Harlem Word: Maudene Nelson tells us what it means to be a “locavore” and eat locally-grown foods

Maudene Nelson, RD, CDE is a nutrition educator at the Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition and a diabetes educator at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center.  She sat down with to explain why locally grown food is healthier for you and the economy!

Q: What does it mean to buy locally grown food?

A: Be a "locavore!"  That is a person who is committed to eat as much food as possible that is grown close to where you live (or "locally").  Depending on where you live, you might select from farms that are 5 to 100 miles away from you.  The reason for being a "locavore" is that the closer the food is grown to where you live, the better quality the food you'll have on your plate.  The lag time between the time when food is harvested and the time that it's eaten will be shorter if you eat locally-grown foods, as opposed to foods grown in South America or California, for instance.  The shorter the time in between harvesting and eating a food, the more nutrients (the healthy stuff) will remain in the food.  Frozen foods, although processed, are the closest to fresh that you will find in a supermarket, because they are frozen at the time of harvest.

Q: Isn't buying local food more expensive?

Actually, a very strong reason for buying locally grown food is that you are supporting your local economy.  Here's a little story for you.  A while back I bought a three-layer chocolate cake from GristedesTM, which cost $14, for a coworker's last day of work.  I compared it to the three-layer chocolate cake at the Carrot Top Bakery, a local bakery that's right around the corner and it cost $19.  I figured I'd save five dollars and buy the cake from GristedesTM.  When we turned the box over, we saw that it was baked in Texas!  So my coworkers and I started thinking: we already spent the five dollars on highway taxes, fuel, and on the pollution that the truck fuel creates by transporting it all the way to New York.  And, if we had bought the cake from Carrot Top bakery around the corner, we'd be supporting a small local business and putting money back into the community.  So we made the decision from then on that the $5 could have made a difference so we would buy local.

I would love to say that these are thoughts I came up with on my own, but actually two books that I've read in the last year have really influenced me. They are The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  For someone who's been in the nutrition field for over thirty years, these books were extremely enlightening, inspiring, interesting and fun and it made me make changes even though I thought I had it all figured out.  Another book, Food Politics, by Marion Nestle is also an excellent book.

If you are interested in working with Maudene Nelson and bringing nutrition into your community, please e-mail her at

Harlem Word is a series of interviews with Northern Manhattan health experts, written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.


I can't imagine why a cake would need to be shipped all the way from Texas to New York! Aren't there bakeries here who can produce them? It's crazy that it travels so far from the bakery to the shelf!
I think it's a great idea to buy locally. There are so many options in NYC especially.
Isn't buying locally sometimes cheaper right off the bat because of the fact you aren't paying all those fuel/transportation costs? Like...if I bought carrots from NJ it would be cheaper than carrots from California? Was there an article about this topic talking about farmers markets and supporting local farmers? I can't remember...anyway...just reinforcing the message of buying from your community!
Hi Cesar, I think you're referring to an article we posted about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). To learn more about CSAs, check out this article: Paula Lukats talks about why it’s a good idea to join a CSA Also, if you're looking for local farmers markets, you can check out this article: 2010 Farmers Markets
Buying locally makes so much sense. Even if it costs a bit more up front, Maudine makes a good case for looking at the bigger picture--the hidden costs of flying in lettuce from Australia, carrots form California, and so on. Even if it means we may not get strawberries year round--so what? That may actually be a good thing in terms of health and giving our systems a rest from certain foods, keeping in tune with the rhythms of nature. I buy my foods from a variety of markets--including local Green Markets and a flexible CSA called Holton Farms ( that allows me to choose to order specific items on a weekly basis.
When I consider any extra costs of buying locally I'm inspired by the idea that I'm voting with my dollars. Taking money out of the industrial farm market to show there is an interest and market for local food. curbing my spending on going out for entertainment, getting nails done, buying one more pair of shoes etc. allows me to spend more on wholesome foods that feed my body life- giving energy and radiant health!
That's a great way to look at it Vivian... even though we spend more at the point of sale - we're also supporting a market that is much more healthy and sustainable in the long run!

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