Growing up in average American suburbia, I never gave much thought to wear my food came from. We had peach and lemon trees in the backyard and every summer we had a 6 by 12 foot garden bed where I would help my mom harvest tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. Everything else was purchased at the grocery store a couple of miles away. Farm to table was more likely an episode of Little House on the Prairie than a lifestyle choice.
In 2002 my sister urged me to read the then groundbreaking and revolutionary book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser. It sparked in me a passion to know where my food comes from, what it’s made out of and I realized for the first time that the boneless, skinless chicken breasts I consumed didn’t grow on a tree in a cellophane wrapper.
Somehow the Industrial Revolution, suburbia and technology have isolated us from our food sources. There’s also a huge generational gap between our ancestors who toiled in the fields verses modern day industry where we spend the daily grind in front of a computer monitor. We want fast food that’s cheap, portable and filling… or do we?
I noticed the farm to table trend only a couple of years ago while watching Bizarre Foods, one of my favorite TV shows on the Travel Channel. Andrew Zimmern is a food hero of mine and a proponent for all things organic, local, traditional and authentic. Zimmern travels the world tasting not only the exotic, but also heralding the benefits of local ingredients prepared in simple ways and going back to the purity of “grandmother cooking.” When ingredients are fresh and prepared simply, the true flavor and essence of a dish can shine.
How Old is Your Grocery Store Produce?
This got me thinking about the items that I put in my shopping cart. Remember the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” I’m not so sure if this rhyme would still apply today since many times this fruit that we munch on may be up to a year old. “To slow the proverbial sands of time, some fruit distributors treat their apple bins with a gaseous compound, 1-methylcyclopropene. It extends the fruits’ post-storage quality by blocking ethylene, a colorless gas that naturally regulates ripening and aging,” states the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “The same chemical is used to lessen the de-greening of broccoli, browning of lettuce, and bitterness in carrots.”
Produce changes seasonally, but the majority of the native-to-the-Americas produce that we eat are from Mexico, California and Florida. Depending on where you live, your food can have quite a journey ahead. Love the convenience of bagged lettuce? “Many of these prepackaged greens might be two weeks old,” warns author Jo Robinson. “They’re not going to taste as good, and many of their health benefits are going to be lost before we eat them.”
A major study called “Food, Fuel, and Freeways” recently put out by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa compiled data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find out how far produce traveled to a Chicago “terminal market” – where produce brokers and wholesalers buy produce to sell to grocery stores and restaurants. Below is a comparison of these figures to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco, CA.
Average Distances from Farm to Market
Terminal Market vs. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Apples: 1,555 miles vs. 105 miles
Tomatoes: 1,369 miles vs. 117 miles
Grapes: 2,143 miles vs. 151 miles
Beans: 766 miles vs. 101 miles
Peaches: 1,674 miles vs. 184 miles
Winter Squash: 781 miles vs. 98 miles
Greens: 889 miles vs. 99 miles
Lettuce: 2,055 miles vs. 102 miles
Are Organic Foods Fresher?
If you’re like me, you tend to gravitate towards the organic section of the produce department. We’ve all heard the warnings about pesticides and wondered about the true long term effects of non GMO foods, so organic options seem like the safest choices for our families.
The problem with organic foods is that they don’t seem to last as long as their chemically treated counterparts; non-organic produce is altered to look better and seem fresher longer. Non treated fruits and vegetables are vulnerable to the elements and bacteria build-up, which causes them to have a shorter lifespan (but this is how food was meant to be consumed: ripe and fresh). Secondly, their longevity can be linked to where you live in the nation and how far they have to travel. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are a better choice than expecting to have plump red strawberries in December.
However, on the argument side for organic products, a study led by Professor Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University determined that there are “statistically significant [and] meaningful” differences that support the benefits of choosing organic. These researchers found a range of antioxidants being “substantially higher” – between 19% and 69% – in organic food.
Better Than Farm to Table
Unless you live in year-round warm climate or you have the luxury of visiting weekly organic farmer’s markets, chances are you’re going to have to choose older produce or organic produce with a shorter shelf life. Fortunately, these aren’t your only two options; you can grow your own produce which is even better than farm to table. I know this sounds crazy, but urban gardening has come a long way in the past five years.
With a ROOT hydroponic gardening system, you can grow your own produce organic indoors and with little to no maintenance. Forget trips to the grocery store to buy old lettuce or herbs that will die in less than 48 hours. With ROOT, you can grow up to 12 different plants all within a one foot square, three foot high space. You can grow organic, non GMO produce and pick what you need, when you need it. The energy efficient LED growing lights and self-watering system make it perfect for inside your home and it’s convenient app tells you when to add food and water; you don’t have to think twice about caring for your garden. We all need to eat better to feel better, and this is one simple way to eat fresh, organic food.
ROOT is helping society move to another level of food consumption. Instead of farm to table, you can now upgrade to counter-top-to-table. Offsetting your carbon emissions by 100x+ by not relying as much on grocery store produce, travel to and from grocery stores or farmers markets, energy consumption, and much more.