Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Nutritional Adequacy of Regional Diets

While continuing research on eating seasonally available foods grown in your own region, I turned up this report on an experiment conducted at Cornell University in New York. Basically, they were trying to answer the question: Can a person living in the northeast eat seasonal, local foods and receive adequate nutrition? They determined that it is quite possible to do so. Please note that nutrition was "adequate" though, and that the U. S. Recommended Dietary Allowances are the measure of the minimum levels of nutrients you should have to avoid disease; not the levels you need to be healthy - yes, there is a big difference!

Below are a few highlights on the research done at Cornell. Please click on the title to read the full article.



Using the Nutritionist IV computer program, the diets were analyzed for energy, the macronutrients and vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, calcium, and zinc. Calorie distribution for the two diet types was consistent with established recommendations. With few exceptions, the values for all nutrients measured were above the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances. Results indicate that it is possible to obtain a nutritionally outstanding diet from foods that could be grown and processed in the Northeast region.

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Moreover, most farms in the state are now highly specialized, many producing only one or two commodities for the market (Lyson, in press). Early in the century, most farms had diversified operations, and there were many more farms producing any given crop. For example, in 1910, over 85% of all New York farms grew potatoes and 79% grew vegetables. In 1992, fewer than 2% of New York farms grew potatoes and only 9% sold vegetables. Not only are fewer farms producing any given crop, but overall production of crops that are grown has declined (Table 2). Similar delocalizing trends can be seen in the food processing arena.

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Nearly half the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed domestically are produced in California (Messing, 1981). Often, food products are imported into states where they also are locally produced (Howard, 1995), a trend that sometimes produces astonishing market distortions. For example, New York State produces about 28 million bushels of apples per year, making it the second only to Washington in state apple production in the United States. Yet despite the fact that the state's orchardists produce nine times the average quantity of apples utilized by the New York City market, three-quarters of the city's fresh apples come from Washington State, California, and overseas (Howard, 1995). According to a recent report, less than 4 % of all the apples produced in New York State go to the New York City fresh and processed apple market, which is now primarily served by other states and countries. Thus, knowingly or not, consumers participate more and more in the global food system and allow the local food system to decline as it will.

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A major barrier to consumer support of northeastern agriculture, however, is their lack of knowledge about how to eat seasonally. In the same study reported above (Wilkins et al.,, 1996), northeastern consumers were largely unfamiliar with several very common northeastern winter vegetables and showed poor understanding of what fruits and vegetables one should expect to find from local sources and when during the of year. [I believe this is true of most people today who live far from and are out of touch with the rural communities. ~M]

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If consumers are to include considerations such as preservation of regional agriculture when making food choices, they must be familiar with what is or could be produced and processed locally, and they must be assured that diets based on local agriculture are agreeable and nutritionally adequate.

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