Article by Kelly Trom & Video by Citlaly Santos
Special to Mustang News
What’s the difference between an apple grown in San Luis Obispo County and an orange grown in Florida?
Those involved in the local food movement might completely disregard the old adage of never comparing apples and oranges. The orange, they might point out, had to travel more than 2,000 miles to get on your plate and in the process lost some taste and nutrients.
The local food movement has become more than just a trendy topic of discussion — it has become a way of life for those in communities that can support the need and want for locally grown produce, meat and dairy products.
While the definition of what makes up “local food” for each region varies because of climate, it focuses on minimizing the distance between production of the food and consumption. The New Oxford American dictionary even added “locavore” as the word of the year in 2007, meaning a person who attempts to eat food produced within a 100-mile radius.
But political science professor Shelley Hurt would argue that the local food movement is about more than just the production of food.
“The ethos of a local food movement is how to utilize the resources, the ingredients and the skills within the community,” Hurt said. “It is a community type of movement. The solution is to utilize what we have to create a different ethos around food and farming to be healthier, be more economical and have our food systems be more social-justice based.”
According to “The New American Food Economy” by John Ikerd, the modern local food movement began in the 1960s as a rejection of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and the industrialization of agriculture.
Today, many people choose to eat locally simply for the health benefits.
Cal Poly’s registered dietitian, Megan Coats, is one of those people. She chooses to shop at farmers markets to get most of her produce, and shops at other stores such as Whole Foods that make an effort to obtain much of their produce from local farmers. Not only does it taste better, it is actually better for you, she says.
“Research has shown that the travel time does decrease the nutritional value in fresh produce,” Coats said. “The less travel time between picking in the farm to your fork, the more nutrient-dense the food is going to be.”
She is quick to point out that produce imported from other countries, or even across the country, is not bad for your health, but it doesn’t have as many nutrients as those that shoppers can buy at farmers markets that morning.
Not only are more nutrients beneficial, but being more knowledgeable about the food production process makes for more educated consumers making healthier decisions.
“Farmers markets have the farmers and pickers of the produce standing right there, so you can ask them if they use pesticides, if they are organic if that’s important to you, when the produce was picked, etc.,” Coats said.
Want to learn how to eat locally in San Luis Obispo? Watch the video below for tips.
Many times, grocery stores sell food packaged by facilities that get their food from several different farms, Coats said. A lot of the time, consumers can’t trace which farm their food comes from, much less the processes that were used to grow it.
This is where places such as farmers markets come into play.
Biological sciences senior Jessica Stieff likes to ask the farmers if they use antibiotics or where the produce was grown — habits she picked up from her family. She learned to eat locally and organically from the way her mother cooked: with seasonal and locally grown food from the Santa Cruz area.
It became a Saturday ritual for her family to go to the farmers market early in the morning to buy fruits and vegetables for the week and make a menu. Coming to college, it was something she knew she wanted to integrate into her own life as a student.
Stieff chooses the food she buys with her underlying knowledge of what should be growing in the current season. In the winter, for instance, she tries to buy fewer strawberries and tomatoes because they would not grow in San Luis Obispo. Instead, she tries to eat more squash and winter produce.
“It is really hard to do that with American supermarkets because there are an insane amount of choices there all year round; you don’t see the seasons,” Stieff said.
Graphic by Oriana Bardinelli
Knowing what is in season and how to cook seasonally with all kinds of produce is a necessary skill for those who are serious about eating locally.
However, Stieff doesn’t just choose to eat locally because of her health, because fresh produce tastes better or because her family grew up like that.
“I choose to eat local and organic foods mostly for environmental reasons,” she said. “I am aware of the fact that the further we transport our food, the more carbon dioxide is produced to get it there and I just want to limit my ecological footprint.”
Even though Stieff is aware that just her habits alone will not change the overall pattern of exporting food long distances, she is still committed to the cause.
“Your choice to buy or not to buy is your biggest power as a consumer,” Stieff said. “You have the power to support local farmers and support a community rather than big corporations that are trucking your food to you.”
Eating imported foods certainly does add to the global climate change, air pollution and fossil fuel consumption, Hurt said.
However, Hurt emphasizes that some people don’t have the choices San Luis Obispo residents have to eat locally. One in six Americans is food insecure and may even live in a food desert, she said.
Food deserts are defined as places in both rural and urban settings where people live a mile or more from any store that contains fresh fruit and vegetables, with many people not having access to an automobile.
“They don’t have a farmers market, they don’t have a grocery store,” Hurt said. “For Californians, and especially those living in San Luis Obispo, we are so privileged it is hard for us to wrap our heads around.”
Eating locally is not a solution for people who live in those types of areas. However, knowing how food is produced, how it is distributed and how to cook dishes that are inexpensive and fresh are all steps in the right direction to solve some of these larger problems.
“The local food movement is more than just the production of food, but how it is used, how it is shared, how it is utilized,” Hurt said.
Hover over the hotspots to learn more about buying local food.
Graphic by Oriana Bardinelli