The Benefits of Being a Locavore

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Are you a locavore? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a locavore as someone who eats foods grown locally whenever possible. There are many benefits to eating local.

A typical prepared meal contains ingredients from at least five different countries. In fact, most food travels an average of 1500 miles before it reaches the plate. The number of miles a product travels before it is consumed is referred to as food miles. A product with high food miles means it was transported by jets, ships, or trucks, all running on fossil fuels, to its destination. Local foods naturally have low food miles, since they are produced close to where they are consumed.

Increasing consumption of local foods requires a lot of us to adjust our expectations of the availability of produce. We are accustomed to getting nearly any fruit or vegetable we want at any time of the year simply by walking through the doors of our local supermarket. When eating local though, we must realize that we won’t have fresh tomatoes in January or lettuce in August.

What is local? Local can be defined in many ways, but the term is increasingly being used to describe food grown within a 50- or 100- mile radius of where it is eaten. Sometimes, it is used to describe any food grown in North Carolina.

One of the main reasons to buy local produce is that it just tastes better. The reason for this is simple. Experienced gardeners can tell you that not all varieties of a particular fruit or vegetable are created equal.

For example, each variety of tomato has a different set of characteristics, e.g. sweetness, acidity, size, firmness, disease resistance, uniformity, storage potential, etc. No variety scores high in all of these categories though; there is always a trade-off. For example, a tomato variety that is sweet and has good disease resistance may rot soon after it is picked.

Farmers who plan to sell their produce to wholesale markets will grow a variety that has a long shelf-life and stores well, often at the expense of taste. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are picked before they are fully ripe to reduce spoilage during shipment.

The above benefits, and others, are all contributing factors to the revitalization of local foods in communities across the state. In next week’s article, I’ll discuss how to get connected to local foods in our area.