Watch What You Eat

While the rainy weather has put a damper on the start of summer in Boston, it’s still June and that means the opening of local farmer’s markets all around town.

Over the last several years, I’ve become a bigger proponent of the local food movement.  My interest in healthier alternatives grew after having my first child.  It was clear to me that if I wanted to feel good about what I was feeding my kids, I’d pick organic baby food.  However, over time consumer preferences have been shifting toward local, sustainable food, as opposed to just simply organic alternatives.  Michelle Obama reinforced this trend in creating the first White House garden.  A huge coup for the local food movement.

I hadn’t thought much about local until Greenough represented The Food Project a couple of years ago.  The Food Project is a pioneer in the local food movement here in Boston as well as nationally.  With the help of hundreds of youth and thousands of volunteers, The Food Project grows nearly a quarter-million pounds of food each year in both suburban and urban areas, donating half to area shelters.  What makes this organization even more compelling is that it’s not just about the food.  Its focus is also on teaching teens from diverse backgrounds how to grow food and care for the land.  I drove by the farm in Lincoln, Mass. the other day and reminded myself that I’d like to get more involved, especially when my kids get older.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of local food. Fresh food from local farms is often healthier than industrially-farmed products because the food doesn’t spend days in trucks and on store shelves losing nutrients.  In addition, local food is thought to be better for the planet because of a reduction in the energy costs required for shipping foods great distances. 

Another benefit to eating local is a better understanding of how your food is treated – whether animal or vegetable.  Last month, I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for a book club meeting and it opened my eyes to some of the issues around industrial food.  To be honest, I didn’t think I’d like the book. And, then I was hooked and my eating world was thrown for a loop. I was amazed and disgusted all at the same time.  A few facts stuck with me, like corn-fed cows have to be given antibiotics because cows are not naturally meant to eat corn and, without antibiotics, they’d get sick.  And, that while some eggs may say they’re from “free-range chickens,” many of those chickens are so used to being packed into a hen house, they have no idea how to use the one small door available for them to “range.” 

I vowed after reading that book, I’d do a more thorough job investigating my food sources.  While I’m nowhere near perfect (sometimes USA is local enough), I’m making progress and feeling better about my choices. If you want to eat more local food too, here’s a list of farmer’s markets around Massachusetts to get you started.

Contributed by Stacey Mann. Follow her at @sliedermanmann