Since the beginning of time, cultures all over the world have been eating seasonally and lots of them continue to do so. Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Greek are good examples of cultures that serve up what’s fresh right now. So, what do all of these cuisines have in common besides their habit of going from farm to table? They are consistently held up as some of the healthiest (and tastiest!) cuisines in the world. And they all eat seasonally.
If you go to your local Safeway, Whole Foods, etc., you can find just about any fresh fruit or veggie that you want at any time of the year, right? And that’s a great convenience if you have a sudden craving for watermelon in January, but there are some compelling reasons to put your watermelon fixation on the back burner until July. I have one right now: As I’m writing this blog, I’m snacking on a watermelon that I just bought this morning. I guess I’m not quite ready to give up on August even though it’s October, and I really wanted some nice, fresh watermelon. But guess what? It’s not good. It’s so not good that I am seriously considering tossing it out. This morning at the grocery store, I was faced with a decision between two equally pale pink quarters of melon. They looked the same, so I grabbed one and brought it home. Even though they looked the same, they didn’t look like the lovely watermelons that I ate this summer—red and ripe and full of deliciousness. I can’t even pinpoint what this watermelon tastes like exactly, but I can say this: It doesn’t taste like summer. So much for a craving. Watermelon is now marked on the calendar for July or so. I’ll miss you watermelon, but your unequal fall counterpart just isn’t getting it.
Which brings me to my first point: Fruits and veggies out of season just don’t taste as good. You don’t like watermelon? Go try a hot-house tomato in December. It’s a pale substitute for fresh-from-the-garden or just-got-it-at-the-farmers-market, isn’t it? What I can tell you will be really good this time of year is pumpkin! Or squash! How about them apples? Want the full kale effect? Go get some! Not only will it taste better when it’s harvested in its natural season, but it will actually have more of the great vitamins and nutrients that it’s so famous for! Many commercial fruits and veggies are picked before their peak ripeness (which also happens to be before they’ve reached their peak nutritional value) to avoid spoiling in transport and storage, so by the time they reach you, not only have they lost (or never fully matured to) some of their natural tastiness, they’ve lost some of the nutrients you were looking for in the first place.
Still want your summer fruits in January? Okay, how about this? Hold to your eat local/eat seasonal creed by purchasing lots of good stuff that you love from local farmers in the summer and freeze it for winter use. Wait a second, you say, aren’t I losing nutrients again? Yes, a bit, BUT think about this: Fruits and veggies that are intended for freezing are usually picked much closer to their peak ripeness time (so you avoid that pesky tasteless problem that comes from out-of-season veggies), and freezing depletes some nutrients but it locks in the rest for up to 12 months! Here’s a tip: To help your fruits and veggies pack the most vitamin C punch (which is so important to help fight off germs in the winter months), don’t thaw them before you cook them. Studies show that veggies that are cooked from their frozen state hold onto their vitamin C much more effectively than those that are thawed first.
Need more reasons to eat seasonally? Here are a few:
It’s cheaper. Supply and demand dictate that if you have a truckload of watermelons in August, and two in October, the price will be lower in August. I can attest to this personally as I paid more than $2 more this morning for my melon slice than I did this summer for a the whole shebang. Cravings are expensive.
It’s Earth friendly. We’ve said it before, but it can’t hurt to repeat it: Eat local (therefore seasonal) and your carbon footprint shrinks. Your “food mileage” decreases, less pesticides are likely used, and there is less need for genetic modification.
You’ll be forced to vary your diet and get creative in the kitchen.
The natural produce cycle supports our health. Apples in fall are great for transitioning to cooler weather because they help the body shed excess heat and cool down for the winter. Spring’s leafy greens help us detox and shed a few pounds after a winter of heavy eating; and in summer, the abundance of berries and melons help us cool off and stay hydrated.
Need another reason? How about this: When summer rolls back around again, and you creep out of your house blinking at the sun, won’t that fresh from the garden tomato be mind-blowingly delicious on your first tomato sandwich of the season? Absence makes the heart grown fonder, indeed. If nothing else, when you’re freezing in February, you’ll have something to look forward to.
I’m going to finish this watermelon even though it doesn’t taste so great, and then I’m going to hit my local apple orchard and replace my craving because this time of year those apples are going to taste more like apples than they ever did in March. Here’s hoping you do the same. Happy curry potato and kale soup! Happy pumpkin bisque! Happy seasonal eating!