Much of the food that is sold through modern food outlets has been processed in a way that has degraded the food’s value. This does not mean you should never shop in a supermarket, but it is important to understand what you are buying and using and to be selective in your choices.
There are other options for obtaining foods too:
- Growing yourself
- Buying straight from the farmer (on farm shops, farmers markets)
- Trading foods with neighbours and friends.
Where possible, fresh food is always best: it has the highest number of nutrients and a superior flavour. Buying fresh food, however, isn’t as simple as a trip to the supermarket: many stores import fruit and vegetables from other states or other countries. Moreover, the “nicest” looking fruit and vegetables are not always the freshest either – many stores and chains use preservatives and wax coatings to keep food looking fresh, when it has actually been in storage for months.
Growing your own food
If you can, growing your own food is the best way to ensure your produce is fresh and of excellent quality. This can be as simple as a few pots on your windowsill, or as complex as installing raised vegetable beds in your garden. There are many high quality resources available to help you get started with this type of gardening.
At the supermarket
When choosing fresh fruit and vegetables, look for:
- Locally grown produce
- Low-pesticide or organic produce (which should be properly marked according to industry standard)
- Produce with a fresh smell – oranges that smell like oranges, tomatoes that smell like tomatoes
- The fine print. For produce sold in packaging, like blueberries, read what’s on the package about source, treatment, preservation method and potential additives.
If fresh isn’t an option, look for frozen first. Produce frozen soon after harvest retains most of its nutritional value. The way freezing produce preserves foods means few, if any, additives and preservatives are required. Canned produce, while an acceptable standby, is often high in sodium and other preservatives. In some areas, can linings may also include bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor which may cause problems with the body’s hormonal system.
At the farmers’ market
Many areas have farmers’ markets, regular spots where local growers come to sell produce. Markets are usually held in a publicly accessible area; some are once or twice a week, while others may be only once a month.
When choosing fresh produce at the market:
- Look for grower-operated stalls first. Many farmers’ markets have resellers and distributors, who collect produce from a variety of growers. This means it can be hard to tell where the produce has come from, if its been chemically treated, and just how fresh it is.
- Talk to the growers. Ask about their practices, what they recommend, what’s in season. Use this information to think ahead and plan fresh, in-season meals.
- Look at the food on display – and be prepared for a little soil. Farmers’ markets aren’t the same as a big chain supermarket. Local growers bring freshly picked food, which means you’re going to see a bit of dirt now and then.
- When you get home, wash everything. Your fresh produce might be organic, but it still needs a good wash before you start using it.
Some areas also have farm stores or collectives, or community supported agriculture (CSA) services. If these are available in your area, talk to the suppliers – they should be able to tell you where their produce is coming from, how it’s grown, and whether its organic or low-pesticide produce so you can make an informed decision before purchase.
Community or Cooperative Gardens
If there are no farmers’ markets in your area, look for community and cooperative gardens. Many of these sell excess produce; some even have their own chickens and sell eggs. When purchasing from a community or cooperative garden, use the same guidelines you would use for a farmers’ market.
If you want to grow your own food but don’t have the space, these gardens are also a good option. For a fee, you can lease a plot and grow anything allowed within the garden’s guidelines. Many gardens have strict rules about pest and weed control options, and it’s important to adhere to these.
Many people involved in community gardens are happy to help you get started, or to trade produce. This can be an excellent way to get all the benefits of home grown food without having to grow everything yourself. You can also trade with others in your community, family, or friends. If you are hesitant about asking, remember: most gardeners love to share their experience, and to share the bounty they’ve worked so hard to grow.
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