I heard a writing professor interviewed on the radio today who instructs his students to write stories that take place within five miles of their hometowns. He said the point of this exercise is to encourage his students to become attuned, in a deeper way, to the story and character of their locales. The same can be said with eating locally.
Food, of course, is about more than just what we put in our mouths. It has social, cultural, and historic functions. And by becoming familiar with the foods that grow around us, we gain a more meaningful – and intuitive – understanding of the place where we live. For example, I was born in Ohio and lived there until I was 13. To me, Ohio green beans taste quite distinct, and are more appealing to me than green beans grown anywhere else. My mother says the same thing about Ohio tomatoes. And specifically, tomatoes grown in southern Ohio, in the Ohio River valley. By familiarizing ourselves with the foods that grow in our areas, we physically and fundamentally connect to our environment. And, as we build memories around that food, our emotional ties to our surroundings grow stronger.
In addition, eating locally means eating seasonally, which helps us build an intuitive simpatico with the ebb and flow of the earth’s cycles. I am currently reading The Backyard Homestead, a fantastic book that I highly recommend for anyone interested in gardening or homesteading. The author explains how she knows when to plant particular crops by the flight patterns of insects and the colors of leaves. She is truly in sync with the earth, and she achieved that because she wanted to grow foods that would thrive in her particular locale, at particular times of the year.
There are many benefits to eating locally. The food is fresher, the carbon footprint is smaller, and local businesses are supported. But perhaps the most profound benefit is the way that eating locally helps us to become attuned – in a fundamentally human way – to the earth and our surroundings.