Where to Find Real Food
By Tayler Jenkins
A flurry of colors whizzes past your eyes as you push your cart down the aisle. Shelves upon shelves of brightly-colored packages seem to stretch endlessly as you roll along. Finally, you stop and pick one up to see what’s inside. “Ingredients:” it reads, “Milled corn, sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, modified corn starch, corn syrup, salt, trisodium phosphate, dextrose, gelatin, calcium carbonate, yellow 5, blue 1, red 40, artificial flavor, BHT.” Yikes! And this is considered real food? You scrutinize box after box and, despite being beautifully advertised on the outside, a closer look reveals the interior’s unwholesome and unappetizing ingredients.
Finding “real” (in a nutshell, nutritious, local and environmentally-friendly) food at the grocery store can be quite a challenge. If you’re anything like me then this scenario is all too familiar to you and makes you wonder: how can a place full of food have so few wholesome options?
Contrast this with a new setting: You are outdoors on a lovely afternoon surrounded by a medley of booths, each specializing in a different type of product ranging from produce to eggs, honey to jam and more. Approaching one booth, you are greeted with warm hello from the merchant. Filling the baskets on the table are a variety of fresh produce with a spectrum of radiant colors: red potatoes and tomatoes, orange carrots, green leafy veggies of all sorts, deep purple eggplant. Handing you a carrot, he grins, “Here, have a sample. Harvested ‘em first thing this morning!” You bite into it and are greeted by a delightfully earthy yet slightly sweet explosion of flavor. Whoa—since when do carrots taste so delicious?
Farmer’s markets are recurring public markets that usually take place outdoors and feature booths from various vendors, each of which typically sells foods that they have grown or prepared themselves. They sell all kinds of products and aren’t limited solely to food options. For example, my local farmer’s market features bakery items, hummus, herbal teas, essential oils, lotions, honey, kombucha, local wine and even hot meals cooked on the spot. The market may not offer the same quantity of food items as the grocery store, but when it comes to delicious and healthy whole foods my neighborhood farmer’s market is unmatched. I look forward to shopping there so much that Sunday has become my favorite day of the week! Below, I’ve compiled some reasons why you, too, should check out your local farmer’s market:
It’s no secret that freshly-picked fruits and vegetables that are in season retain more nutrients (and taste better) than those that have been shipped all over the place just to get to the store. Shopping at the farmers’ market is a great way to find produce that has been picked ripe at the peak of the season—you can have it on your plate within days or even hours of its harvest. Also, produce at farmer’s markets is typically grown using organic or less chemically-intensive methods, which means you won’t be exposed to the high levels of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on conventional produce. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the vendors and ask them about their growing practices!
Love the Land
A commonly-cited statistic estimates that the average number of miles food travels to get from the farm to the consumer is a whopping 1,500 miles. This sobering statistic reveals the detrimental impact we incur on the environment just from transporting food. On the contrary, a 2008 survey by Farmer’s Markets Today found that the vast majority (over 70%) of farmer’s market vendors travel 30 miles or less to sell at their local market. What a difference!
Additionally, organic and naturally grown produce minimizes the seeping of pesticides and fertilizers into groundwater and runoff, which is a common issue associated with conventionally grown food. Furthermore, studies have shown that organic farming can build organic matter in soil better than conventional no-till farming (USDA), retains more topsoil and has less erosion than conventional farming (Donella H. Meadows, “Our food, our future,” in Organic Gardening, September/October 2000).
One of my favorite things about visiting the farmer’s market is the sense of community felt there. At the grocery store, you have no idea where your food has come from or the person that grew it. Typically, you just want to get in, get your groceries, and get out with few personal interactions. By contrast, at the farmer’s market you can actually meet and converse with your local farmers, get to know them, and ask questions about their products (pro tip: ask them for a recipe using something you bought from them). It is also a great way to meet other people in your community.
Enliven the Economy
When you buy something from a local business instead of a large-scale corporate producer, that money supports people in your community and goes back into the local economy. Have you ever heard of the phrase “vote with your dollar”? It means that every time you make a purchase, you are supporting the producer and showing that there is demand for that item. So why not support your local businesses?
Grocery shopping at the farmer’s market is infinitely more fun and rewarding than the supermarket. When we visit the farmer’s market, we are supporting the little guys – our own neighbors and local economy – and nutritious food cultivated with integrity that doesn’t degrade the environment or our bodies. That’s what I call real food.
Tayler is an Arizona native living in Portland, OR. A self-proclaimed “real foodie,” has done extensive research on food systems and took a leading role in activism on her college campus to spread education and awareness about healthy, ethical food. In 2013, she spent a few months living on a permaculture farm in Nepal conducting research on conservation farming and local food system governance. Tayler received a BS in Sustainability from Arizona State University in 2015 and is the operations manager for Urban Farm U and editor of two newsletters: Urban Farm Lifestyle and The Permaculture Life. She intends to use these as a medium for sharing knowledge and generating interest in urban farming and sustainability. Tayler can be reached at Tayler@urbanfarm.org.