The “local food” movement has been around in South Africa for almost 20 years. Organisations like Slow Food South Africa started in 2001 with the “aim to support keeping our rich local food biodiversity and traditions alive”. Mzansi is not alone in this, and Siyabonga Mngoma explores why the trend has international traction.
In 2007 the New Oxford American Dictionary announced the Oxford word of the year: locavore. It is a person whose diet consists mainly of locally grown or produced food.
These individuals shy away from supermarkets and mostly buy from local farmers and artisan markets. This way of living ensures that they are almost always aware of where their food comes from, who grew it and how ethically it has been grown.
Although there is no official definition for local food, it is widely accepted as foods that have been grown or produced within a 160km radius of one’s home.
And if, like for me, those kilometres don’t bring you your childhood favourites from home, your home province or region or your country’s food is still considered local. For our research we were happy to go with the definition of “seasonal, fresh, tasty, healthy and sustainable food” in line with our values. Let’s break these down further…
For us, health is by far the best reason to buy and eat local. According to the ancient Ayurveda practice, fresh food is easily digested, helping your body feed on the nutrients and release waste unconstrained.
This prevents slow-moving digestion, which in turn affects one’s immunity.
The practice further suggests that “centring your diet on foods grown in the soil and climate where you live can actually help prevent allergies and other problems”. This is observed in the cold and flu season, which is in rhythm with the citrus season that supplies natural vitamin C to help fight seasonal illnesses.
If you’ve ever picked something from your food garden at home, you will know what I’m talking about. Food from local farms is picked when ripe and usually takes about 24 hours to get to your home.
This brings that “just tugged out of the soil” taste, which is unlike any other. Food that travels from far gets picked before it reaches ripeness to avoid damage and spoiling. Then it still goes through the distribution centre before reaching your supermarket.
We’ve all seen out-of-season avocados shipped into the country at almost R60 for two, and I won’t even mention the chickens!
As food is harvested, the nutrient value decreases since plants get most of their nutrients from the soil.
Food that has travelled endless kilometres to get to your plate will have fewer nutrients.
The shorter the time between harvest and your plate, the more nutrient-dense the food will be.
Local farming is important for food diversity. When we incorporate a wide variety of foods into our diets, it ensures nutrient adequacy, which is vital for the health of our bodies.
Variety also brings experimentation and encourages one to try new foods and recipes, in turn bringing pleasure and fun into food instead of experiencing it as simply sustenance.
Improving the local economy
Have you ever thought about the entire value chain involved in getting a bag of tomatoes into your home, even if it comes in a can? From the farmworker to the packaging, transportation, agro-processing etc.? If you spend money with local growers, that cash circulates in the community.
In South Africa this has never been more needed, as our country’s economy continues to struggle and our socio-economic challenges show tragic results.
Power to the customer
At the end of the day, it’s all about YOU, the customer. As a consumer, buying from local farms means that you know where your food comes from, who grows it and how they grow your food. You decide where your money is best spent.
Customers are no longer satisfied with food labels or the non-existence thereof in Mzansi. They want to talk to food growers, visit the farms and be assured that what they are consuming is clean and has been grown ethically. Organisations like Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) South Africa, and others, does farm visits on behalf of their customers as part of their organic farm audits.
The movement for seasonal, fresh, tasty, healthy and sustainable is certainly growing.
This article was written by Siyabonga Mngoma and published by Abundance Wholesome Foods.