On your mark. Get set. Lettuce Eat!

Eat_Local_Challenge-header_w_border-2012+-1336163056-1340750304By Merry Cherney

Everyone has heard of herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores – but now there is a new dietary path classified as locavores.

A locavore is someone who tries to eat foods that has been grown, raised, or caught within a 100 to 200 mile radius of their home. This area seems miniscule compared to the 1300 to 2000 mile radius that most grocery store food items travel (ATTRA). Though this diet might seem like a challenge, hundreds of New Orleans residents have adapted this new food system and are proving that going local is easy and fun.

June 1, 2012 marked the beginning of the 2nd Annual New Orleans Eat Local Challenge. The Challenge runs for the entire month and requires participants to do their best to eat local foods. As stated on their website, their mission is, “To raise awareness of the nutritional, economic, environmental and cultural benefits of eating locally sourced food.”

However, one diet does not fit all humans. The Challenge makes it easy for participants to choose foods and requirements that fit their dietary likes and dislikes along with their lifestyle. First, there are a variety of places were participants can shop including community or personal gardens, farmers’ markets, U-Pick farms, and roadside stands, locally produced foods at grocery stores, and any restaurant participating in the “challenge.” Second, participants can choose how strictly they want to adhere to the challenge. The levels range from “Ultra strict” in which participants are limited to consuming products that can be grown, caught or raised within two hundred miles to “Ultra Ultra Lenient,” which requires participants to try and eat solely local foods for a few days. The levels are not permanent; participants can adjust their level of strictness to fit their daily lives. By allowing for greater flexibility, the Eat Local Challenge has been able to increase participation by 150% from last year with over 500 participants.

 The number of locavores continues to grow. With so many benefits, eating local is not only good for you, but also good 540558_285574331537685_563926366_n-1340750391for the world. The Center for a New American Dream (CNAD) says that local food is often safer because, “[e]ven when it’s not organic, small farms tend to be less aggressive than large factory farms about dousing their wares with chemicals.” Small farms are also more likely to grow a greater variety, says CNAD, protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food security. Since food travels a shorter distance, it is fresher and its carbon footprint is lowered. Also by attending farmers markets and roadside stands consumers are gaining a connection to their food sources and supporting their local economy. Usually, farmers receive only 20 cents of each food dollar spent says John Ikerd, a retired agricultural economics professor, the rest going for transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and marketing. However, at farmers’ markets, farmers “receive the full retail value, a dollar for each food dollar spent,” Ikerd says. In fact, from 2000 to 2005 farmers’ markets sales have increased from $888 million to $1 billion (ATTRA).The Eat Local Challenge offers many tools for participants. They include a list of approved restaurants that have vowed to serve only local products as well as a map of all the local farmers markets in the New Orleans area. Several participants also have blogs with tips on how to eat local and the website also has many recipes that all contain ingredients that can be picked up locally. Along with that, the Challenge holds events all month long to help educate participants. Some events include learning about bee keeping, tours of the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery and “All Local Foods” Cooking Demonstrations.The Challenge seeks to educate, motivate, and enlighten participants on how easy and beneficial eating locally can be. They hope participants will extend the lessons and tools they gain from this experience for the entire year. For more information visit the Eat Local Challenge website!