WE BECOME what we eat, that's the final truth.
If we eat fatty, unhealthy food, we become fat and unhealthy.
Regular exercise and a happy approach to life do help but what's on your plate every day plays a big role in determining how long you (and your family) are going to live.
And healthy food means more than just its nutritional value. It's about the impact you have on the world around you, from the patch of land that you call home, to your community, to the planet itself.
This week, Sustain Northern Rivers launched Think Global, Eat Local!, a one month region-wide campaign aimed at increasing the number of people in the Northern Rivers eating locally grown and prepared food.
But, what does eating local really mean?
"Eating local is about supporting local farmers and businesses and, where you can (and where it makes sense), buying locally," said Claire McGarry, development manager of Sustain Northern Rivers.
"It means thinking about where your food comes from, how far it's travelled, and eating what's in season."
Eating local, explained Ms McGarry, also means asking questions of your local supermarket.
"For example, (asking) where their produce comes from and how much of it is sourced locally. By showing businesses that there is a demand for local products, we are giving them the incentive they need to source locally.
"The other big issue for me personally is that if we don't support our local farmers, their business becomes unviable and the beautiful green farmland we have throughout the region gets turned into industrial and housing estates, which would be tragic," Claire said.
Good for you
WHEN food doesn't have to be packed and transported to and from lands far away, it can be grown for its nutritional value, not for its ability to avoid decay.
If you are eating locally grown food, that is in season now, you know the food is fresh.
"The great thing about the produce from the farmers market, for example, is that it's generally been picked within 24 hours, which means it not only tastes better but also has higher nutritional value than produce that has been cold stored and transported long distances," Graeme Williams, promotions officer for Northern NSW Local Health District said.
Good for your community
IF YOU buy local produce you are supporting small businesses that provide you with food products and services.
"The unique thing about the Northern Rivers is its ability to produce its own fresh produce in abundance," said owner of Cino Bambino Brunswick Heads, Matt Mayall. "With our climate, soils etc and the attitude of our locals, we can have a self-supporting micro-economy that can support a food chain that not only supplies our cafes and restaurants but also our homes. "By buying local, seasonal produce we are supporting each link in the food chain that will only become stronger as our support and knowledge increase.
"The Northern Rivers has many small businesses that are owned by and employ locals, so the support of the community helps to generate a sustainable community."
Good for your planet
EATING local means your food does not have to travel across the country or be stored for months, reducing the environmental impact of that product.
"As the food does not have to be transported nearly as far, fewer emissions from fossil fuels need to be put into the atmosphere to bring it to your supermarket/shop and then your table," explained Vicki Walker, marketing and course co-ordinator, Byron Region Community College.
"By not relying on heavily centralised factory-farming methods, you can produce food that is more ethical, without the need for pesticides or damaging monocultural practices. It also means having the ability to produce lots of high-quality, fresh food without much cost," Mrs Walker said.
The Sustain Food website provides tips on how to grow your own food and find local producers, restaurants, retailers and markets - and great recipes using local ingredients.
There is also a free app for smartphones by My Food Northern Rivers that allows you to find markets, producers, restaurants, retailers and local food events.
Eat and win
"A KEY ingredient of the campaign is the Eat Local! competition," explained Claire.
"People can download the free MyFood Northern Rivers iPhone app from the App Store, and enter by visiting their favourite farmers market, farm gate or local restaurant and uploading a photo or writing a review in the comments page of the listing.
"Each week, the best review or photo will win a prize. It's a great way for people to engage with their local food community and encourage others to do the same. Competition prizes include dinners for two at a local restaurant; produce hampers from local farmers markets and gift packs from local retailers. Oh, and those without an Apple mobile device can enter by leaving reviews of their favourite establishments on the website."
Page MP Janelle Saffin, is also supporting the initiative.
"It is so easy to source fresh produce here, with local farmers markets and roadside stalls and so many local shops and restaurants supporting local growers too," she said. "I welcome this project that encourages us to make the most of what's available locally.
"We are lucky in our area to have such a wonderful diversity of food producers and this has been recognised as a key region for food tourism."
Give growing a go
THE campaign includes a 12-week challenge to start growing your own food.
Growing your own food has so many benefits, not just the great food you will produce. The extra physical activity will help you reduce stress. Plus, the kids will be much more keen to eat greens they have helped to grow. Furthermore, if you grow your own you end up trading or sharing with neighbours and friends.
By utilising courses on growing your own food, such as those offered by Byron Community College, you can produce food within your ecological footprint, using your own rainwater and your own backyard.
"Imagine having a few friendly chooks running around your mango trees, while your bees pollinate not only your crops but those of your neighbours and being able to share your freshly harvested produce with family and friends," Vicki Walker said.
The resources for the challenge were created by Garden Guru, Phil Dudman.
"You can create a great garden and grow delicious food at home by following the week-by-week guides," said Mr Dudman.
Start eating local now
You have a number of choices, find the one that's best for you:
Grow your own food: You don't need a massive property to grow your own. Every living situation has workable options - from pots to permaculture. You can also join a local community garden.
Shop at farmers markets: Check what is in season. A big crop of beans means cheaper beans and as they are fresh, they also taste better. It's a win-win!
Ask your local deli and restaurant where the food comes from: Chefs and cooks are the biggest champions of local food. Sourcing local fresh food and creating a successful link with the growers is important for any chef.