Eating seasonally makes me feel happier and there are traditions around seasonal food around the world. In India, mango season is celebrated religiously. Actually, most people in India refer to seasons by the foods available at that time of the year. Having grown up in the United States, I didn’t really experience the joys of seasonal eating, since most foods were available year round. Though, I distinctly remember mango and green flat bean season, since my family made a huge celebration out of them. These foods were bought at an international market and were internationally imported foods. I have never appreciated fresh food as much as I do now until I started eating them in season. That is when mango and bean season clicked and I gained a better appreciation for how the world works.
Aside from culture, there are many reasons to eat seasonally. From a health perspective, eating fresh, seasonal food makes the most sense. Hopefully, the points I make below are enough to convince you to include seasonal foods in your life.
1. Variety. Cooking with the seasons breaks up the monotony of your meals. There comes a time at the end of each season, where I cannot wait for the arrival of new crops. I become bored with the flavors and crops by eating them at home and at every local restaurant all season long. It almost makes me want to stop eating the vegetables and fruits altogether, which I suspect is the case for many people. However, by shopping at the farmers market, I am constantly introduced to new vegetables and fruits which help stave off boredom on the plate and palate. Even dining out at local restaurants becomes exciting, be able to experience and taste what the talented chefs can make with the seasonal food.
2. Healthier. There are many health benefits to eating in season. Vegetables and fruits have the most nutrients when they are at their peak ripeness. The antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the food starts to decrease as soon as they are picked. Vegetables and fruit that are grown to travel long distances (1,500 miles on average) are picked before they can develop their full range of nutrients. Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits usually travel a lot less and are exposed to a lot less heat and light (both degrade delicate vitamins). Also, you can buy seasonal food in its whole, unprocessed form, instead of canned or frozen varieties. Canned foods are usually soaked in sugars, salts, BPA and are highly processed. Frozen foods are a pretty good option when you do not have fresh food available, however, there is a bit of processing and nutrient loss that goes on when freezing the food.
3. Environment. Seasonal produce usually means local produce, which is also great for the environment and local community. As pointed out in #2, local foods travel a lot less and are fresher, thus they retain much of their nutritive value. Fewer green houses are produced and less fuel is used in transporting local food. Food that is closer to the source also has less, if any, preservatives and pesticides sprayed on them and are unprocessed. The best place to find local, seasonal food is at the farmers market or by subscribing to a CSA. Though, if these are not options for you, look for the local sign in the produce section of your grocery store. More and more grocery chains are catching on to the fact that people want higher quality food. Spring does not arrive in San Francisco at the same time it does in New York City; seasons change at different times everywhere. Seasonal food gives you the opportunity to connect with the land you live on and the people who grow your food.
4. Wide Range of Nutrients. This one is a slight combination of #1 and #2. Eating seasonally ensures you are eating a variety of nutrients. A magical vegetable or fruit that has all the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and fiber your body needs just does not exist. There are some pretty powerful fruits and vegetables out there, but even they lack a little something. Thus, it’s important to eat a variety of food and the best way to avoid eating broccoli year round is to eat the food that is in season.
5. Taste. Quite simply, food grown in its rightful season tastes better. If you are not convinced, do a taste test. A winter tomato, grown indoors or in hot houses, does not taste anything like a tomato grown under the hot sun, picked right off the vine just before it got to you. The better the fruits and vegetables taste, the more likely you will eat them. The more you eat them, the more health benefits and happiness you will gain. Give the vegetables and fruits you wrote off a second chance, by eating them in the season they were always meant to be grown.
Just shortly after experiencing seasonal food, I started to anticipate what the newest food will be at the farmers market. A partial reason, why I started Farmers Market Finds. I look forward to each season equally. Towards the end of winter, I start to look forward to asparagus, strawberries, and English peas. By mid-June, I can almost taste the heirloom tomatoes, peaches, and squash blossoms. And, by the end of September, I am making roasted butternut squash and thinking about Thanksgiving. In February, I am obsessing over blood oranges and kale.
What is your favorite food season and what do you anticipate eating most? Please share your culture and food traditions with me.