“We are going through a huge time of transition, a time in which we are being pushed to find creative ways for all 7 billion of us to thrive...[we must] take responsibility for the health of the entire web of life, our precious bodies included” – Simon Jongenotter, Creator New Earth Cooking
With the transition from winter to spring well underway, it is an opportune time to revisit seasonal eating and its importance not only to our own health, but to the health of the global ecosystem. Spring brings forth, once again, nature’s bounty in all its richness, reminding us what fresh food is supposed to look and taste like. If you have ever eaten produce straight from the vine, branch or earth you will know that there can be a significant difference in flavor. This is because produce harvested at the peak of freshness contains the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. The more time that passes between harvest and consumption, the lower the nutrient levels and the more depleted the taste. However, taste and nutrition only form part of the argument. Here we will explore why seasonal eating is a practice that impacts not only yourself, but also your local community and the global food economy as a whole.
Eating by season has become somewhat of a lost practice. What was once considered basic knowledge has been made irrelevant amidst groceries that remain relatively unchanged in every month of the year and in every climate. However, before the advent of processed foods and globalization, a seasonal diet was fundamental to survival. Understanding when to plant, harvesting and preserving certain foods was critical to thwart malnutrition. What our ancestors understood was that consuming food when it is naturally produced by the earth is the most effective way to nourish the body. During the winter, root vegetables are hearty and warming while in the summer stone fruits provide natural energy from sugar and protect against the sun via beta-carotene and carotenoids. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), spring is associated with the liver – the body’s primary detoxifying organ. Spring thus produces dandelion greens and other bitter greens that support liver function and cleanse the blood. The produce that comes into season throughout the year does so in such a way as to provide optimal balance both to the body and to the earth. Understanding which foods are in season throughout the year can therefore make a significant difference to your overall energy levels and vitality.
In addition to providing optimal nourishment for your body, eating seasonally supports your local community as well. Seasonal foods naturally correlate with local foods – the fresher the food, the closer it is to its original source. When you buy fresh from local farmers markets you support the local economy. Speaking further to the effect of freshness on flavor and texture, this has become a hot trend in the culinary world as well as Cleveland Clinic Wellness reports, “cooking with seasonal, locally grown produce was voted the top food trend of 2010 by nearly 2000 chefs.” ‘Farm to Table’ is also heralded as a new concept when actually this was the way that people naturally ate for thousands of years. The fact that it is considered a novelty at all illustrates just how far we’ve strayed from our once optimal eating patterns.
Eating seasonally also provides cost savings for you. Foods in season are naturally more abundant, creating greater supply and driving prices down. Furthermore, when you remove the extra cost of storage, shipping and distribution these savings are passed directly on to the consumer. The key to making the most of seasonal produce is to buy in bulk while in season and then pickle, ferment, and/or preserve to lock in nutrients and provide a fresh and cost-effective food source during the winter months.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation contains guidelines for canning, freezing, drying, curing/smoking, fermenting and all other manner of preservation that you can do in your own home: http://nchfp.uga.edu.
Finally, because seasonal foods are more likely to be local, the benefit of eliminating food transported over long distances is manifested at a global level. The carbon footprint created by transporting food is immeasurable, but certainly very significant. Transporting food thousands of miles from its original source requires large amounts of fuel and produces the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Eating locally and seasonally is one clear step you can take to help reduce the amount of carbon emissions produced on a daily basis. As they say in Ayurveda medicine, ‘as is the micro, so is the macro.’ Seasonal eating benefits our bodies at a cellular level, our communities at an economic level, and the planet at an environmental level. The entire ecosystem benefits and is preserved in its diversity and nutrition for generations to come.
Below are resources to help guide you to what is seasonal in your area (for this will vary by region), where you can pick your own produce from nearby farms, and recipes for preserving food while it is in season so you can enjoy its benefits year-round.
Find foods that are seasonally available in your area: http://www.sustainabletable.org/seasonalfoodguide/
Pick Your Own (PYO): Find local farms nearby. PYO includes local listings of farms in the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and more: http://www.pickyourown.org
Eat Well Guide: Search for restaurants, farms, markets and local sources of fresh, sustainable food sources: http://www.eatwellguide.org
Remember, “seasonal foods are a way of reconnecting with the organic cycle that nature intended for us” (naturalnews.com). ‘Farm to Table’ should be the norm, not the exception. While not everyone may have access to local markets and PYO farms, we can all do more to raise awareness of this important topic and strive towards a new way of growing and eating for all. By reconnecting with where our food comes from, and when it is optimal to consume it, we reconnect back to our own roots as well.