In our current series, Localize is exploring the underlying drivers behind local food preferences and the characteristics of local food that are grabbing the attention — and dollars — of consumers.
How to give consumers what they want when there is no single definition of ‘local.’
How local product labeling differs from from fresh to center-store.
In this post, we are discussing Health as one of five underlying attributes that drives local product purchasing.
There is no concrete evidence that eating local results in better health. Though, it is hypothesized that local whole foods have a higher nutrition density than comparable products sourced farther away. The Center for Health and the Global Environment considers 7 main differentiation factors between local and non-local that may affect nutritional quality:
- Plant Variety: Large farms prioritize planting crops that offer the highest yeild, grow the quickest, and survive the best when transported long-distances. Short and bitter-sweet — they are choosing quantity over nutritional quality. When patronizing with local farmers growing for smaller and more direct markets,varieties are more likely chosen on qualities like taste and nutrition density.
- Methods of Production: Arguably the biggest determinant of how nutritious food is comes down to the methods that go into producing it. The majority of the world’s mass producers of fruits and vegetables operate as monoculture systems, which often negatively impact the health of the soil and therefore, the food that grows from it.When discussing food health, it is not simply how many miles away a product has to travel that factors in, but importantly — how was it made?
- Ripeness When Harvested: Crops like apples, peaches, and tomatoes destined to travel long-distances are often picked before they have the chance to fully mature on their mother plant. Harvesting early means less vulnerability to damage and a longer lifespan, which is highly advantageous when transporting across the country or even globe. These climacteric crops will continue to ripen in color after being picked, but all nutritional maturity stops when they are disconnected from the plant and their source of nutrients. When buying local, climacteric crops are more likely to reach their full nutrient potential on the vine, as it is not necessarily to withstand such extreme transport.
In 2008, Montclair State University found that locally sourced broccoli had double the vitamin C content compared to broccoli that had to travel far distances.
- Post-Harvest Handling, Processing and Packaging, Storage, and Transportation also impact the nutrient quality of our food. The longer a product stays in transit and the more steps involved in processing to sell, the greater the risk for mechanical damage that will ultimately decrease the end product quality.
We hypothesize that local food systems benefit nutrition because the time and distance between when a product is harvested and when it is consumed is minimized. This has a strong impact on freshness! The products undergo less degradation and are able to maintain a higher nutrient density. As mentioned above, there are obvious caveats — for example, being local does not override factors like size of production and specific growing methods when it comes to health and nutrient density.
Stay tuned to the series as we explore more underlying attributes that drive local product purchasing:
- Up next >> Environmental impact
- Local economy
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 Kathleen Frith, January 1, 2007. “Is Local More Nutritious?” It Depends. Center for Health and the Global Environment. Retrieved on April 07, 2017.
 Halweil B, September 2007. Still No Free Lunch: “Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields“. Critical Issues Report. The Organic Center. Retrieved on April 07, 2017.