In a world with unlimited access to 24-hour supermarkets, many of us have forgotten how, when, and where our food grows.
These days, supermarket shelves are ubiquitous with industrially grown produce sourced from every corner of the globe, with an airbrushed appearance that seems conflicting with its origins in the soil. Unsurprisingly, consumers now come to expect convenience, perfect-looking produce, and an abundance of choice to satisfy their purchasing demands.
The ability to eat what we want when we want has become such a prevalent part of our lives that it’s difficult to imagine a time when you couldn’t purchase blueberries in January and Brussels sprouts in July. But with this ever-growing smorgasbord of imported produce, the links between the food we eat and its origin has practically disappeared. While the produce routinely on offer in modern supermarkets is impressively exotic, there’s no denying that buying local foods in season is an easy way to get an understanding of provenance – discovering what can be grown in the UK and when.
Seasonal eating is an outstandingly simple food philosophy that has been overcomplicated through decades of operating within a globalised food system. At its core, the concept of seasonal eating involves eating foods that are grown and harvested at the same time as they are consumed. Each season offers a unique array of wonderful fresh produce, so here are some of the reasons to start introducing seasonal foods into your diet:
It’s kinder to the planet
One of the most salient benefits of seasonal eating is the potential to reduce our carbon footprint. While many of us give little thought to considering the physical distance our food travels before reaching our plates, it’s probably safe to assume that it also comes with a hefty environmental cost.
Whether it’s by plane, train or car, when food has travelled a long way to get to you, it’s also guzzled gallons of fuel and clocked up many air miles. When you eat seasonally however, you are helping to reduce the demand for out-of-season produce, which helps reduce the energy used and greenhouse gases released through transportation, refrigeration, and artificial hothouses.
It tastes better
When fruits and veggies spend many days or weeks on their journey to supermarket shelves, our tastebuds usually end up paying the price. This is due to imported crops being harvested ahead of ripeness to ensure they do not spoil before arriving at their destination. In some cases, produce may also require additional heating in a hothouse to encourage artificial ripening before it goes onto supermarket shelves. If you’ve ever been victim to floury apples or limp leafy greens, it’s likely that your produce has endured similar processes to prolong its shelf life on route.
On the other hand, seasonal produce is generally harvested at its peak to maximise taste and nutritional value. Because it has been given the time to naturally ripen on the vine or in the ground, it tends to have more complex and rich flavours. If you’ve ever experienced perfectly juicy and sweet strawberries in the summer, you’ll know that it doesn’t get much better!
For the same reasons that seasonal produce tastes better, it’s also healthier. Food grown outside of its natural season and environment needs a lot more help from pesticides and preservatives to grow. These chemicals are unfortunately a pervasive part of the modern food system, but the long-term effects of pesticide consumption are now raising health concerns among many consumers.
Many nutrients in fresh produce also decline over time, so it’s no surprise that being locked up in cargo holds and shipping containers for weeks on end is bad news for the nutritional content of our food. As a general rule of thumb; the fresher the better, and locally in-season sourced fruits and veg will be higher in antioxidants and valuable nutrients. This is especially important since seasonal food supports the specific seasonal needs of our bodies. For instance, the long winter months provide us with citrus fruits which are high in vitamin C to keep colds and flu at bay. In summer, an abundance of stone fruits provide us with beta-carotenes and other carotenoids that help protect us against harmful UV rays.
Seasonal eating isn’t just better for your health and the planet, it’s also better for your wallet. When we purchase out of season produce, it’s either grown in managed conditions or transported from somewhere across the globe. Since this is a costly process, this cost naturally gets passed onto us, the consumer.
On the other hand, when farmers harvest an abundance of seasonal crops, it’s inevitable that prices will naturally decrease to maintain demand at a cheaper price. If it’s in season, it’s also more likely to be produced locally, which further reduces cost since local producers don’t incur any hefty shipping fees, import taxes, and storage costs. When produce is in season, it’s usually a great time to stock up and buy in bulk to preserve, pickle, ferment, freeze and store in your own home.
When we take advantage of each season’s bounty, we also get to appreciate the uniqueness of each season and develop a respectful reverence for the food we eat.
When we focus on autumn’s root vegetables, for instance, rather than clinging on to last season’s berries, we get the chance to explore new flavours and experiment with new recipes. By making a concerted effort to eat seasonally, you’ll find yourself introduced to ingredients and dishes you may not have previously considered. A diverse diet also usually means a well-balanced diet, which results in more energy, a stronger immune system, and improved overall physical and mental health.
As so much produce is available to us year-round, it can be easy to lose track of seasonality. While it may not be possible to eat locally and seasonally all of the time, the concept is more about the importance of making decisions where possible that are better for you, your health, and of course, the planet.
If you’re struggling to get started, your local farmer’s market is usually the best indicator of what’s in season. Keep in mind that where you live makes a difference in what will be available to you during each season, but this is a great place to get your hands on quality local produce at a bargain AND at a lower cost to the environment. If you don’t have a market close by, you can also check seasonality by keeping an eye on the prices in your local supermarket. When prices are falling, it’s a good sign that food is coming into season, while high prices suggest low seasonality.
And finally... ENJOY IT!
Have some fun choosing your favourite seasonal ingredients and googling them together to find a delicious seasonal recipe.
Thanks for tuning in and happ(erle)y seasonal eating!