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Eating Local? If Not, Something’s Fishy

Something fishy happened recently to a Wild About Health reader.

On a quest to buy fish in the midcoast Maine area, he found swordfish from a local monger. It had just come in that day – from Uruguay. “Why am I buying fish from that far away when I live in midcoast Maine?” lamented local food aficionado D. Speer. “And,” he added, “it may have been ‘just in’, but when was this fish actually caught?”

It’s the irony of global food commerce. Lisa Turner, owner of Freeport Maine’s Laughing Stock Farm reasons in her new book The Eat Local Cookbook that while it’s a wonderful thing that crops like wild blueberries from our state can be enjoyed by others around the world in the same way she enjoys imported foods like coffee, what doesn’t make sense is buying imported apple juice when cider is available down the street. Her book – a cookbook of seasonal recipes – is based on making meals that take advantage of local treasures that actually are down the street, with a heavy slant toward vegetables and unprocessed foods.

So, how did the swordfish turn out? Speer was frank: “It was mushy.”

Small Growers

A benefit of living in the state of Maine is that local growers are everywhere. There are over 160 farms and over 6500 “shares” in Maine – some are big, some are small, some harvest herbs, some mushrooms; some grow veggies, while some offer milk and cheese. Community residents commit themselves to buying local, and farmers reciprocate by providing the best product they can. As a result, thousands of dollars remain within communities rather than being distributed around the globe.

More than ever, Maine communities are embracing the local food movement. One notable model exists in Washington County, where the Machias Marketplace provides a local buying club for residents.

One day each week, fresh, local food straight from farmers is brought to about 100 families and to the local co-op, providing residents with access to fruits and veggies, milk, meat and baked goods.

Another hint that local, seasonal eating is a growing passion in the state can be found in the trove of seasonal cooking classes and books that focus on seasonal cooking. As a complement to books like Turner’s, a series of classes taking place this spring and summer at the Portland Public Market in southern Maine adopts a hands-on approach. As part of the series, sponsored by the Maine Real Food Project, local chef Frank Giglio teaches attendees how to cook directly from the state’s bounty – both land and sea.

Reasons to Eat Local

Perhaps the best reason to eat local is that your health will benefit. You’ll get plenty of whole, unprocessed foods as well as a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. But there are plenty of reasons in addition to health to start eating primarily food in your proximity.

  • If you are experiencing meal-making ennui, eating local can throw a wrench into your cooking, in a good way. You’ll be forced to do new things and get inspiration from new ingredients.
  • It’s all about flavor. Plain and simple, local foods are given a chance to ripen longer, and that means better taste. Foods that travel to get to your local store are usually picked prematurely so they keep longer. Those foods rate high on looks but low on flavor. (That’s why IQF, or individually quick frozen foods, are a great alternative in winter, or any season when fresh isn’t accessible.) And, when food travels less, that’s better for the environment.
  • Another reason that local foods shine in health? Because the nutrients of prematurely picked foods suffer, too. Farmers also make efforts to use nutrient-rich soil and reduce the use of chemicals. Ask a local farmer about their growing methods.
  • Eating local is good for the local economy, and it supports local land development. In addition to supporting your neighborhood farmer, it keeps dollars close to home.
  • Finally, eating local is fun. Picking up local foods means you are making a connection with the earth, with your community, and with local farmers. You get to make colorful choices, and pick from a variety of options. And that will make you feel not just healthier, but happier.

5 Ways to Start

Inspired to start eating local? It’s the perfect time! Here’s five great ways to start:

1. Find a farm. If you are in Maine, you can use the MOFGA website’s food map to find the closest farm near you, or head over to Eat Maine Foods for a map of your closest CSAs. Then, get to know the ropes of local farms so you feel at home there. You can use our tips for shopping farmer’s markets.

2. Commit to spending a set amount of your grocery budget on local food. Try one-third to one-half to start. In the summer, depending on you accessibility, there is often no reason to purchase non-local produce, and local meats are available from farms and some markets.

3. Join those who eat only food grown in a 100-mile radius of wherever they live. Or, start smaller by deciding to make one meal a day out of strictly local foods.

4. Try one new local/seasonal fruit or vegetable each time you shop.

5. Buy a cookbook that provides recipes based on the season like Turner’s Eat Local, or take a class on eating local, seasonal foods.

What’s your community doing to foster healthy eating through local food? Give us a comment or email us at editor(at)wildblueberries.com and let us know!

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