Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving and Thoughts on Food

By Anita Ferguson

As you sit down to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal take a moment to consider where the food you are about to eat originated long before it got on your plate.

Most of us are disconnected from where our food comes from, how the food is packaged and how far it traveled to get there. It’s not easy to track, considering the majority of grocery store packaging and restaurant menus do not reveal a name of a farmer or farm where the produce was grown or the livestock was raised, what fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides were used to grow the produce, or the conservation practices the farmer used.

Today there is a growing national movement encouraging consumers to start buying local foods – foods that are produced as close to home as possible. Why? Protecting our environment, saving family farms and concern over food quality and food safety are just a few reasons to buy local.

Measuring the full environmental impact of food production, transportation, sale and consumption is a complex task, but we know that produce in the U.S. on average travels thousands of miles from farm to consumer, which translates to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, industrial food production depends on fossil fuels, which when refined and burned creates greenhouse gases.

In addition to helping protect our natural resources, buying local food is a great way to support farmers and our community in general. Farmers receive an average of less than 10 cents of every dollar spent on food, with the rest of the money going to processing, packing, and distribution. At farmers markets, however, nearly all of the money goes straight to the farmers. Helping farmers make a living also helps the local economy by ensuring the money we spend on food circulates within our own community.

Another added benefit of local foods is that knowing where your food comes from enables you to make more informed decisions, allowing you to choose food from farmers who avoid or reduce their use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified seed.

Try to eat local foods for one meal each a week, or incorporate local foods for part of one meal several days a week. Start with a vegetable – squash, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, turnips, beets and scallions are currently in season. Meat, eggs and dairy products are also currently available from local farmers.
An all local diet can be a challenge, even in a rich agricultural area such as ours, but keep in mind that local means as close to home as possible, so this may mean purchasing lemons from Florida rather than Chile.

For information where to find local foods, check out Delmarva’s Eastern Shore Farm Market Guide at skipjack.net/homegrown/farms_table.html. More information is available from the Maryland Online Farmers Market at www.foodtrader.org, and from Buy Local Challenge at www.buy-local-challenge.com. A local resource list from the Local Eastern Shore Sustainable Organic Network is available on the publications page of our website at www.mdcoastalbays.org.

The ability to preserve farming, protect our natural resources stimulating the local economy at the same time are truly reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving.

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