Eating Seasonally: How It Affects the Environment and Our Bodies
As I’ve been reading “Animal. Vegetable. Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, I’ve been continually reminded of how eating seasonally is such a huge and important component that goes hand in hand with eating locally. There is so much I could discuss in the realm of eating locally that I simply can’t fit it all into one blog post, so I thought this was a good enough place as any to start.
In my book I was reminded that “eating seasonally” may not even be a phrase that everyone is familiar with. I was lucky enough to grow up going to the farmers market, buying groceries at a local farm and having fresh produce from the garden in our backyard. Even if I didn’t fully understand that I was eating with the season when I was younger, I knew that I ate pears in the fall, melon in the summer and squash in the winter.
Now, as an adult, I understand all of the implications of eating seasonally. There are so many factors that go into eating seasonally – nutritional factors, environmental factors, taste factors, etc.
Going to the farmers market and striving to buy the majority of my groceries locally makes it easy for me to eat seasonally because, well, the only items available are the ones that can naturally grow near me at this time of year. Think about when you walk into the average grocery store. It pretty much looks the exact same January through December and so many of us grow up thinking nothing of it. We get so used to having any food we want, when we want it, no matter the time of year, that we’ve become desensitized to where our food actually comes from.
We live in a society where we expect instant gratification. It’s the dead of winter and we want cantaloupe and juicy berries? We just drive to the nearest grocery store and pick as many as we want. Most of us wouldn’t even think twice about doing this. Kingslover sums it up perfectly:
“The main barrier standing between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements are patience and a pinch of restraint – virtues that are hardly the property of the wealthy. These virtues seem to find precious little shelter, in fact, in any modern quarter of this nation founded by Puritans. Furthermore, we apply them selectively: browbeating our teenagers with the message that they should wait for sex, for example. Only if they wait to experience it under the ideal circumstances (the story goes), will they know its true value. “Blah Blah Blah,” hears the teenager: words issuing from a mouth that can’t even wait for the right time to eat tomatoes, but instead consumes tasteless ones all winter to satisfy a craving for everything now. We’re raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires.”
I’m sorry for the incredibly long quote, but I honestly read this section three times thinking YES YES YES! We live in a food culture (if it can even be called that) that, instead of valuing all stages of our meals (the harvesting, the prepping, the cooking, the long family meals filled with laughter and conversation), we only value the endproduct. We want our food quickly and we want it to be easy.
So hear me out as I make a case for why you SHOULD think twice about what you’re buying and WHEN you’re buying it.
It’s better for the environment: I want to start broad because I think it’s easy for many of us to think of all of our actions as very individualized and secluded, but everything we do, and therefore everything we put into our bodies, has an effect outside of ourselves. With that being said, eating in season is so much better for the environment on a global scale. As explained in my book, we consume almost as much oil due to our food habits as we do in our cars. I’ve also been learning a lot about this in my climate change class this semester and it’s been incredibly eye opening. If you look at an average American meal every ingredient has, on average, traveled more than 1,500 miles. ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED MILES. That is insane!!! A huge amount of energy is also needed to store foods that are out of season in warehouse fridges and freezers (and those facilities also cause emissions… yikes). When you see how your decisions can add up and affect something on such a larger scale, it truly makes you take a step back and reevaluate your decisions. It’s easy to think changing your habits won’t help because you’re “just one person,” but think of how many people probably think that way. Everything you do can help! When you buy in season, those foods don’t have to travel from across the country or across the world, because they can be grown right where you are living.
Food that is in season has higher nutritional content: Produce that is grown in season is picked when it’s fully ripened, which is when it reaches its highest nutrient content. Produce that has to travel a long way will typically be picked before it reaches this mature stage. Transportation and storage also takes a toll on nutritional content – the longer the fruits and vegetables sit in a fridge or on the shelf, the lower their levels of antioxidants and nutrients.
Food that is in season tastes better: This one should be pretty obvious with everything I’ve already talked about – food that has to travel shorter distances and sit in storage for less time is bound to taste better. Foods grown in nutrient-dense, quality soil also tastes better. Have you ever tasted a farm-fresh carrot or tomato? It tastes so much better and so much different than the carrots and tomatoes you buy at the grocery store. Honestly, the taste of carrots straight from the ground and tomatoes picked right off the vine are two things that remind me most of my childhood. Once again, Kingsolver has the perfect words:“Woe is us, we overfed, undernourished U.S. citizens – we are eating poorly for so very many reasons. A profit-drive, mechanized food insutry has narrowd down our variety and overproduced corn and soybeans. But we let other vegetables drop from the menu without putting up much of a fight. In our modern Café Dysfunctional, “eat your vegetables” has become a battle cry for mothers against presumed unwilling subjects… Mom is losing, no doubt, because our vegetables have come to lack two features of interest: nutrition and flavor. Storage and transport take predictable tolls on the volatile plant compounds that subtly add up to a taste and food value. Breeding to increase shelf life also has tended to decrease palatability. Bizarre as it seems, we’ve accepted a tradeoff that amounts to: “Give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former shelf.” You’d think we cared more about the idea of what we’re eating that about what we’re eating.”
Our bodies react better to foods that are in season: This idea is truly rooted in Chinese medicine and I was first introduced to the idea when I took a class on Aryuvedic principles and digestion over the summer. The idea is that our bodies digest foods and absorb their nutrients better when they are in season because it allows us to be more in tune with nature and in tune with what different seasons demand of us. In the winter it’s better to eat warmer, cooked foods and vegetables, opposed to the summer when there is an abundance of raw vegetables and tropical fruits. I don’t know any hard science to back this up, but I think it’s a really interesting topic that I’ve been exploring!
Eating seasonally is more than just having a framework for what to buy, and what not to buy, when perusing the aisles of the grocery store. It’s more than a mindset to help us filter through the over-abundance of shiny options that we have laid out in front of us 24/7 under the glare of florescent lights. Eating seasonally is committing to eating locally, supporting your community and putting your money in the pocket of small-scale farmers rather than the pocket of a faceless corporation. Eating seasonally means nourishing your body to the fullest potential and tasting produce at its fullest potential. I feel blessed beyond measure to have grown up instilled with this value and I feel even more blessed that it has turned into such a passion of mine.
The way to some girls' hearts may be a bouquet of roses, but buy me a bundle of farmers market vegetables and I'll be one happy camper. ;)
Below is a guide to help you eat seasonally! Of course, it doesn't cover every single fruit and vegetable, but it's a start. :) Also keep in mind, different fruits and vegetables may be in season in your community at different times! Do a little digging to find out what's seasonal eating looks like near you. :)