Eating local food is very important to me. When it comes to what I eat I try my best to select foods that are whole or minimally processed, organic and local. This practice results in eating seasonally as well.
Sometimes finding foods like these can be a challenge depending on where you live. Not everyone places this much importance on the foods they eat. If there isn’t a demand in a particular area there is often low availability. Cost and climate can also be factors. This is why if you have a farmers market pop up in your area or see local food in your neighborhood grocery store it is important to support it.
I believe eating local food is important for two reasons. It promotes good health and it strengthens your community. These are both very strong values of mine and something I encourage everyone to at least consider when buying food.
Eating local food for your health
This idea does not involve micro and macronutrients. However, food grown near to you, eaten soon after it has been harvested is more nutritious than commercially grown foods shipped from long distances. So, even though organic apples grown in California are just as nutritious as ones grown in New York, if you live in California and eat the locally grown apples they will be more nutritious because of the length of time between harvest and consumption.
Aligning yourself with nature
As I mentioned above, this idea is more than just getting the most nutrients out of your food. It is also a matter of aligning yourself with your environment or, living in harmony with nature. Eating local food ties you to the land you live on.
When I decided to leave San Francisco to move to Hawaii I had to prepare myself for the fact that my diet was going to change. Sure, I would no longer get to enjoy the bay area stone fruit season and Hass avocados but instead I would get to taste fresh lychees strait from the tree and make interesting dishes with breadfruit. I didn’t see it as a challenge or something I would miss but rather an exciting opportunity.
Eating for your climate
San Francisco in general has a very cool, dry climate. I would start every morning with warm lemon water, drink hot tea everyday and eat hot cereal, soups and stews to keep me warm.
One of the things that drew me to Hawaii was the climate. As a person who tends to run cold and dry, San Francisco’s climate was not a good balance for me. The warm humid climate in Hawaii already has my skin looking healthier and my immune system feeling stronger.
My diet has shifted here. I am constantly mindful of staying hydrated and regulating my body temperature using water and food. I now drink room temperature water in the morning instead of warming it first. I crave iced teas instead of hot teas. I eat more salads, fish and rice. I eat completely different types of fruit. I seek cold or room temperature foods as opposed to hot foods. I crave ice-cream way more.
Even though the weather doesn’t change as dramatically throughout the year, like the Midwest or east coast, San Francisco still has seasons that determine which fruits and vegetables are available. Hearty squashes and Brussels sprouts in the winter, asparagus and artichokes in the spring, heirloom tomatoes and melon in the summer are all examples.
Seasonality is significant because nature produces what will make your body thrive during that time of the year. Heartier vegetables keep you warm in the winter and lighter produce like lettuces, cucumber and stone fruit cool you down in the summer.
Giving your body what it needs in order to thrive in the environment you live in is very important for your health.
Balancing our bodies with food
Our bodies are constantly looking for balance. It is one of the reasons why we have cravings. All of the foods we eat have the potential to create warming, cooling, drying or moisturizing effects in the body. It is up to you to understand what you need in any given moment in order to thrive. This is the principal of yin and yang, opposite energies that compliment each other and create balance.
By being in tune with your body and environment you can choose foods that bring you back into balance. Alternatively, ignoring those two things can bring you out of balance with nature and have the potential to make you sick.
Eat with the seasons and let your climate determine diet. If you live in a warm climate and continue to eat foods grown in cold climates it could cause an imbalance. For example, a diet rich in red meat, high in fat and alcohol could overheat someone living in warm climate. However, if you live in a cold climate you need foods that pack more eat. Living off fish and raw vegetables may not keep you warm enough.
Here are some examples of foods that are cooling (ideal for warm climate) and foods that are warming (ideal for cold climate).
Cooling foods –
– Sweet spices (chai, fennel, elderflower)
– Light proteins like chicken and fish
– Dark leafy greens
– Raw fruits and vegetables
Warming foods –
– Red meat, pork, duck
– Hot soups and stews
– Winter squashes
Eating local food for the health of your community
Buying food from the local farmers market brings us closer to our community and environment, which results in a deeper connection to our food.
By buying your food from local farms and artisans you are supporting your neighbors and strengthening your local economy. This act unifies people, it keeps people employed and it allows you to really know where your food comes from.
Eating foods that are shipped in from somewhere else (at least on a regular basis) alienates us from our environment. You may not be physically equipped to consistently eat these foods and over time doing this may confuse your body and weaken your immune system. By doing this you are also supporting the excessive use of fossil fuels which is unfriendly to the environment.
Support local. Support community. Support your own health. It just makes sense.
For more information on how to eat local food in Hawaii check out my Hawaii Local Food Guide.
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.