The Importance of Eating Local

Farmers_Market_BountyThis morning, we went to our local farmer’s market. We were there primarily to see “our” beef vendor – we enjoy the warm welcome and conversation, not to mention the delicious grass-fed beef! Even though it’s a small market, it’s heartening to see local eggs, chicken, lamb, produce, jams, soap…almost everything on your grocery list.

Speaking of local, the market’s lamb vendor lives just a few houses down from us. We see her sheep from our own property, and we can hear the “baa”ing. With the green rolling hills studded by white sheep, it looks like it could be a scene in Ireland. Who wouldn’t want to eat lamb that has frolicked in the grass, enjoying the sunshine and companionship of the flock? Knowing how those lambs are raised and seeing the farmer’s pride in her product makes it taste even better.

You may already know that grass-fed beef is better for you. That’s definitely a plus, but grass-fed (and finished) beef is incomparable in taste: like a fine wine, it retains the terroir of the area where it was raised. Grass fed cattle also enjoy exercise, fresh air, and green pasture. They get to live a truly “natural” life –  though the word has been co-opted to suit the industrial food chain’s purposes, we mean “living the way they should and eating what they would without human intervention”. Don’t be seduced by the huge packs of cheap beef at the warehouse stores – when the true cost of raising grass-fed beef is factored in, beef can’t be that cheap…unless it’s not grass fed and finished (and then think Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation – cattle being fed grain as their primary food source and standing in their own feces isn’t “natural”).

We choose to buy and eat local food because we want clean, honest food from people with integrity. Real farmers respect the animals they raise, even when they’re destined to become food. That’s honest – far more honest than squeamishness about processing a chicken, rabbit, or duck; why is it the same people who recoil from the idea of eating rabbit happily chow down on a fast food burger made from a used-up former (factory) dairy cow or a breakfast sandwich made with battery cage eggs and pork raised in dirty, crowded conditions? A rational comparison would reveal that the fast food/industrial food chain is far less humane and respectful to the animals, so if you want to squirm and protest about something, that should be it.

When you know your farmer personally, there’s accountability, too. Of course, when was the last time a small farmer’s products made someone ill? And the dangers of raw milk? Please. Despite what the media and other cronies of the industrial food chain may have you believe, locally-raised and “cottage” food isn’t more dangerous. Do you really think the farmer you talk to at the farmer’s market would knowingly sell you something unsafe? It’s their livelihood and reputation at stake – unlike the faceless megacorporations that have injured consumers.

There’s something really gratifying and exciting about knowing where your food comes from and knowing your farmer. Cut out the middleman (grocery store), the transportation from some faraway locale, the anonymity of the industrial food chain – interact directly with your local farmer. Ask about how the animals are raised or if herbicides are used. They’ll tell you about how the recent heavy rainfall has caused tomatoes to split, how the Japanese beetles have eaten their berries, or how well their cucumbers/squash/grapes are coming along. You can make an informed decision to eat well if you lift the veil, and you’ll be glad you did.

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