You don't need to live at the White House to have your own garden or eat locally.
By Tom McCann
Decades ago we had no choice but to eat locally and in season. Our food choices were based on what was available seasonally and what was either produced in our region or could be transported over short distances. Today a visit to the grocery store resembles a trip around the world and through time, as food can be shipped from another continent where different growing seasons and technologies can produce nearly anything we crave. But is it good for the planet?
To find the answer, factor in the carbon footprint of transporting food around the globe or the water footprint of producing food not traditionally grown in a certain climate. Looking at the impact of our choices through these lenses may lead us to invite nature back to the dinner table to guide our food choices once again.
Eating fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood that are local and in season represents a growing trend reaching beyond the regular farmer’s market crowd. Restaurants are sharing information about the local farmers, fishermen, and ranchers supplying food featured on the menu. Some grocery stores dedicate a special section to highlight locally-grown apples, tomatoes, and other produce.
Seasonal gatherings provide a great opportunity for thinking along these lines. Think about how nature and available food might have influenced the first Thanksgiving. Shellfish and cod may have been a part of the first celebration as they were abundant and local. Different types of squash, cranberries, venison, and corn were likely on the table. And yes, the iconic turkey likely made the menu since it is native to North America.
Will you choose local ingredients for your guests? If you are thinking about it, the good news is that eating locally and in season is getting easier. The number of farmers markets has grown to 7,864 nationally, with 35 registered in Washington, D.C. alone.
For those of us in the mid-Atlantic, eating locally and in-season this fall may include pumpkins, apples, spinach, or broccoli. Also consider responsible seafood choices that are good for local waters and fishermen such as oysters or local rockfish (striped bass). Both make a great main course or addition to any fall menu while supporting Chesapeake Bay watermen and the local economy.
Once dinner is served, talk with your guests and let them know how much thought went into the meal. Perhaps next year guests will join in; maybe someone will step up to growing at least one ingredient on the table themselves!
The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family and sharing what is important to you. This year, set a place at the table for nature – and make sure it doesn’t travel further than the rest of your guests.
Green Living: Ideas for People and Nature is written by Nature Conservancy staff exploring ways to live greener every day www.nature.org/peopleandnature.
Tom McCann is a director of communications for the Conservancy based in Arlington, Virginia.