baskets of tomatoes at a farmers marketIn a world growing ever more health-conscious, it’s common to see labels such as “natural,” “organic,” and “fresh.” But where “organic” at least has a legal definition, those others do not.

And the same goes for foods labeled as “local,” which can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, according to a new Nielsen survey. It can also depend on the kinds of foods you ask about.

When it comes to dairy, deli cheese, deli meat, and meat products,” for instance, between 23% and 32% of consumers think “local” means the product comes from the state in which the store is located.

Twenty-seven to 34% think frozen foods, seafood, and shelf-stable goods are “local” so long as they come from the US.

The definition can also depend on where in the country you live.

In densely-populated urban counties, “local” may mean within county lines. But in more rural areas where the population is sparse, and the distances between towns and cities are greater, “locally-sourced” produce and other items may come from a much wider area.

According to the National Agricultural Law Center, “It is generally accepted that local food is food that has traveled less than 1,500 miles from its place of origin to the final consumer.” Others contend that it’s far less.

Why Does It Even Matter?

There are good reasons to choose food that’s grown as close to home as possible vs. shipped from other countries, even other continents – from supporting the local economies to reducing carbon emissions to promoting a safer food supply.

corn fieldFarm-to-table food models can also help reduce resource consumption and food waste – dramatically.

Of all the food grown in the United States, up to 40 percent of it is lost getting it from the farm to our fork, according to recent research from the Natural Resources Defense Council. From seed to salad our food requires 10 percent of the nation’s energy budget, and required 80 percent of all the freshwater used annually. What does this mean? With this kind of investment for all sources of our food can we really afford a 40 percent loss? In another industry this would be unacceptable.

Imagine the global impact of more people buying more locally grown – and less processed – foods!

Second – and most important for your oral and systemic health – locally grown foods retain far more nutrients than those that have traveled thousands of miles to reach your plate. As dietician Tandis Bishop has put it,

Fruits and vegetables lose their optimal nutritional value as soon as they are picked. When picked, vitamins such as C, E, A, and some B vitamins begin to deteriorate and thus decrease. Other factors such as the exposure to air, artificial lights, and temperature changes can also contribute to the decrease in nutritional value. Thus, the longer the food sits the more it decreases in nutritional value…. Another health benefit to buying locally grown is that you are getting produce at its peak state. Local farms can allow their fruits and vegetables to ripen longer or even fully ripen, which also adds to nutrition.

Ready to make the jump to to a more local diet? Here are a couple resources in the Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington area to check out:

  • Local Harvest lists farmers’ markets, CSAs, and other food sources in our area (other US cities, as well), with brief descriptions of locations, operation hours, and products sold.
  • Edible Dallas & Fort Worth offers a handy guide of markets and stores in our area that sell locally-sourced foods and products.

Wise food choices matter when it comes to the health of both mouth and body alike – the perfect companion to your holistic oral hygiene routine.

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