“We’re all part of this food chain,” said Abigail King, a functional nutritionist helping patients restore balance in their body – and in their life. “Seeking out locally sourced foods is hugely important for the sustainability of food production and for nutrient density in our food.”
Farmers markets and local networks of food producers are making sustainability for the gut and the group possible.
Harrison R. Chapman, manager of the Charleston and West Ashley Farmers Market, is noticing this trend among customers: “People are becoming more aware of their health in terms of healthy eating habits and more in tune with the nutritional factors that play into purchasing locally, while also being more aware of the environmental impacts it has on our planet.”
“If produce in big-box stores is traveling thousands of miles to get to your plate … the nutritional value has decreased by an alarming amount compared to what you ingest from locally sourced ingredients, harvested at the peak of ripeness,” said Chapman.
Harvests distributed by big-box locations have had the chance to drop in nutritional value. Spinach is susceptible to losing 90% of its vitamin C content in the 24 hours following its harvest, according to a 2005 Pennsylvania State University study. In A 2007 University of California Davis paper, vegetables were said to lose between 15% and 77% of their vitamin C in the week following harvest. It all depends on storage temperatures, warmer often being the culprit of more rapid nutrient degradation.
When farm to fork time shrinks, the nutrients and bacteria that grew with the food in its nearby microbiome in the local soil are better preserved.
“There is more abundance of bacteria – good kinds of bacteria that are health promoting,” said King, who pays close attention to how certain foods impact inflammation and gut health when advising plans for her patients. “That microbiome is more active and more alive the fresher [the produce] is.”
In choosing to eat locally-grown foods, you are invited to choose the foods that can be grown locally.
”By eating food that is in season, you are not only benefiting from the nutritional value that is at its peak, but also the taste is quite noticeable,” said Chapman. “We should always eat seasonally, which makes the seasons more fun and those ingredients you enjoy at different times of the year even more special and delicious.”
Local eating grows one’s connection to how their food is made.
“We have become very out of touch with where our food comes from, and that is one of the greatest aspects of farmers markets is they provide an opportunity for direct-to-consumer sales,” said Chapman.
At the market, customers have the opportunity to feed their awareness of how ingredients are sourced, allowing them to become more mindful of their food and its journey to the table. After all, “the digestion process starts with mindfulness,” King noted.
Conscientiously cooking with ingredients aids digestion. King described that the act of preparing food – the sensation of chopping vegetables, the sound of sizzling peppers and the smell of caramelizing an onion – evokes the creation of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, essential components for healthful digestion. Growing an awareness and connection to the food nourishes one’s mindfulness and the accompanying digestive benefits.
In addition to the “how” of sourcing and engaging with ingredients, “what” you are picking up at the market is important as well. King advocates for incorporating a diversity of food in one’s diet, focusing on whole foods and prioritizing getting enough fiber – which is easy to do when there is a rainbow of fresh fruits, vegetables and cuisines from which to choose.
“Farmers markets are a melting pot of cultures and the cuisines that come with them,” said Chapman. “Every market is like a celebration of what our community has to offer, all coming together to share with others.”
And, in the wise words of Chapman’s dad, try everything at least once. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again; however, you might just find it’s one of your favorite things to eat.
But you should know that Chapman warns: “Once you’ve tasted the difference, there is no going back.”
By Molly Sherman