Go Slow: Enjoy Local Foods

Michele S. Byers

by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation 

“Slow Food” does not mean Crock-Pot cooking!

Slow Food is a lifestyle choice, not a culinary technique, and its focus is on eating local and seasonal foods. Freshness and flavor, knowing where your food comes from and awareness of what you put into your body are all part of the Slow Food movement.

The Slow Food movement was founded in Italy in 1986 as a protest against fast foods – specifically, the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome. It now encompasses hundreds of chapters around the world, including three right here in the Garden State.

Obviously, the movement’s emphasis on “locavore,” or local, cuisine is not revolutionary. In fact, throughout human history, eating local was the only option. Our early ancestors were pretty much limited to foods that could be hunted, gathered and grown nearby and in season.

We’ve expanded our horizons and tastes dramatically since then, but at a huge cost to human and environmental health. Supermarkets and restaurants are filled with processed foods, many meats are laden with antibiotics in factory farms, and our produce has likely been sprayed with pesticides and shipped from half a world away.

With the Garden State’s famous vegetables and fruits just starting to come into season, now is a great time to “go Slow” and look for local, seasonal and sustainably grown foods.

First, find and patronize local farm stands and farmers markets. Farmers markets are booming and are found in most cities and towns. Many markets carry fruits and veggies, fresh eggs, locally raised meats, artisanal cheeses, locally baked products, homemade pickles and relishes, and more.

Locally grown foods sold at stands and markets are fresher and taste better. And because they’re not trucked or flown in from far away, they leave a much smaller carbon footprint.

Another way “go Slow” is to start your own garden. Even if you’ve got only a small patio or deck, it’s easy to grow herbs or tomatoes in pots. If you have a larger patch of lawn that can be converted to garden, all the better!

The age-old practice of foraging is making a comeback. A recent New Jersey Conservation Foundation workshop on foraging demonstrated that wild plants, including many exotic invasive weeds, can be picked in your own yard and incorporated into delicious dishes.

I know we all won’t give up the tasty imported foods we’ve come to love. But the Slow Foods lifestyle isn’t all-or-nothing; even small changes reap big benefits. If New Jerseyans just spent a little more of their food budgets on locally grown foods, it would support our farmers and farmland preservation, fight climate change and improve public health. That’s a lot of benefits wrapped up in a small lifestyle change!

This state we’re in is a terrific place to be part of the Slow Food movement! To find out more, visit the Slow Food websites: Slow Food Northern Jersey at www.slowfoodnnj.org , Slow Food Central Jersey at www.slowfoodcentralnj.org and Slow Food South Jersey Shore at www.slowfoodsouthjerseyshore.org.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org .

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