Wednesday, September 29, 2010

100 Ways to Conserve Water #18: Eat Local

Saving water is about more than reducing our water personal water bills. All the potable water we use, at home and away, impacts the potable water available for other uses. Like, you know, having clean water to drink and farmers being able to grow food.

Because our water usage reaches so far beyond our use at home, it's sometimes invisible. Take grocery vegetables, for instance.

Nutritionist Marion Nestle has a lot to say about the subject. If you haven't read it, her What to Eat is an eye-opening look at the way our modern food system works and how it impacts nutrition. I tend to think I know a thing or two about food systems and health, and I'm learning tons from each chapter.

Among the things I'd never considered: it takes a lot of water to maintain the cold chain which allows vegetables to be picked in, let's say, California and then shipped to New York, London or places farther afield. Without even getting to the question of what it takes to air condition a warehouse round the clock or to transport food thousands of miles, there's the question of that spray head over the lettuce at your local grocery store. You know the one: it clicks on for several seconds, and then off for a few minutes, and then back again -- endlessly spraying the market's lettuce or broccoli to keep it looking as fresh as possible for up to a week or more. Over time, that's a lot of water.

As Nestle points out, "fresh" in the grocery store lingo doesn't mean "picked recently". It designates foods that are subject to spoilage, and need to be treated accordingly.

Contrast that with produce picked at the local farm or your own backyard, where fresh actually implies that your lettuce or broccoli was picked within a day or two of when you plan to eat it, on fields you could probably see with your own eyes without much effort. There's a trade-off, of course: in Texas, it's very hard to buy farm-grown lettuce in the summer, and you can't get zucchini in the dead of winter. To which I wonder: why should you? Vegetables eaten in season taste better and are full of nutrition, and don't need water sprays or edible waxes to keep them from wilting away.

Taking a small step toward reducing those water sprays at the grocery? Just one more invisible benefit to the many strong reasons to eat local.

Want to read Nestle's excellent and eye opening book for yourself? Here's a link. Just don't pick it up before bedtime if you're actually planning to sleep. You wouldn't imagine a book on nutrition could be a page turner, but it is!


Miranda Rommel said...

Aymen to that! Though i do miss lettuce in the Summer - especially when i'm eating huge salads in the cold of January. :(

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