What Does Local Mean to You?
The first time I realized my interest in sustainability was when my family and I lived in Chicago. I took my young children to a local farmer’s market and without even thinking, I asked the farmer selling the vegetables how far way they were located from the city. This was 10 years ago, before the term “food miles” became mainstream and the magic 1500 mile number (# of miles food typically travels from farm to store) was assigned to foods sold in the grocery store. The farmer’s answer, “100 miles.” I hoped they were a little bit closer, but 100 miles is not too bad considering how big Chicagoland is.
It got me thinking of what local food means and it’s been something I wrote about and studied over the past several years. It seems as though “local” means something different to each person. There is no straight definition.
So, if you had pick a number of miles that you consider local, what would it be? 10? 25? 50? 100? 300? And then ask yourself this, could you eat 90% of your diet exclusively from local foods, say within a 100 mile radius of your home? That means gathering 90% of your diet -- everything from seasonings (salt, herbs, etc) to flour to sugar to meat. Is this even feasible and do you want to do this? Could be a good challenge if you’re up for it.
I would venture to guess that there are some areas of the United States will have way more variety in their local food system (ahem, California) than other parts of the country (let’s say, northern Minnesota) simply due to seasonality of food and growing conditions. Perhaps it’s even more of a challenge to define local food in some areas where winter seems endless (like Montana or Alaska).
Now, if you wanted to eat locally where you live could you go without bananas, assuming they are not grown in your backyard? How about lemons? Perhaps those items could be part of the 10% of foods that are not locally sourced in your diet. It all starts to get tricky and you have to make compromises on what you want in your diet. I can go without bananas but lemons are a whole different story. Maybe I need to grow a lemon tree. I tried to once, but it never produced lemons.
But that’s thinking of local foods on a personal scale. We can go to farmer’s markets, get a CSA share, and find local meat and eggs. However, not everyone has the means or the time to go to farmer’s markets or pay for a CSA share. They rely on big grocery store chains to get their food.
So, what does local mean to these corporations? Local is the new organic and as people become more familiar with the food system, the more they want sustainable food choices. Which means, big corporations are defining local for their own business models and each one is different. Since we don’t have a “local food” definition, this isn’t a big surprise.
I took the time to search several grocery stores and see what they consider “local food.” This is by no means an exhaustive list of grocery stores in America. It’s just a sampling, but as you can see, each one defines “local food” differently.
Local food is produce grown and sold in same state.
Leaves it up to the stores but basically they use state lines. A big state like California is divided into areas “Bay Area,” etc.
Products are local if they are sourced within their 6-state region (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kentucky).
Local food is anything sourced within 400 miles of the store. They have a nice new website dedicated to local farmers and sustainability.
They have regional growing partners. They also had a policy that local food is less than 8 hour drive to the store.
Local produce is sourced within the states the store is located.
They leave the definition of “local food” up to the consumer.
Now you know what local means these grocery stores. If I did not list your grocery store, you can always look on their website to see what they say.
To me, local food depends on where I live. If I can find what I need within 25 miles from my home, I am good with that. However, when we lived in Bozeman, Montana, local food meant looking beyond the 25 mile radius, especially if you wanted to enjoy all that Montana has to offer – Flathead cherries, flour, and lentils.
Eating 90% of your diet sourced locally will be a big challenge for most people. Perhaps setting a smaller goal (like getting only local produce or honey) is more attainable.
The best way to start is to determine your definition of local food and do your best to follow it. At the very least, a farmer’s market is likely nearby. Ask the farmer where he/she is located. And if you are able, plant a garden, even if it’s small and only grows lettuce or cherry tomatoes. That’s as local as you can get.
I have two children, ages 14 and 10. A common misconception among my friends and family is that my children are the best eaters ever. This is only half true. My 14-year-old, Caitlynn, is a good eater, while my 10-year-old boy, Miles has declared war on carrots. Caitlynn is the adventurous eater, the one who has grown up to eat most vegetables as long as they are doused in Sriracha sauce.
“Brussels Spouts!? Sure! Pass the Sriracha, please!”
Hey, whatever works, you know.
Miles, on the other hand, is stubborn, thinks carrots are his mortal enemy, and is skeptical about healthy foods. He waged war on carrots when I put them in chili and he has never let me forget how much he hated the carrot laden chili. So, moral of the story, do not put carrots in your chili. Miles will hate it.
Now, I am not the type of parent to force my child to eat anything, including vegetables. If Miles doesn’t want my chili (I usually make it sans carrot), he doesn’t have to eat it. Of course, he might be hungrier than the rest of us, but he’s exercising his right to live a carrot-free life. Plus, he knows how to make some of his own meals – sandwiches, toast, etc. He can even heat up an Amy’s burrito if he wants.
I am sure there are moms out there who can relate. A picky eater lurks around the dinner table picking out every last pea out of the pasta dish. Should you worry? Will your child get enough nutrition? What do I do if my child does not want to eat his vegetables? Force them? Bribe them?
Well, I tend to side with Ellyn Satter, the feeding expert. Her research shows that creating a positive feeding environment is better for the child and better for you as the parent. The parent is “responsible for for what, when, and where” to eat. The child (toddler or adolescent) is “responsible for how much and whether” to eat.
So, what do you do?
Offer healthy food (vegetables, fruit) at each meal. If kids see the vegetables at each meal, they will start to realize that this is the norm. Eventually they’ll come around and start trying new foods. And remember to lead by example. Kids mimic their parents. So, if they see you eating the healthy foods, they’ll likely follow suit.
Encourage children to listen to their body. I grew up in a family that prized the “clean plate club.” Kids should be able to step back from the plate when they feel full. They need to learn from their internal cues when to stop eating, even if they have not finished their green beans yet.
Figure out how kids like the vegetables cooked. In my case with Caitlynn, I had to pay attention to which vegetables she was willing to try. At first, she turned her nose up at everything. Then I made leek and potato soup and she ate a big bowl. It was at this point I realized she liked vegetables pureed in soups. From there I was able to introduce her to more vegetables and to encourage her to explore different foods. She moved from only eating vegetables in soup to eating them as a side dish.
Do not bribe your child into eating healthy. I think parents fall into the bribe trap too many times. “If you eat the broccoli, you can have ice cream for dessert.” Sound familiar? This puts broccoli in a negative light and ice cream in the positive. Ice cream already has a lot going for it. Do not pit vegetables against ice cream. Ice cream will always win.
Be positive and pick your battles. Keep the dinner table a battle-free zone. You’ve worked hard getting a good meal on the table, so you feel the need to make sure everyone enjoys it. If your child does not want to eat everything you’ve served, that’s ok. Keep things positive. Meal time should be fun and chance for the family to catch up on the day’s events, not fighting about whether or not your child is eating all her carrots.
Encourage your child to explore the world of food, not just vegetables. Bring in different flavors and textures from around the world. Utilize the spice cabinet to introduce different cuisines. Have a special night dedicated to certain cuisines – Greek, Indian, Italian, Thai, etc.
Grow vegetables in your backyard (or porch) or take the kids to the farmer’s market. Let them see how fruits and vegetables are grown. They will be more likely to try something if they’ve grown it or picked it themselves.
Let them help with meal time. Cooking is a skill that should be taught early in life, so that kids will grow up with an appreciation for food. Ok, so that’s the food-nerd in me talking, but the more the kids are around food either growing it or preparing it, the more likely they will be to try new things.
So, don’t fret. Your picky eater will come around eventually. Miles is starting come around. He’s been eating carrots without even knowing (they hide in my cream of tomato soup). Shhh… don’t tell him.