One of my readers recently asked me a question I get all the time: “Fred, why do you never talk about the benefits of eating local foods, and how come you eat so much imported fruit?”
At least a few times a week, I get a question on how to eat a raw food diet in Northern climates where fruit is not available year round, and how come we should eat imported mangoes instead of other local foods like vegetables, grains and animal products.
A lot of people feel that we should not eat imported foods at all, and instead only eat what can be found in the area where you live, which makes them question the raw food diet that I recommend, which includes a lot of tropical fruits like bananas or mangoes (when in season).
Obviously, bananas and mangoes don’t grow too far outside of the tropics, so doesn’t that mean that only those living in tropical climates should eat such a raw food diet?
First of all, this idea of eating only local food is not new. It was promoted decades ago by the Macrobiotic people, some of them strictly forbade eating imported and exotic food unless it was brown rice, which they thought was the ideal food.
More recently, there’s a growing movement of people calling themselves “locavores” because they try to eat only local food.
A few years ago, there was even a man who tried to live for an extended period of time on foods that grew in a 100-mile radius from where he lived in the Northwest. His diet was called the “100-Mile Diet.”
The biggest reason people give for only eating local foods is the environment and all of the fuel used in transportation to bring exotic foods to your table.
However, some recent studies show that this concept is quite flawed. Many people imagine that fossil fuel use in the food business mainly comes from transportation, but in reality it’s only 4 to 15% of the total energy used to produce the food.
Most of the fossil fuels and energy are actually burned during the production and storage of food, not its transportation!
Transportation in ships and trucks can be extremely efficient, to the point that people might actually burn more fuel by driving to buy their groceries than the total fuel that was burned in bringing the produce to the store in the first place.
There was even a study a few years ago that showed that it was more ecological to eat imported apples from New Zealand during the spring, when North American apples are not in season, rather than buying local apples that have been stored in giant refrigerated warehouses, stored from last year’s crop.
Why do you think Northern climates have loads of apples all year round? They use a lot of storage facilities, even if they’re local.
Far more important than where your food is coming from is the type of food you’re eating in the first place. Imported banana is way more ecological (and healthful) than local grass fed beef.
So there goes the argument against imported food: it’s not always what it seems! Buying local food in season makes sense, but having a variety of foods, including certain imported foods, may even make more sense for your health.
Another reason that people give for only eating local food is support for local farmers.
An interesting fact is that fruits and vegetables is one of the few products poor countries can export. If everybody in the West stopped buying imported bananas and mangoes, do you really think that would help the world?
All of those countries would simply switch from growing bananas to growing unhealthy products like coffee, palm oil or beef. That happened in the town where I lived in Costa Rica.
If it would happen everywhere, the price for bananas and fruit would go up, while the price of unhealthy junk would go down. Do you really think that would be a good thing?
I’d rather support poor countries growing fruit! (Especially high quality in season ones)
So this is why I’ll continue to do both, buy local and in season when it’s good (like in the summer) and then buy more imported in season fruits in the fall and winter.
Another reason people give against imported food is that it’s leaded with pesticides that may be illegal in North America.
That may be true, but you can also choose to buy organic bananas, even if they come all the way from Ecuador.
I buy a lot of fruit both in-season and locally, but I also buy imported tropical fruits that may not be available where I live in Canada. Many of these fruits are not organic, and I personally think that it’s not such a big deal, especially if these fruits have thick peels. Research has shown that people get more pesticides from foods that they can’t peel.
I also avoid buying fruit that are notoriously loaded with pesticides, such as imported grapes from Chile, or cantaloupes from Mexico.
But again, I don’t make such a big deal out of eating only organic food, as I have found most people who are obsessed with organic foods are making far bigger mistakes in other areas of their health.
These people only want to know whether something is “organic” or “raw” and don’t worry if it’s truly healthy or not. They only focus on this basic criteria, and they don’t even know if their health is improving exponentially because of it.
Also keep in mind that big organic farms use some pesticides, just not the same ones that are used on commercial farms. Organic does not mean pesticide free.
Fruits and vegetables, whether they are organic or not, are low on the food chain and are healthier than anything else you could eat, organic or not. In other words, a commercially-grown banana is far better for you than organic cheese.
In the kind of world where we live today, it really doesn’t make sense to try piously to eliminate certain foods from your diet just because they are not locally grown.
On the other hand, it makes a lot of sense to grow your own food, as much as possible, and eat most of your produce in season and locally grown, if you can.
But someone living in a cold climate like Iceland has to rely on more imported foods to make this diet work than someone living in the tropics.
Imagine you had a polar bear in a zoo. Would you prevent the bear from eating its natural diet of seal, just because that food is not “local,” or would you feed the bear what it needs?
If you had a chimpanzee in Alaska, would you feed it bread and jam just because it’s “local,” or would you feed your chimp its natural diet of fruits and vegetables?
As a human, your natural diet should be composed of mostly fruits and vegetables, including tropical fruit! The fact that it’s now possible to eat our natural diet almost everywhere in the world is something that should be celebrated, not denigrated!
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