The markets are flooded with thousands of food varieties and we don’t know what to eat! When there is a new fad, we are quick to adopt. Often the metric we use is the taste. If it is makes our taste buds happy, we go for it else we dump it.
Is there a different way of looking at the food that we eat? May be yes! Every time you pick a new food item, try asking “How local is this”? The answer may not be straight forward but an exploration will definitely pay off! Here are some reasons why it is important and useful to eat local! The intention is definitely not to spoil the wonderful pizza dinner that you are probably planning this evening.
If you are person who is closely following what is happening in medical and food research, then there is a good chance that you have heard of the Gut Microbiota (GM). It is the microbe population living in our intestine. Ew! microbes. But wait. These are not harmful as you think them to be but extremely beneficial to our entire system. Research says that the Gut microbiota of healthy individuals is very different compared to those with disorders. Not only that. The gut microbes vary with geography, ethnicity etc. That is what recent studies have found. Can you draw the connection now? People in a certain geographical region share the same microbiota. There are studies to show how due to globalization, the human population is slowly losing its rich diversity of microbiota which helped us to combat diseases and be healthy. The microbiota is tuned to local foods and enhanced and maintained when we eat local! Processed foods kill these valuable microbes making us susceptible to diseases. If we have to preserve these valuable microbes, eating local is a great idea. It will immensely help the next generation. Oh! since when have we started worrying about them? May be now its time.
Is this some kind of points you can earn? No! This is the distance that your food travels from the field to plate and the carbon footprint it creates. The term food miles was coined in the 1990s by Dr. Tim Lang, Prof of food policy, London. Within India, food travels hundreds of kms to reach our plate. The carbon emission it contributes can be quite high due to its transport, refrigeration and lack of facilities to grow food types everywhere. Its a complex choice in regions where the temperatures can be extreme.
There are hundreds of people for and against food miles but let us look at it intuitively
In a cold place, it may be inefficient to grow vegetables in winter in a greenhouse. But in a place like South India, which has good temperature ranges and rainfall, eating local is quite possible. Keep exploring where your food came from. We still import a lot of cereals and grains. Eating local can encourage growing local. This will also help us discover local foods that we have never tried.
In order for the food reach your plate, it goes through numerous processes of preservation and refrigeration. Artificially ripened mangoes and homogenized and pasteurised milk are quite common. We never had avacados in south India but now see an abundance of them. Foods are also genetically modified to make them in grow in all places. While these increase the availability of food, they decrease the nutrient value. Now tell me? Do you want to eat tasty mangoes or healthier ones or something that is tasty and healthy? Its a no brainer.
Ayurveda has excellent insights on how local food helps and how seasonal foods can keep one healthy and happy. Our festivals too are tuned to seasonal foods. Raw mangoes during Rama Navami and jamuns during Krishna Jayanti! In fact Ayurveda goes a step further and says how the season, the taste in the food and the dosha of the body are all interconnected. Isn’t this a beautiful way of looking at these rhythms and eating.
While we totally understand that it is difficult to reverse consumption practices, it is important to become aware and start somewhere. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is not always bliss.