Local Food is part of being a conscious consumer

The world is getting smaller. Not physically, but in the ways we are connected to each other. We travel faster and farther and more frequently than in decades past. We communicate with more people, more easily than ever before. And now have a global economy, and a global marketplace to shop in.

In part because we are so connected now, global consumption — of almost everything — is increasing. And as the human population continues to grow, we are exploiting and depleting more natural resources. While expanding economic opportunity and a growing middle class is a good thing, it makes it all the more important that we make efforts to consume responsibly.

One of the significant changes has been in the way we produce, transport, process and consume food! With modern, low cost shipping and rail, along with refrigeration, the food on our table is delivered from all over the world, and all sorts of fruit and vegetables are available, any time, anywhere.

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Modern processing makes things even more removed and complicated. We can’t even pronounce many of the ingredients listed on a nutrition label, much less know where they came from.

New diet concerns and fads pop up regularly.

Eating has become a complicated task.

Various changes to how we produce and consume food have had both positive and negative impact on our diets and health. We are able to buy and eat more diverse foods, but have more awareness and concerns about how those foods are produced and processed, from pesticides to preservatives and more.

bee250wRecently, for example, certain insecticides (often heavily used on genetically-modified crops) have been implicated in the collapse of bee colonies around the world. This is an example of something done to increase food production that could lead to other serious threats to food production.

Food labels provide some information to consumers, such as what vitamins and minerals are in the product, or how many calories we’re eating. But that and other information that might be included doesn’t tell the whole story. For instance, it rarely tells us how or where our food was produced, or processed.

Eating is basic, but in many ways, foods — whole foods — are incredibly complex. Scientists discovered vitamins and the food industry began to add them to everything, but they may not make the difference in actual nutrition. Once isolated from their source, vitamins can behave differently. So far, there is no conclusive evidence that supplements and vitamins are truly beneficial on their own.

In a world so industrialized, it would be an understatement to say it can be a challenge to be a responsible consumer. But in the case of food, there are things we can do, that are actually quite simple, and that make a real difference.

broccoli250wBuying organic foods can reduce or eliminate many concerns about how your food is produced. And there is a wide variety of benefits associated with buying locally or regionally-grown food whenb possible.

Among the many arguments for buying and eating locally grown foods, there are two that especially appeal to me: Local foods taste better and local foods help the local economy!

Fresh produce always has a particular taste, to the point that apples from a farmers’ market taste much different than apples bought from a supermarket, which may have been shipped across the continent or half way around the world. You can tell the waxy skin of a preserved apple from the smooth texture of an organic one. Peaches, pears, corn and other fruits and vegetables are always better when they are local and in season.

Some produce is more chemically than others; that list can be found here.

If the taste isn’t reason enough to encourage you to buy local, buying local foods also helps funnel money back into the local economy. Area farms are sustained, and when those farmers spend money in the community the local economy benefits. When we don’t export dollars for food, that money circulates locally, with positive impacts on the local economy and our quality of life. Being a responsible consumer is all about wisely investing your money, and the best place to invest is in one’s hometown.

It is true that eating locally and organically can be expensive, or it can be difficult to find organic or local food. But in Frederick County, there are many opportunities to buy locally grown, organically produced food. There are farmers’ markets open all over the county, and most are open on weekends. The produce is always reasonably priced and there are plenty of other goodies like fresh bread.

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Besides purchasing some of your food at one of the many farmer’s markets, you can shop at the Common Market, or at other stores that make a point to carry organic and/or local agricultural products. Those stores can cost a little more, but many offer coupons and have sales like any grocery store does.

You can also grow some of your own food, even if you don’t live on a farm. Doug Powell is currently working on a community farm in downtown Frederick. Check out his blog about the project.

In a world as full of products — and choices — as ours, it is important to think about what we buy, what effect those purchases have, and to consume responsibly. Food is the most important thing that we consume, which makes it the most important buying decision that we make. By being more conscious about our choices, and making a modest effort to shop smart, we can shop and eat in a way that is healthier for our bodies and our communities.


Previous guest blogs:

Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses

Get your hands in the dirt: Connecting to your food sources

Local Art Matters to Frederick

Practicing Sustainability at Country Pleasures Farm