Top 13 Reasons to Eat Local

1. Taste the difference.

At a farmers' market, most local produce has been picked inside of 24 hours. It comes to you ripe, fresh, and with its full flavor, unlike supermarket food that may have been harvested weeks or months before. Close-to-home foods can also be bred for taste, rather than to withstand the abuse of shipping or industrial harvesting. Many of the foods we ate on the 100-Mile Diet were the best we'd ever had.

2. Know what you're eating.

Buying food today is complicated. What pesticides were used? Is that corn genetically modified? Was that chicken free range or did it grow up in a box? People who eat locally find it easier to get answers. Many build relationships with farmers whom they trust. And when in doubt, they can drive out to the farms and see for themselves.

3. Meet your neighbors.

Local eating is social. Studies show that people shopping at farmers' markets have 10 times more conversations than their counterparts at the supermarket. And you will build relationships with the real human beings who produce your food.

4. Get in touch with the seasons.

When you eat locally, you eat what's in season. You'll remember that cherries are the taste of summer. Even in winter, comfort foods like squash soup or pancakes just make sense-a lot more sense than flavorless cherries from the other side of the world.

5. Discover new flavors.

Ever tried sunchokes? How about purslane, quail eggs, yerba mora, or tayberries? These are just a few of the new (to us) flavors we sampled over a year of local eating. Our local spot prawns, we learned, are tastier than the popular tiger prawns from Asia. Even familiar foods were more interesting. Count the types of pear on offer at your supermarket. Maybe three? Small farms are keeping alive nearly 300 other varieties-while more than 2,000 others have been lost in our rush to sameness.

6. Explore your home.

Visiting local farms is a way to be a tourist on your home turf, with plenty of stops for snacks. Getting to know the landscape you live in gives you that rarest of modern feelings: a genuine sense of place.

7. Save the world.

A study in Iowa found that regional food distribution uses 17 times less oil and gas than food shipped across the country. The ingredients for a typical British meal, sourced locally, traveled 66 times fewer "food miles." Or we can just keep burning those fossil fuels and learn to live with global climate change, the fiercest hurricane seasons in history, wars over resources...

8. Support small farms.

Many people from all walks of life dream of working the land-maybe you do too. In areas with strong local markets, the family farm is reviving. That's a whole lot better than the jobs at big-box shops and fast-food outlets that the globalized economy offers to rural North America.

9. Give back to the local economy.

A British study tracked how much of the money spent at a local food business stayed in the local economy, and how many times it was reinvested. The total value was almost twice the contribution of a dollar spent at a supermarket chain.

10. Be healthy.

In a year of local eating, we ate more vegetables and fewer processed products, sampled a wider variety of foods, and ate more fresh food at its nutritional peak. Eating from farmers' markets and cooking from scratch, we never felt a need to count calories. We felt better than ever.

11. Create memories.

A friend of ours has a theory that a night spent making jam or pirogies with friends will always be a better time than watching the latest Hollywood offering. We're convinced.

12. Have more fun while traveling.

Once you're addicted to local eating, you'll want to explore it wherever you go. On a recent trip to Mexico, earth-baked corn and hot-spiced sour oranges led us away from the resorts and into the small towns. Somewhere along the line, a mute magician gave us a free show over bowls of lime soup in a little cantina.

13. Good food is sexy.

What more can we say?

J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith are the authors of the new book Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Year of Local Eating (Harmony Books).

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