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Fresh food offers better quality, health benefit

When Brian Halweil wrote a Worldwatch book, Eat Here, the title didn’t advertise the culinary offerings of a particular eatery or locale. Its “here” was a shorthand for “locally produced food.”
This, the subtitle states, allows consumers to “reclaim homegrown pleasures” within the globalized, agro-industrial system that now produces and distributes our food.
Foods from around the world are travel weary when they appear, in sheer bewildering variety, in our supermarkets.
Before reaching the dining table, if wholesale-market statistics the author cites are correct, the average kilogram of produce travels more than 2,400 kilometers from farm to plate, the distance steadily increasing year by year.
Such food commodities, hardly a surprise, are less fresh than veggies or meat from a local source.
In order to “endure the long-distance transport and longterm storage,” Halweil notes, [they] “depend on preservatives and additives, and encounter all sorts of opportunities for contamination on their journey.”
Not merely freshness but nutrient value may be diminished in industrial foods. It has been reported that, of 13 major nutrients tracked in vegetables by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1950 to 1999, six showed appreciable declines, the losses ranging from 6 percent for protein nutrients to declines from 15 to 38 percent in calcium, iron, vitamin C and riboflavin.
The “food miles” in such a system create large environmental impacts.
With massive quantities of petroleum and gasoline needed for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and machinery in production and transport, for the operation of “mammoth refrigerators, ripening rooms and packing sheds” which the foods traverse on their journey, the system is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and smog-causing air pollutants, and the hidden health costs they cause.
Foods grown in farflung and anonymous places, with multiple opportunities for contamination in handling and distribution along the way can be directly hazardous to health.
Food poisoning caused by salmonella, as the Washington Post reported, increased by 10 percent in recent years. Though infections from one strain of the E. choli bacterium have declined, the Centers for Disease Control report an increased infection rate from other, new strains.
Deaths and widespread illness in Europe, and cases in northeast Tennessee reported last week by the Johnson City Press, are thought to be related to a new and dangerous E. choli strain.
The German newspaper Die Zeit states the contamination source in that country to have beeen traced to cucumbers imported from Spain.
Growers of this fast-growing vegetable, in sunny but arid regions there, were found to have dug thousands of wells, illegally and without treatment or monitoring of the water, for irrigating the crop.
A strong point of hope for safety and sustainability of food supplies is the rapid rise in fresh food offerings, through farmers markets such as in Jonesborough, local or regional processing plants for grass-fed meat such as at Snapps Ferry, and a return, even in modest numbers, of home gardens.
They can economically provide the healthful food the Worldwatch author celebrated in Eat Here.