Shifting to local food

In recent months I have shifted dramatically toward consuming more locally produced food. I began buying into the idea years ago, but putting it into practice was harder. Before I concentrated on using local foods, the seasons tended to pass unnoticed.

Peaches, for example. Ripe peaches in season are one of my favourite foods, but the ones that appear in Canadian supermarkets throughout the year are mealy, dry and tasteless. I never buy them. Decent American peaches appear earlier in the summer, but there is nothing like the taste of Ontario peaches when they appear at the farmers’ market around July 25. Paradoxically, once or twice I have entirely missed peach season because I wasn’t paying attention.

Last summer was different. I bought a basket every week of peach season and went through it with delight. Perhaps that was the beginning of my behavioural shift.

But the most important influencing factor came from reading Michael Pollan’s bestseller In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto in March. He gives a bad rap to nutritionism, the philosophy that healthy eating depends on getting the right nutrients. The Western diet, a puzzle of good fats and bad fats, high carbs and low carbs, micronutrients and vitamins, for all the effort it requires, seems responsible for increasing cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Instead, he suggests we should throw away the food-like items that line our grocery shelves and simply eat natural food.

One of the simplest ways to do this is to rely more on locally produced food. In fact, it’s best to know the people who grow it. Since reading Pollan’s book I have shifted toward buying local (often organic) produce, dairy and meat. Most of it comes from the farmers’ market. It tends to be more expensive than what comes from the supermarket, but the food industry has created an illusion. All that cheap food has hidden costs to the environment, the communities that produce it, and our health.

I notice the change of seasons a lot more, because my diet comes to depend on them. Over recent weeks I have thrived on rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus and sorrel. I buy them every week. I experiment with new recipes. Recently I purchased a great cookbook, Simply in Season (expanded edition) by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. Although I tend to rely heavily on the internet for cooking ideas, this book inspires me with what to look for. I’ve made delicious rhubarb muffins, asparagus salad, sorrel soup and tonight some wonderful gluten-free strawberry bread.

When my partner and I move into a house the end of this month we intend to buy a small chest freezer. This will make it even more practical to rely on local food throughout the year.

This shift connects me more directly with the Earth, from which all nourishment comes.

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