by Deron Johnston
A couple of months ago, the North Grenville Times conducted an online survey on local food. We shared the results from the survey, and those results helped us determine what areas of local food that people wanted to (or needed to) know more about.
One of the clear messages was that some people felt that the cost of buying local food was too high. In a straight price comparison, this is sometimes the case, when you compare only the price tag. For example, buying a fresh fruit pie at your local farmers’ market may appear to be more expensive than one found at your local Walmart store. However, comparing price alone can be very deceiving. Quite often, when you compare items (in this case fruit pies), you need to be careful that you’re comparing apples to apples, and not apples to oranges (pun intended).
For example, are the two items the same size? Are both items the same weight? One thing to watch for when buying a fresh made pie from a vendor at a farmers’ market is that they sometimes aren’t labelled with their weight, while the store-bought ones are. Be sure and compare that both pies are the same weight. Sometimes the unlabelled pie may be significantly heavier than the store-bought one.
The quality of the ingredients should be a consideration when comparing store-bought and local food. Canned and frozen fruit (non-fresh) ingredients that are used to make store-bought pies are often prepared in other countries and made of the cheapest, lowest quality ingredients. Local food products are often made with the same grade or quality of fruit that would also be sold at a farmers’ market stall, or at a roadside stand.
The way in which ingredients are processed, and where they are processed, is important. Some countries that provide cheaper non-fresh fruit ingredients don’t have the high standards of food handling and processing practices that we do in Canada. We have agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (among others) to try and prevent questionable food from entering Canada, but, locally, we have an extra level of scrutiny in our Leeds Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit to keep a close eye on how local food is processed and made. Not all countries have this level of scrutiny when it comes to their food supply.
Nutritional value should be a critical factor when considering local versus store-bought. Consider that fresh fruit ingredients used in making a local pie will have a much higher nutritional value than something that’s been made with canned or frozen ingredients. The frozen and canned fruit would have been processed, which often removes a significant amount of nutritional value from the original fruit. The local pie also wouldn’t contain the possible artificial flavours, colours, fillers and preservatives that might be found in store-bought pies. Comparing weight alone, the local pie would most likely contain a much higher percentage of fresh fruit. These food additives provide little to no nutritional value, and we get tricked into thinking that what we are eating is ‘food’. Our bodies must have proper nutrition to function properly, not food additives.
The final thing to think about when comparing local versus store-bought is the economic impact of your choice. Buying local food products ensures that your money stays locally, and each dollar can be shared up to seven times before it leaves the community. Each dollar spent at Walmart leaves for the US that same day. The more money in the hands of our local food producers brings us closer to food independence and food security, which makes us less vulnerable to world food supply shortages and fluctuating food commodity prices. The more money spent on local food, the more we encourage people to start producing it, creating more farmers, and putting more money in the hands of those farmers.
Some of you may still think that the price is too high for local food. However, when you consider the superior value that local food represents, including: higher quality and fresher ingredients, higher nutritional value, the financial benefit to your community, the increased food security, the reduced impact of surging global food prices, and the simple fact that local food tastes better, how can we afford not to buy local food?