by George Eisman, MA, MS, Registered Dietitian, author of The Most Noble Diet: Food Selection and Ethics
Fresh produce is the healthiest food for us, and I choose to buy all that I can from local farmers at area farmers’ markets. There are many reasons for which I do this, including, of course, that it is the freshest, picked-most-ripe produce available, and therefore tastes best and has the highest nutrient content. Other, equally-important reasons include that it supports my local economy, and minimizes wasteful transport from distant farms. Helping with the economic plight of small family farmers is one of the strongest, and probably the most overlooked, reasons.
These farmers have to compete not only with cheap imports from other countries produced by workers paid a pittance, but also with large farms in this country that use migrant workers brought in from poor countries who work for less than minimum wage. Thus small farmers here have to sell what they can at a price that either does not pay them fairly for their own time, or at a higher price that customers complain about being “so much higher than at the supermarket.” The reason our government allows migrant workers to be brought in and paid less than minimum wage is that if produce cost more at the store then more people would grow their own gardens and would not buy as much. In a capitalistic system, this doesn’t fly.
Farmers selling animal products face a different situation: no such disparity exists for them as does for produce farmers. People can plant gardens in their yards, but there are strict laws about raising farm animals in urban areas; thus prices for animal products don’t have to be kept artificially low. In any case, I believe that ethically, environmentally, and for the sake of our own health, avoiding animal products is the best course to take.