The Science of Local Food

by Marisa Olsen in , , , , , , , , ,


This week I had the pleasure of attending a food-related event that just happened to be sponsored by the River To River Festival, for which I do Marketing and Communications in my day job. The event was a panel discussion at the South Street Seaport Melville Gallery titled "The Science of Local Food" presented by the South Street Seaport Museum and The New York Academy of Sciences. Robert LaValva was the panel moderator. LaValva is the Director and Founder of New Amsterdam Market, a public community food market that takes place every Sunday in the old Fulton Fish Market and features and an array of vendors--including cheese, honey, bicycles, and kimchi to name a few. The panel featured Peter Hoffman, chef and owner of Back 40 and the now-closed Savoy (which has been re-invented as Back 40 West); Brian Halweil, Publisher of Edible Manhattan and Editor of Edible East End; and Jennifer Phillips, a farmer in the Hudson Valley.

The panel explored topics such as, is local better? Surprisingly, the answer isn't always yes. It is easy to forget about the transport and storage required to properly store food, which would make the notion of having all New Yorkers “eat local” quite a challenge.

As a New Yorker, it's also nearly impossible to eat everything in a local capacity; think lemons, cocoa, and salt.

Another interesting fact I picked up is that buying organic whole milk isn't always the way to go. Just because it says "organic" and "grass fed" doesn't mean that there aren't 4,000 cows stuffed in a big room that get fed “local” feed. Check out Cornucopia.org for a scorecard on your milk brand.

The panel encouraged people to ask questions. If you're feeling friendly during your next farmer's market visit, ask the famer about his or her practices. Just because a farmer may use pesticides, doesn't mean you should boycott their product. I learned that many farmers are using a pesticide called IPM, which is supposed to help suppress other dangerous pesticides. Start a conversation!

The discussion also explored omnivores verses carnivores. Although being a vegetarian is a great healthy lifestyle, including local, grass-fed meat into your diet isn't a bad thing. The problem is with the amount of processed meats and dairy that Americans are eating. While the sticker shock of local meat may make you black out for a minute, the panel reassured us that we don't have to spend our entire paycheck on Hudson Valley Duck meat, rather make it a special occasion and try to eat healthfully during other moments by seeking fresh, in-season produce.