Week 6: Health Benefits of a Locavore

I will not eat fossil fuels, so comparing the number of calories used in transportation of a strawberry to the number of calories gained by consuming one strawberry seems like a moot point. Yet, there are many reasons that consuming locally grown food is advantageous for the consumer and the planet. Terms like locavore and carbon footprint raise awareness to these issues and spur change in our culture which was focused on other market factors.

A locavore in Chicago could happily consume certain types of kiwis, cherries, peaches, and nectarines at throughout the year. I think that Chicagoans would be surprised at the variety of foods they could purchase locally grown if more value was placed on consuming locally grown foods. Here is an extensive list of fruits and nuts which can be grown in this region courtesy of Bob Kurle. Yet, Illinois farmers only produce 6% of food consumed by Chicago residents.

When I purchase food at Jewel-Osco, I know very little about where it originated. I assume that most of the fruit I consume originated somewhere tropical and the vegetables were grown somewhere in the U.S. I also figured that after being harvested, these foods are delivered to a packaging plant and then are delivered to a grocery store to be sold. I had no idea how far food travels from where it is grown to where it is sold until I researched it now. It is estimated that the average American meal travels 1,500 miles to get from the farm to the plate. The women in San Francisco who coined the term locavore aimed to change that.

While it may be cheaper to grow foods in massive farms and then transport them across the country, is that what we really want? My IPRO for this semester is focused on Urban Farming, and we have found that this can be a very profitable endeavor but can also be beneficial for other health reasons. For example, raising backyard hens, which can produce two dozen eggs a month each, has been shown to reduce loneliness and lower blood pressure (Banks and Banks 2002). Furthermore, the experience of growing food is correlated to an increase in the consumption of that same food. So, people living in urban settings may increase their fruit and vegetable consumption and decrease their consumption of processed foods if they are more involved in getting the food from the farm to their table.

Imani Village, the site our IPRO is centered around, plans to integrate urban farming and health in the lives of the people living at their new residential facility. The vision is to have a plot of land where the food is grown near a food hub, or market, where a restaurant prepares some of the food for sale and a Farmer’s market where locals could purchase the produce. For the residents of Imani Village, they could sit at the dinner table consuming a food that had traveled less than a mile from growth to sale to table versus 1,500 miles like the average American meal. While not all foods could be grown on this site in south Chicago, a significant enough variety could be sold to have many meals this way. It is almost a foreign concept to eat a meal that had never seen the back of a semi-truck, but we may be much healthier if we make that a reality again.