There's no guarantee you'll be buying the freshest, tastiest produce if you shop in a supermarket. Local producers grow produce for the best flavor and freshness, so it's worth reconsidering how and where you shop.Excerpted from A Greener Christmas
Make a Resolution
Christmas and New Year are traditionally a time to think about breaking old habits, making new resolutions and putting those good intentions into practice, so Christmas is a perfect time to rethink the way you shop as you prepare for the holiday festivities. Source all your ingredients from diverse, small-scale, local producers that grow and rear their produce for quality, not quantity, and you'll be feeding your family the tastiest, freshest food at its highest nutritional value. They'll also be free from the pesticides and fertilizers that are used on air-freighted produce to control the ripening time, and the hormones and antibiotics commonly used by large-scale commercial meat producers to rear their animals.
If you initially spend a little time locating and researching your local producers, shopping locally can become as easy and convenient as going to the supermarket. You'll also be supporting your local economy, reducing the environmental impact of imported foods and helping to sustain food security and variety.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of shopping locally is that your support ensures that farmers are paid a fair price for their produce. There are currently no laws protecting farmers from the often unreasonable demands made by some of the larger supermarkets — such as paying prices that don't cover the farmers' growing costs, insisting on perfectly shaped fruits and vegetables at the expense of quality and requiring minimum quantities of a particular produce, which can prevent the farmers from diversifying into growing other crops.
Most small, specialized producers naturally farm organically even if they are not certified as organic farmers, because they follow traditional farming methods. Small-scale animal husbandry, for instance, avoids the use of large quantities of hormones and antibiotics, which results in healthier, happier animals and good-quality meat. However, if you want complete assurance about the food you buy, look out for a recognized organic certification (the rules and regulations vary from country to country).
Where to Go For Local Food
The easiest way to shop locally is to find your nearest producer and see if you can buy food direct. By buying straight from the farmers' markets, you are helping the farmers get a fairer price for their produce, and enabling them to continue to strive to produce quality food.
This is by far the most enjoyable and sociable way to do your shopping. Often held outdoors, these markets are full of the freshest seasonal produce and the tastiest varieties of fruit and vegetables. You can also chat with the suppliers and find out how they rear or grow their produce, and make informed choices about what you and your family will eat.
Famous in mainland Europe, Christmas markets are now growing in popularity in North America. They are a good source for specialized goods.
The increase of supermarkets has meant that small, independent butchers, fish-sellers and grocery stores are becoming rarer. Although they are often considered less convenient than a superstore, independent retailers will often give invaluable advice on the produce they have on sale, and can prepare your purchase in exactly the way that you want. All in all, it is a much more personalized way to shop. If you are lucky enough to find a selection of small, specialized shops, do your best to support them by purchasing as much of your food from them as you can.
Once a week, a mixed box of seasonal vegetables and fruit, usually sourced from small local suppliers, is delivered directly to your home. The emphasis is on flavor, quality and freshness. It's a great way of discovering vegetables that you may never have considered cooking with before, and the unpredictable mix will entice you to become more adventurous with your cooking. Look for local box schemes on the internet, or ask around at your local farmers' market.
The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration only have sufficient resources to inspect a fraction of the food imported to the U.S. each year. Buying locally is the best way to ensure that the food you consume is of the highest quality.
Since 1935, the U.S. has lost more than five million farms. The farms that remain today face intense pressure from urban sprawl and large, multi-million dollar agribusiness corporations. The urban farm movement is concerned with bringing fresh, local produce to urban areas across the country.
Buying food that is in season and can be purchased from local suppliers helps to reduce the amount of carbon emissions and pollution created when purchasing produce flown in from thousands of miles away.
Local farm stores and dairies are a great place to really connect with local food and its producers. The benefits of shopping directly at farm stores are numerous — the produce is as fresh as possible, there is no unnecessary waste generated by excess supermarket packaging and you are supporting the local economy by helping sustain local farms and the jobs they create. Farm stores often have seasonal items available, such as fresh apple cider, chutneys, preserves and baked goods.
Excerpted from A Greener Christmas
© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2008