My ultimate favorite time of year to eat produce is in the summer. There are all of those fresh berries, watermelon, corn — it’s delicious! Not to mention that I have the best memories of being a kid picking fresh tomatoes straight from the garden and eating them with just a sprinkle of salt. For a number of years I believed that — at least where I live in the Midwest — you could only eat fresh fruits and veggies during the warmer months, but boy was I wrong. Over the last few years I’ve really gotten into gardening and learning more about where our foods come from and the benefits of eating fresh, local produce. And what I’ve learned is amazing! You can truly eat in-season all year round if you know what to buy — and be healthier because of it. Here’s why!
While much attention is paid to the environmental benefits of organic produce, the local food movement is starting to also make real headway. No matter how your food is grown, if it’s shipped from across the U.S. or even from another country, that’s a long way for your food to travel.
Locally grown foods are fresher because they don’t have to be picked before they’re ripe for shipping, and are less likely to be subjected to different means of preserving freshness. Many fruits and vegetables must stay in refrigerated trucks, which increases the amount of energy the trucks consume.
While there are some extreme locavores out there, introducing more local food into your diet isn’t as hard as it seems. Plus, eating locally puts more emphasis on eating fresh, non-processed foods that will benefit anyone trying to lose weight. When you eat locally, you’re also supporting the local economy. Here are a few simple ways to eat local.
There’s a lot of great stuff about this time of year. One of the best, and maybe the least known, is the availability of the Pick Your Own Farm. Also called U-Pick or PYO, these farms are wonderful places to take your family. In some cities, these businesses are referred to as agri-business, basically business that occurs on a farm.
In the United States, picking your own berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries), apples, and vegetables is most common. Pumpkin patches, often with associated corn mazes, hay rides and wagon rides are common in the fall. Urban legend has it that You Pick Farms started after WWI, when labor was hard to come by and farmers were short on workers.
If you are concerned with health and what Americans are eating, you have got to check out the Food Environment Atlas. Announced by Michelle Obama, this tool can be used as part of her stand against childhood obesity. The interactive Food Environment Atlas provides data in a visual map that illustrates the environment that we have created, how we eat, and how we exercise.
I took a look at Indiana, selected different factors to explore from availability of restaurants and how much we spend on fast food to food taxes and the percentage of high schoolers who are physically active, and saw county by county how we rate and how we compare to neighboring states.
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Many times when I was asked why I became a vegetarian, or pescatarian (vegetarian who eats fish), my answer was twofold. One of the first reasons was due to the treatment of animals, which in a recent film I watched were actually termed “animal cities” and that term was not meant as one of endearment. The quality of life our animals have, from cows to chickens to pigs, is horrendous. Whether being kept in pens or tight quarters where slight movements are difficult or never seeing sunlight, I could not fathom taking part in allowing this to continue so I stopped giving those stock yards and farmers my money.
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