Plenty of healthy options available

For some people, nostalgic childhood memories are those which recall the images and smells of autumn kitchens as mothers and grandmothers pickled cucumbers, boiled jams, and made the children shell buckets of peas.

A generation or two ago, many families were nearly self sufficient in providing food for themselves. They planted gardens and fruit trees, then harvested the crops. Jars were filled and bags of potatoes and carrots stored in root cellars. Backyard poultry coops served as the source of eggs and Sunday roast chicken. Later, as freezers were introduced, food preservation was made easier and the variety of meats and produce that could be stored was increased. With full shelves and freezers, families could be secure in knowing that they had an adequate and nutritious supply of food for the following year.

While these practices continue in some families, the trend over the past decades has been to place increasing reliance on food available from the local supermarket. Now, instead of coming from the back yard, it is estimated the average North American meal travels 2,400 km to get from field to plate and contains ingredients from five countries in addition to our own. Today’s food shopper has choices our grandparents never dreamed of. Have strawberries in December? Eat corn on the cob in February? Given these options, why would one want to work as hard as and eat like our ancestors did, eating produce grown in back yards or within a short distance from their homes?

To support and educate our community about food, the Agassiz Community Health Centre, along with its partners, will be hosting a public information day on Thursday, 24 March from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Cheam Village on MacKay Crescent. On site will be health professionals to give advice about healthy eating, proper nutrition and weight management. The theme of this month’s event is “Celebrate Food – From Field to Table”. The objective is to feature agricultural products harvested closer to home. You will be able to find out about the food products which are grown or produced in this area. As well, information will be available about the Agassiz Community Gardens – a local place where people who do not have a garden of their own can get a plot of land to grow produce and flowers.

There are many benefits of “eating locally”. One worth considering is that locally produced fresh produce might be better for you because it is often a more nutritious choice.

Produce is at its peak nutritional value when it is ripe. Some fruits and vegetables traveling long distances to market are not picked when they are ripe but before ripeness. While the produce might gain colour and softness on its journey to the supermarket, nutrition comes through the stem from the living plant. Once harvested, a vegetable is as nutritious as it’s going to get. And, with every day past harvest, nutritional value might actually decrease. For example, 24-48 hours after harvest, 50 – 89 per cent of Vitamin C is lost from leafy vegetables. Bagged spinach loses about half of its folate and carotenoids after being stored in refrigeration for just four days. Other vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, kale, tomatoes and delicate fruits like peaches also lose nutrients more quickly when they travel long distances.

However, heartier foods like apples, oranges, grapefruit and carrots can travel long distances and still keep their nutrients. The suggestion, then, would be to eat local fruits and vegetables, where possible, when they are in season and at the peak of their ripeness.

This is also the time to start canning, preserving and freezing a supply of local produce because produce that is frozen or canned soon after harvest retains most of its nutrient value. This means that families can continue to enjoy a variety of nutritious produce throughout the year. Predicted rising food prices and projected food shortages might the motivators for you to find out how to grow your own food and find or dust off the recipe books on canning and freezing. When one looks at the variety of foods produced locally, often at reasonable cost, feeding your family in this way may save you dollars.

Owners of patios need not despair. There are now numerous varieties of plants that produce abundant and nutritional vegetables. An announcement about a community learning session about patio gardening is forthcoming.

Fruits and vegetables are an important source of nutrients but they must be combined with other food choices to provide the remainder of your daily nutritional requirements. “Canada’s Food Guide” will help you and your family know how much food you need, what types of food are better for you, and the importance of physical activity. On March 24 you will be able to pick up a copy of this guide. You can also talk with a professional about how you can meet your personal needs for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, reduce your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and osteoporosis, and contribute to your overall health and vitality.

Good food grows in the Fraser Valley. Let’s all eat healthy, strengthen our local and provincial economy by keeping farmers in business today and the future, and reduce impact on the environment by decreasing the distance food travels.

(Agassiz Community Health Centre – Fraser Valley Health)