by Jennifer Nordwall, Guest Blogger for the Menuism Dining Blog
Many restaurants these days are reverting back to local farms to gather the freshest ingredients. Seasonal menus, based on what is available at peak harvest, are offered at more and more places -- connecting how we eat with what is locally grown. Certainly, this is not something new, but an emerging trend taking hold in places from big city restaurants to your neighborhood favorite. Finding out how to choose a restaurant that supports local farmers will help you start thinking globally and sourcing locally.
Why is it important?
Food that has to travel to your plate does not contain the same nutrients as fresh vegetables grown closer to home. To keep food from deteriorating during transit time, some produce must be picked before it has the chance to fully ripen. This means that it can miss out on absorbing vital nutrients from its surroundings during this critical period. The average travel time for the 16 most common fruits and vegetables is just under 1,500 miles. Aside from this, 39% of fruits and 12% of vegetables were imported from other countries. This travel time can cause produce to lack the nutrients that would be present if it was picked closer to home and allowed that time to spend ripening on the vine.
So what can you do to ensure that you are getting the freshest meal packed with nutrients when you chose to dine out?
Check out your local farmers' market
A farmers' market is not only a great place to buy wonderful produce, artisan cheese, local honey, and hand crafted beer and wine, but a great place to ask questions about what restaurants are sourcing from the suppliers. Find a favorite local artisan cheese maker at the farmer's market? Let your favorite restaurant know about them by bringing in their card the next time you dine.
Visit your local farm store
Many local farms have roadside stands or even more established stores that are open year round (depending on what part of the country you live in). The offerings are typically what is being picked at the farm, but may also include local beef or chicken, artisan cheese and fresh farm eggs. Talk to the person behind the counter to find out what restaurants are also shopping here or have weekly deliveries from the farm.
View the menu
If local food is being used, chances are it will be highlighted on the menu. Take some time to look over menus online before choosing a restaurant. Often, credit will be given to the farm, creamery, or artisan. Sustainable seafood is also typically highlighted with "harpooned" swordfish or "wild-caught" fish.
Join your local Slow Food movement. This will put you in touch with like-minded people, who also agree that food should not only taste good, but benefit the community and the environment.
The local food movement is gaining momentum. In order for farm to table to continue to expand and grow, consumers have to continue to demand local produce and foods at restaurants. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you!
Jennifer Nordwall is a contributor to Everyday Health and its healthy living, nutrition and calorie counter tools. She visits her local farmers' market every weekend.