The locavore movement is about eating locally grown food. Besides better tasting food, being a locavore offers myriad ways to improve your brain health.
The average carrot travels 1,838 miles to get to your dinner plate.
Pretty crazy, huh?
A lot of people realize that our current mass produced food system is not healthy for the planet — or for people.
This has led to the “locavore movement” which promotes eating locally grown food as much as possible.
The widely accepted locavore definition is eating food grown within 100 miles.
Sometimes you’ll hear it called the “100 mile diet.”
Here in the US, a broader definition of locavore includes food grown anywhere in your state. (1)
Eating locally grown food is healthier for your body.
It’s better for your brain in some surprising ways, as well.
Here are nine reasons eating locally grown food is a smart idea for your brain and mental well-being.
1. Local produce provides your brain with more nutrition.
Your brain is the most complex structure on the planet.
It uses a disproportionate amount of energy, oxygen, water, and nutrients.
It needs a lot of nutrients to function at its best — vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Locally grown food contains more nutrition than food found at your supermarket.
The moment a fruit or vegetable is picked, whether conventionally grown or organic, it starts to lose its nutritional value.
On average, produce travels 1,500 miles from harvest to plate and a lot of nutrition is lost along the way. (2)
By the time you get the average bunch of broccoli home, it’s lost 80% of its nutrients.
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Spinach loses almost half its nutrition after just eight days. (3)
Most commercial fruit and some vegetables are intentionally picked unripe.
Then they’re shipped, stored and artificially ripened in warehouses with ethylene gas before being sent to your local supermarket.
Ethylene is a naturally occurring gas that fruits and vegetables produce themselves during ripening.
But the ethylene used to artificially ripen produce is a man-made version that’s classified as a class 3 carcinogen. (6)
2. Locally raised animals are a better source of brain-essential omega-3 fats.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are essential for good health.
They lower your risk of diseases like heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. (7)
They’re also critical for your brain.
Getting adequate omega-3 can protect you against memory loss, mood disorders, depression, and dementia.
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Locally raised grass-fed beef and bison, pasture-fed pork and lamb, and free range chicken and their eggs contain significantly more omega-3 than their mass produced counterparts. (9)
If you’re lucky enough to live near water, you may be able to find locally caught seafood.
Wild-caught fish (especially cold water varieties) is an excellent source of omega-3.
Shockingly, some seafood you’ll find at your supermarket travels 8,000 miles to China and back for processing. (10)
You don’t want your seafood to be better traveled than you are.
3. Eating locally grown food gives your brain a greater variety of nutrients.
Over 50,000 species of edible plants have been identified, yet today a paltry 15 species provide 90% of the world’s food supply. (11)
Food diversity is important for health since every food item brings its own unique set phytonutrients to the table.
Yet just two vegetables — potatoes and tomatoes — make up half the vegetables eaten in the United States. (12)
So following the lead of locavores can greatly expand your culinary horizons and the nutritional power of your diet.
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Small local farmers often grow specialty items that aren’t widely known or don’t ship well.
When you buy local produce from your farmer’s market or CSA (Community Support Agriculture), you’ll find produce you’ve never seen before, heirloom varieties of your favorite vegetables, local honey, artisan breads and cheeses, and more.
For example, my local farmer’s market in Tucson carries cow peas, tepary beans, mesquite bean flour, prickly pear pads and fruit, saguaro cactus syrup, peacock (!) eggs, Navajo tea, and more pepper varieties than I knew existed.
Finding locally grown food here has been easy, so I was surprised to learn that Arizona is the 3rd worst state for being a locavore. (13)
So chances are very good that you’ll have an easy time finding local produce.
4. Locally grown food contains fewer toxins.
Farms that produce food for local markets are more likely to use organic and natural methods. (14)
And that’s good news for your brain.
The brain is especially sensitive to pesticides, many of which are known neurotoxins.
Agricultural chemical use increases the risk of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia, and Alzheimer’s in both farmers and consumers. (15)
Even a low level of organophosphate exposure can cause confusion, difficulty concentrating, headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
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Children’s brains are even more susceptible.
5. Wild foods are nutritional powerhouses.
Wild foods contain more nutrients than the best organic produce money can buy.
Over the past 12,000 years we’ve bred plants to taste better, to be more productive, and to be easier to harvest, store, and transport.
But nutrition has not been a consideration.
Native plants contain significantly more nutrients than comparable domesticated plants.
According to Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side, wild tomatoes contain 15 times more lycopene than supermarket tomatoes.
And wild apples in Nepal contain 100 times more phytonutrients than apple varieties we normally eat.
Depending on where you live, you might find healthy wild plants like dandelion greens, fiddleheads, purslane, nettles, wild onions, or chickweed — all which grow like weeds. 😉
Besides extra nutrition, foraging for wild foods offers other bonuses for your brain.
Being outdoors and getting exercise is good for your brain … and it’s fun!
See reason #9 to learn why.
And the process of seeking and finding provides your brain with a blast of dopamine, the “motivation molecule,” that boosts happiness, focus, and concentration.
WARNING: Do NOT eat wild plants if you aren’t 100% certain of their identity.
Some plants that look similar to edible plants can be toxic.
Make sure you get a good identification book or, better yet, take a local food foraging class with an expert.
6. Enjoying delicious locally grown food can make you happy.
Being a locavore isn’t just about health.
A good reason to eat local produce is because it just tastes better.
An important principle of the locavore movement is enhancing enjoyment of food by eating the most delicious food available.
Anyone who has eaten a sweet, ripe, juicy peach straight off the tree can attest that it leaves store-bought peaches in the dust.
Commercial tomatoes which are almost always picked unripe can’t compare to a tomato from your garden.
Our hectic modern lifestyle has largely taken the pleasure out of eating.
Either we’re scarfing down fast food, nuking prepackaged meals, or feeling guilty about what we’ve eaten.
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But enjoyment should be an important part of the eating experience.
The French are known for taking pleasure from their food.
You may have heard of the “French paradox” — that the French stay slim and healthy in spite of drinking wine and eat fatty foods.
At least part of the answer is that they savor and truly enjoy their food.
7. Shopping for local foods is “neurobic” exercise for your brain.
Until recently, acquiring food was humans’ main activity.
Our ancestors had to use their brains to find and remember the best places to hunt, fish, and forage.
They had to forecast the weather and learn the optimal times to plant and harvest crops.
They had to figure out how to store extra food for the lean times.
The modern supermarket with canned, prepackaged, and frozen foods has separated our senses from most food acquisition.
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Dr. Lawrence Katz, an internationally recognized neurobiologist, coined the phrase “neurobics” to describe brain exercises that enhance brain performance by using all five senses in new and novel ways.
He devoted an entire chapter on food shopping “neurobically” in his groundbreaking book Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness.
He recommends shopping from farmer’s markets where you can use all of your senses to look, touch, sniff, and taste the local produce.
He encourages talking with the farmers as a social activity that builds neural connections.
Getting to know the people who actually grow your food helps build stronger communities as well.
8. Finding local food is a brain-boosting adventure.
Buying locally grown food from a farm or farmer’s market is a completely different experience than shopping at a chain grocery store.
And that is a great thing for your brain!
Routines simplify life and limit brain-draining decision making.
But routines are deadly to the brain since they provide no mental stimulation.
Your brain thrives on activities that are “complex and novel.” (18)
Going to the same stores and buying the same products is brain-dead easy.
But it’s not very adventurous or mentally stimulating.
Here are some ways to acquire locally grown food that are guaranteed to shake up your routine.
- Shop at farmer’s markets.
- Visit local farms.
- Visit “pick your own” farms.
- Join a food co-op or CSA.
- Grow your own food.
- Forage for wild plants.
- Go fishing.
- Learn to prepare foods you’ve never had before.
9. Growing your own food can improve your memory, mood, and reduce your risk of dementia.
One of the easiest ways to join the locavore movement is to grow your own food.
Gardening is one of the best overall physical exercises. (19)
And exercise is one of the most important things you can do to keep your brain working as it should.
It’s even more important than thinking! (20)
Compared with indoor exercise, exercising outdoors increases vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure, and self-esteem while lowering tension, depression, and fatigue. (21)
Memory performance and attention span improve by 20% after spending an hour outside with nature. (22)
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Gardeners have significantly lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners. (23)
While you are gardening, you can replenish your much needed stores of vitamin D.
Vitamin D can lift your mood, improve memory, and prevent the winter blues. (24)
Eager to get started?
Here are some of my favorite places for learning more about the locavore movement and where to find locally grown food.
If you’d like to start growing your own food but aren’t sure what you can plant in your area or when, TheVegetableGarden.com has planting schedules for the entire US.
If you’d love to grow your own food but have no space, there’s a system for growing produce in reusable grocery store bags.
Some gardeners’ results have been amazing!
Learn how to do this step-by-step in this post I wrote for EatLocalGrown.com, The Easiest Way Ever to Grow Your Own Food – Garden Not Required.
If you want to learn more about the background and benefits of the locavore movement and how to put it into practice, here are my three favorite books on the topic:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
This bestseller put the locavore movement on the map.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
Another groundbreaking book by Pollan that championed the idea that organic and local food can be far more nutritious than commercially produced food.
Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon
This Canadian couple ate exclusively local for one year. Their bestselling book chronicles how they did it and how it changed their relationship with food.
(This book was originally published under the title The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating.)