& Joannie Dobbs Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Veggies are easier to enjoy when they are locally grown
Most When asked about our most favorite foods, many of us in the U.S. do not include vegetables. However, people in many other parts of the world do. Why are we different in this respect? Maybe it is because many vegetables are shipped from great distances and lack freshness.
But don't "just say no" to vegetables. Consider going local. Here are some reasons we think incorporating local vegetables into your daily fare can open up new culinary experiences and add to the enjoyment of vegetables. Also, it just may enhance your health and the local economy.
1. Freshness matters! Locally grown vegetables are available for purchase within hours or a day or so of their harvest time. This means that farmers can harvest more fully mature produce.
Freshness and maturity clearly translate into noticeably better taste and texture for the majority of vegetables. High-end restaurants know this and tend to be very concerned with freshness of the produce they purchase. This may be why their vegetables always seem to taste better than home-cooked.
2. Variety! Hawaii's climate provides the luxury of year-round availability of a wide variety of fresh local produce. Because different types of vegetables contain unique patterns of essential nutrients, variety is not only the spice of life in terms of cuisine, but also in terms of nutrition due to the assortment of essential nutrients available.
For example, an analysis of the essential minerals in freshly purchased local green, leafy vegetables was conducted recently by Michael Dunn's laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Among the 10 locally grown vegetables tested, amaranth leaf (Chinese spinach), edible hibiscus leaf, moringa, bitter melon leaf and taro leaf were found to contain significant amounts of calcium. Bitter melon greens were especially interesting because they also were a good source of copper, iron, magnesium and manganese. What remains to be determined is how well these minerals are absorbed from these foods.
3. Sustainability of the environment and resiliency of our local food supply count! Supporting Hawaii's farmers benefits all of us in the short and long run. Of course, any time we "buy local" it supports the local economy. It also helps to maintain open space and, perhaps most importantly, it decreases our reliance on external sources of food.
As an island in the middle of the Pacific, we are very dependent on foods shipped into the state. If we ever need to transition to producing all or most of our own food within the state, extensive changes would need to be made. However, keeping the agricultural infrastructure in place would be a huge benefit in any "worst case" scenario.
4. Help save the world! Yes, eating local can play a significant role in conserving energy and helping to slow global warming. Transportation to the islands is energetically costly due to the extensive use of fuel for shipment by sea or air as well as the need for refrigeration during shipping and storage. The shorter the distance your food comes from, the more energy you conserve.
5. Save the landfill! Imported produce commonly comes with "baggage" in the form of packaging that requires disposal or, at best, recycling.
6. Don't bug Hawaii! Fresh produce from other parts of the world can bring along unwanted agricultural and environmental pests. Even the most extensive inspection of produce can sometimes miss these pests. The damage pests can cause is economic, agricultural and environmental.
So the bottom line is "buy local!" It really does matter.
Alan Titchenal, PhD, CNS and Joannie Dobbs, PhD, CNS
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Services.
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