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Deciding What To Eat

September 15, 2011

Recently I was asked to be a guest lecturer at a weight loss management class in Philadelphia.  After attending a class as a visitor and reviewing the program materials, I began to brainstorm on what  I wanted to share with them.  I decided to make it personal and share my thinking process for deciding what to eat.  To keep it simple I narrowed it down to three points:

  1. How many miles has my food traveled?
  2. What are the ingredients?
  3. What preparation/processing has it gone through before it got to my plate?

In this and two future posts I will explore each topic and its significance in choosing what to eat.  Let’s start with “How many miles has my food traveled?”

Food miles It’s defined as the number of miles a food has traveled from farm to plate.   There are typically two types of resources for tomatoes in Philadelphia if you aren’t growing them yourself: grocery stores and farmers’ markets.  Let’s compare the two in terms of tomatoes in the winter.

To grow and transport tomatoes in the winter from Central or South America to Pennsylvania takes  great effort.  These precious little tomatoes can’t be picked when they are ripe because they still have to go through the shipping process.  This means that they are picked when not ripe (lacking not only taste but, ahem, nutrients) and, as it happens to be in some markets, are sprayed with a gas called ethylene to make the tomato ripen before it displayed at a supermarket and purchased for consumption.  I just used “sprayed with gas” and “for consumption” in the same sentence.  Something is off here.  And this is just from the nutrient standpoint—what about all the petroleum that is used in the shipping?

On the other hand, if you are eating tomatoes while they are in season in Pennsylvania, you can find organic or IPM (integrative pest management) tomatoes that have been picked when ready to eat and bought at the farm stand (at the farm) or at a farmers’ market within a few hundred miles of the farm.  These tomatoes can be canned for use in the winter.  You get better taste, more nutrients, less chemicals, less petroleum for shipping—the list goes on.

I would like to note that grocery stores do carry local produce at times and usually note it at the consumer purchasing point.  Also, consuming fresh produce is key to optimum health.  If you can’t find it at your farmers’ market then your grocery store is a good option for fresh produce.

  • What’s the take home message?  Buy as fresh as you can, and as local as you can!

You can find a farmers’ market near you in Philadelphia by checking out The Food Trust website or the Farm to City website—these are the two groups that manage the farmers’ markets in Philadelphia.  Don’t forget to check out your local farm stands as well!

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