Wave, July / August 2012
Are you a locavore?
If not, perhaps it is time you considered becoming one.
A locavore is someone who consumes food produced close to home, say within a radius of 150 kilometres or so. You can usually find locavores frequenting the St. Norbert Farmers' Market or cruising fruit and vegetable stands that populate the highways and byways around Winnipeg during the summer months.
Given the length of the growing season in Canada and the nature of our food system, it can be difficult to ensure everything you consume is produced locally. Nonetheless, the lovacore movement is gaining ground in Manitoba and elsewhere. This is especially true during the summer when farm-fresh foods are abundant.
The main reason for this is obvious: fresh food tastes better.
Many of the ingredients we use in preparing a meal can travel as much as 2,400 kilometres before arriving at our table. That means the strawberries and lettuce in your salad may have covered the same distance it takes a Winnipegger to go on holiday in Mexico. That's not to say that food trucked over long distances isn't nutritious. A salad made with produce from Mexico is still a healthy choice. But food transported over a great distance is going to lose some of its natural flavour. In contrast, locally grown fruits and vegetables are moved to market relatively quickly, resulting in produce that is fresher and tastes better. The same rule can generally be applied to locally produced meat, eggs, fish and legumes.
Think of the flavourless, pulpy tomatoes you buy in winter. Then compare them to the ones from a farmers' market or, better yet, from a plant growing in your own yard: the locally grown tomatoes are bursting with sweetness. The tomatoes from afar are bred for shipping, which seems to have excluded the yummy taste factor that vine-ripened tomatoes have.
Locally produced food can also be more nutritious.
The Dietitians of Canada website notes that many factors affect nutrition content, including growing conditions, storage, ripeness, processing, handling and transport. Produce such as apples, oranges, grapefruit and carrots are among those that maintain their nutritional value when travelling long distances. But other foods, such as broccoli, green beans, kale, tomatoes and delicate fruits like peaches, can lose some nutrition value during long-distance transport.
There are other benefits to consuming food grown nearby. For example, many experts argue that locally grown food is more environmentally friendly because it doesn't have to be shipped over great distances. Buying locally also supports Manitoba producers, agriculture and food sectors, creating jobs and boosting the economy of the community. In 2007, Manitoba had 13 farmers' markets; now there are over 40. You can also buy food directly from the farm gate. Just watch for signs advertising fresh foods from the farm.
Farm fresh fun
Here are some tips for enjoying Manitoba produce:
- Take your kids to the farmers' market and let them choose a new food item. Talk to the farmer about how the food was grown and what it's like to live and work on a farm. Don't forget to thank the farmer for providing nutritious foods.
- Enjoy seasonal foods year round in your community. For example, in Manitoba, strawberries are ready to pick in June and July, tomatoes, beans and corn are available in August, while root vegetables and squash are plentiful in the fall.
- Plant a garden and grow veggies in your yard, cherry tomatoes in pots on your terrace, or herbs on your windowsill.
- Ask your grocery store to carry more local foods. Look for a "Buy Manitoba" label that identifies produce and other grocery products that are made close to home.
- Get the whole family involved in food preparation. Cooking is a valuable life skill.
- Make the effort to eat together as often as possible. Talk with your family about the food you're eating.
Now, I'm certain you're wondering how you can eat locally when winter rolls around again. Locavores are learning to can, freeze and dry local produce, turning strawberries into jam, filling freezer bags with blanched corn, canning fresh tomatoes and drying or freezing herbs.
In the meantime, Manitoba is a locavore's dream: from tasty corn to all kinds of berries, vegetables, herbs, grains, eggs, legumes, and meats. Markets often have local crafts, live music and demonstrations. The social contact is great, as you can exchange cooking tips and recipes with the growers. It's an event to draw the whole family, for the tastes and aromas of fresh food.
None of this is to say that you should take an atlas with you while shopping for produce. But it might be a good idea to keep local produce in mind when planning your meals this summer!
Cheryl Ogaranko is a dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region.