My Local Market.. (Okay Maybe Not!)
I’m sure most of us would agree that if ‘all things were equal’ we would much prefer to eat locally produced fruit, veg and meats, over imported products.
‘Local’ means food hasn’t traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, often taking days or weeks to arrive; it helps support the local community, and the produce is often organic.
However, as I discovered this weekend, buying ‘local’ comes at a higher price-tag. The question is; “Is local produce actually worth the extra cost?”
A local market, farm shop, monthly farmers market, co-operative etc are pretty much accessible to anyone, even if you live in a big city.
Here you will find fruit and veg, (and often meat) that has been grown or reared very close to where you live.
There are pros and cons to shopping this way, but there’s no denying local produce has a number of benefits. Here are 7 of them:
1. It helps Support Your Local Community
The money you spend in local markets helps support the growers/farmers and keeps the money within your community and not help to fill the ever increasing coffers of WalMart multi-national grocery stores.
2. Nutritionally Superior?
Local markets often sell organic food. There’s an ongoing debate as to whether organic food i.e fruit and veg, contains more nutrients and is significantly more beneficial than non-organic food.
According to recent studies by researchers at Stanford University, organic food does not contain any more nutrients and won’t make you any healthier.
The arguments, for and against these types of claims are extensive. My stance, after a lot of research, is that I don’t believe organic fruit and veg to be significantly healthier in terms of nutrients.
However, organic foods are much less likely to contain pesticides, which is a big consideration.
3. Better Quality Meat
Meat, poultry and dairy products on the other hand are a totally different ball-game.
Local markets, particularly farmers markets, will sell their meat products that have usually been grassed-fed and well looked after.
Eating meat from a local source like this is probably the most significant and beneficial change you can make to your diet.
This isn’t an article about the benefits of locally produced, grass fed beef etc. but it goes without saying that this type of meat is going to be far superior to similar products that have been shipped from overseas or hundreds of miles away.
We often buy store bought meat without knowing how the animal was reared, what conditions it lived in, what food it ate, or what antibiotics/growth hormones etc.were injected into it. The chances are, it involved all of them!
4. Tastes Better
At my local farmers market this weekend I bought some venison burgers and venison sausages, and some raw milk. (I also chomped on an ostrich burger while I was there!)
I can 100% confirm that the sausages tasted absolutely delicious! They had a really strong meaty taste with a lovely dark texture.
They also contained 80% venison (a much higher meat percentage than regular sausages) and contain more protein and less fat than most other type of sausages! The same will apply to the burgers.
I live near to a deer farm so I’m lucky to have this opportunity. You might have access to other exotic animals that are also worth trying. There’s more than just beef out there! (Apologies to the vegetarians reading this!)
As far as fruit and vegetables go, I’ve not done a taste comparison test, but it’s obvious that a bunch of freshly picked broccoli for example from around the corner, is going to taste better than an equivalent bunch, imported from Spain (as most of my store bought broccoli is).
5. Seasonal Variety
A local market will nearly always sell produce that is growing in that particular season. The abundance of seasonal veg and lower transportation costs often makes it cheaper to buy this way.
Eating home-grown, seasonal food was largely how I ate as a young child. I have vivid memories of my parents, (particularly my mum) growing rows of different vegetables.
Runner beans, green beans, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, lettuce etc. etc. were always grown according to their season.
At the time it was more of a financial necessity to ‘grow your own’, but looking back at those days, I probably ate far healthier than kids growing up today, with their convenience foods and processed meals.
6. Less Packaging
Not something that really plays on my mind, but if you’re particularly environment conscious, having less plastic wrapped around your food is an obvious bonus.
7. Reduces Carbon Footprint
Fewer food miles. It’s better for the environment. Enough said!
The Cons – Higher Price
The downside to our local, delicious, well looked after, grass fed/free-range/organic meat, is the price you pay for it. This type of farming costs a lot more and naturally this is passed on to you and I.
At my farmers market I paid a lot more than if I had gone to my local store, but had the satisfaction of knowing where the meat came from and how it was reared etc.
So is the higher price worth paying?
Well yes and no! It all depends on your circumstances. I can see how this type of food is out of reach for many people with families on a tight food budget.
My advice would be to try and buy cheaper cuts of meat, or buy mince, which you can make more meals from.
Forgo other treats you might indulge in, so that you can afford this healthier food. It really is that important and an investment in yours and your family’s health.
Buying From A Store
The argument for buying locally produced food from markets, farm shops etc. is pretty strong.
However, despite my enthusiasm and obvious love for this type of food, I don’t often buy it! Shock, horror! I’ll explain myself in a second..
The Case For The Big, Bad Supermarket
I’ve never been one for sourcing my fruit and veg from a local market, or my meat from the local butcher or farmers market. I’ve always gone to my nearest store.
I feel kind-of ‘safe’ and un-intimidated at a supermarket. There’s no-one standing over me while I look at all the different offerings.
I can take as long as I like comparing best deals and sizing up the quality. This is my ‘comfort zone’ and I’m happy there!
There are a lot of benefits to this type of shopping:
1. Greater Choice
Stores/supermarkets, whatever you call them, often have a huge variety of fruit and veg on display. Not just seasonal produce, but food from around the world and virtually every kind.
If you like a particular veg, you can still buy it from a store, it just means it comes from far away.
2. Easy Pricing
This might sound strange, but I never feel comfortable buying food that I have to work out the price per kilo or per pound etc. I much prefer to know exactly how much those six apples will cost me or that 1 head of broccoli. Stores usually do this for me.
The sell-by date is a big consideration to me. I like to know that the food I buy is going to last me more than 1 day. You often don’t get provided with that information at a market.
Stores will now usually tell you what the country of origin is for fruit and veg. One of the biggest concerns I have, is where my fruit and veg come from.
Now I live in the UK which isn’t always the warmest or sunniest place on the planet! So I understand that a lot of the fruit and veg will have to be imported, there’s just no getting away from that fact.
However it does annoy me when the only choice I have for some vegetables have come from far reached lands, travelling thousands of miles to get here. Vegetables that are in season here, but obviously cheaper to import.
Not only is it not supporting my country’s growers, it also means the nutrient quality of these foods will be slightly diminished.
But at least stores will (or should) inform you of where your food has come from.
4. Frozen Fruit and Veg
High on importance for me is the ability to buy frozen fruit and veg.
Frozen food is often picked and immediately frozen when it is most ripe. This preserves a lot of the nutrients and often more so than fresh produce.
It also means I can buy it in bulk and store it in my freezer.
5. Local / Regional / National
Fortunately my local supermarket does sell local produce or at least food grown in this country.
The secret is to know what foods are ‘in season’ in your own country or region. These foods will more than likely be sold in your local store and for a good price.
Good quality meat and poultry can also be found in stores. Organic or free-range meat is often available in stores which have a local or regional source.
Here in the UK you can buy meat from supermarkets that is labeled ‘Red Tractor’, which means it comes from farms that have higher welfare standards.
Although it’s not a quality guarantee, it is a little more reassuring. These farms that supply the big stores are also regularly inspected for their quality and standards.
Look for similar labeling where you are and think more carefully about the meat you buy.
Buying fruit and veg from your local store have a number of advantages, and if you buy seasonal produce you will often benefit from buying local or regional food anyway.
A local market will help support your community and is often a more fun and personal way to shop. The produce should benefit from a slightly higher nutrient count and you might also find the price cheaper than in stores.
Animal products that are reared and sold locally should be your first choice suppliers if you can afford it. They are usually grass fed/organic animals that have enjoyed a healthy lifestyle, and have significant health and taste benefits.
If that’s not an option for you, try and go for free-range produce, or at least animals reared from higher welfare farms that can be traced.
Failing that – don’t eat the stuff! Unless you want to eat meat that might contain growth hormones, steroids, dodgy additives, antibiotics, antibiotic resistant bacteria, or recently in this country – horse meat!
My Personal Take
I enjoy the convenience of my local supermarket. I can find good value fruit and veg there which often comes from my region or country. Plus I can buy it frozen.
I’m not too concerned about organic fruit and veg although given the opportunity (and the right price) I will buy locally.
I will always try and buy the best quality meat – whether that is from a store or my local farmers market.
I buy my eggs from my friend who has her own hens.
What’s your take on local markets, stores, meat products etc?