Eating seasonally may be the easiest step toward more sustainable as well as healthier and tastier eating. Why? Let me count the ways.
Produce is most nutritious when it is ripe. However if you are buying tomatoes in Canada in December, your tomatoes had to travel thousands of miles before they reached the grocery store and chances are they were picked when they were barely getting rosy. While being transported, produce will gain color and softness but it is no longer building up nutrients. Just the opposite in fact , its nutritional value is decreasing. Produce which is shipped long distance is also more likely to have been grown for its "shippability" and not for its taste. Now that alone explains many a perfectly looking melons which tasted like rubber. Alternatively, if the produce is grown in a hot-house it is probably more likely to have been chemically encouraged to grow. Either way, it is not surprising that one may find studies which suggest that seasonal produce may be more beneficial for the immune system. Seasonal produce is more likely to be local and more likely to have been picked close to ripeness - yey, lower carbon footprint too! So maybe the "one apple a day keeps the doctor away" should be edited to something like "one piece of seasonal fruit a day keeps the doctor away"?
Choosing seasonal produce also introduces variety to your diet. The different seasons bring different fruit and vegetables to your table and let you explore new tasty recipes, diverse flavors and textures. The variety helps you not get tired of eating the same stuff over and over and over again all the year round. Sure, you can eat Caesar salad all year round but do you want to? Growing up my in Bulgaria, we could only get seasonal produce and I remember looking forward to every new season because the produce would change. In June I would be dying for peaches and apricots and watermelons, but come August I would have had so much of them that the first Fall pears and apples were a welcome rescue. Then there would be the excitement when the glowing pumpkins appear on the market in October. Oranges and lemons would add their zestiness to the cold days of December. And then by March I would have eaten so many apples that I would start craving cherries and peaches again. The beauty of it is that the seasons keep going in an enchanted circle and you will eventually get what you're longing for.
Yes, it is good for you but logistically it may be quite challenging to figure out what is in season in the grocery stores today. In the six years I have been living in the United States I have not noticed significant seasonal changes in the produce section of any big grocery store. There are watermelons and lettuce all year round. The only sign of what is in season may be to look for what is on sale as seasonal produce is more likely to be cheaper: watermelons are cheapest in July and oranges in January. But, if you have never been close the the beginning of the food line it may be hard to know what produce is in season. How do you find out?
Certainly what is in season will vary by where you live which determines the length of the growing season and the crops which are most suitable for the local climate. This nicely interactive albeit probably incomplete map shows the peak season ingredients in each state during each month. Similar information can be found here. Buying a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization and visiting the local Farmer's Market are perfect opportunities to supply not only seasonal but also local produce (more on that in a different post) to you table and support small, local farms as well. If you would be interested in hunting down your own seasonal produce here is quite an exhaustive list for moderate northern latitudes:
Brussels sprouts, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, cabbage, gourds (squashes and pumpkins and such), leeks, onion, root vegetables (parsnip, sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams) - cranberries, fresh dates, citrus fruits, apples. Most winter fruit and vegetables are from storage.
Asparagus, artichoke, fresh cabbage, new carrots, cauliflower, chard, green garlic and green onions, collards, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuces, mushrooms, peas and other edible pods, parsley, spinach, radishes - navel oranges, apples, pears
Green beans, new cabbage, celery, chard, new corn, dill, fennel,kale, lettuces, mushrooms, spring onions, parsley, peas, new potatoes, radish, sorrel,spinach, zucchini - cherries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, raspberries, field rhubarb, strawberries
Bell peppers, green beans, carrots, cilantro, corn, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lettuces, okra, peas, summer squash, tomatoes - apricots, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, currants, fresh figs, grapes, honeydew, nectarines, peaches, plums, Valencia oranges, watermelon
Beets, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, rutabaga, again roots and gourds, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, onions - apples, cranberries, figs, grapes, Valencia oranges, pears, plums, pomegranate, quince, fresh nuts
Or alternatively, if you are into gadgets Chew on This offers the perfect solution: the Food Wheel. Woah! Check it out! Unfortunately it is only available for the NYC area for now.
But then what do you do when a peach craving hits you in mid-December? Peach preserve. Canned peach. Peach nectar. Frozen peaches.
So far I have focused on produce only, but I wonder whether meat is also seasonal? I would guess less so (plus you can freeze meat), but can someone tell me?
I am super, super inspired and excited to try and keep to seasonal produce this winter! After researching this post, visiting the local Farmer's Market, talking to my friends about planting their winter gardens and reading about so many so tasty recipes with squash, sweet potatoes, beans, leeks, cabbage, pomegranates, peaches, apples and quinces, I have decided that there well be no more lettuce in my fridge 'til Spring. Meanwhile, I plan on broadening my culinary horizons and learning new recipes using winter produce. I am thinking quinoa and pomegranate pilaf, bean and pumpkin andean stew, squash gnocci, sweet potatoes with butter and sage and probably some apple-pear tart thrown in for good measure. And definitely pumpkin-chocolate chip cupcakes, lots of them. You are in for a ride!
This post is a continuation of this one: Organic. Local. Seasonal. Photos courtesy of Monica Stephens.