20 kilometres of our home. The quality, variety, freshness, and flavour of this local produce is incredible."

He said that his family enjoys being involved in the community and getting to know the people who prepare his produce and that this is one of the main benefits of sticking to local food.

Bartels agrees.

"By purchasing mostly local food the community members have the opportunity to meet the farmers producing it, visit the farms where it is grown to learn more about the process if they so choose, and establish an economic relationship with each other that keeps money circulating in the local economy," she says.

"In the process of buying and consuming locally grown food, buying locally provides the opportunity to develop a better understanding and appreciation of where our food comes from, and the benefits of smaller-scale agriculture."

Local farms and small businesses thrive on this idea, and the Kingston community often supports smaller, more specialized food businesses that wouldn't necessarily survive anywhere else. Kingston, as stated before, however, is the example, but other small communities in Canada are starting to catch up with this rampant trend in the food industry.

Some suggest government intervention and further subsidization of the farming sector is what is needed to make local, sustainable food available to all Canadians, but according to Anne Leach, a local woman who has been growing her own produce in her backyard garden for more than 20 years, the answer ultimately lies in the hands of the consumer.

"For years, the small farms, the small corner stores, the local butcher, have closed shop," she says. "Our once-vibrant little hubs have sort of dried up. People leave the smaller communities. The huge industrial farming has taken over. [Big box stores] represent the problems we are now facing in our small towns."

She would like to see people visiting local, Canadian-owned stores and smaller grocers, but at the end of the day, she never sees an empty parking lot at Walmart. This, she says, is where the power needs to come from the people.

"I try and vote with my feet and am very comfortable in boycotting certain stores," she says.

However, she recognizes that not everybody has the opportunity to grow their own food, and that to some, fresh food is a luxury.

"We have been very lucky to have had a nice piece of land for a couple of decades," she says of her home south of Ottawa. "The soil here has produced very good vegetables. There is nothing like a vegetable you have grown from your own garden.

“The best meals I have had anywhere I have travelled were those made with the ingredients that the local area provided. It would be a good focus for communities to recognize land that could be made available for gardens."

Sabrina Bedford is a member of the Whig-Standard's Community Editorial Board.