Eating with the Seasons
Have you ever noticed that strawberries taste pretty bland in the winter months?
Or how about that you can only "go" apple picking in the fall months?
So how is it that we can enjoy most fresh fruits and veggies year-a-round? A modern luxury that has a few ramifications- nutrient degradation, taste, cost, and environmental. While these four drawbacks are relatively minor they still are things that can be easily addressed by choosing to support your local farms and farmers markets and eating what is in season.
Fresh foods availability vary throughout the year. Americans have become spoiled in thinking that most fruits and veggies are available year around. In truth produce is either shipped from far across the globe where the seasons are opposite or kept in atmosphere-climate controlled storage for up to a year....yes I said a year.
Quality and Taste
Lets look at two examples, the humble blueberry and the crisp apple. Being that I have multiple blueberry fanatics in my house we can't help but notice their poor quality during the winter months. This is because their season in the US is May to September; other times of year they are shipped from South America or they are kept in cold storage. During transport and storage times nutrients begin to degrade, leading to poor taste and lower nutrient levels.
Lets look at apples now. For most of my life I have disliked apples...until I started buying them at a farmers market that is. There is no comparison, organic or not, to a fresh picked apple...totally juicy...totally crisp. Unfortunately, their season is a few short months in the fall. So if you eat an apple in June it could be up to 10 months old! Now I don't know about you but to me that sounds a bit strange and, I would deduce, that's the reason I don't like store bought apples. There is no way that the apple's nutritional value is the same as when it is fresh.
So how does fruit last for a year in cold storage? After harvest plums, avocados, apples, tomatoes, pears, and kiwis go into cold storage and if not organic are sprayed with 1-methylcyclopropene, SmartFresh, a chemical that prevents ripening. From my research this chemical appears only somewhat safe. Rats here had spleen and liver changes after 90 days of exposure. Also, there are two common contaminants present in SmartFresh that both are cause cancer in rats (source). However, this chemical is not approved for use on organic produce. For even more reasons to buy organic check this post out.
I would think you all agree that produce is most flavorful when picked ripe and eaten within a couple days. What makes that delicious flavor...the nutrients of course. With research we learn that the nutrient levels also degrade. Most vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are sensitive and decompose quickly. Here is research from the University of Chester showing that multiple nutrients begin to decline in just three days time. And this article published by UC Davis also explains how quickly nutrients begin to degrade after picking.
The last drawback to having produce year around is quite well known and is the reason farm to table has become so popular lately...the environmental consequences. The amount of fuel, packaging material, and time it takes to ship an item from Chile to the US obviously has much more impact than when coming from a local farm. You are also supporting your local economy when shopping at farmers markets or stores that buy local.
Lastly, just as the produce changes with the seasons so does the nutrients our bodies need. Our bodies do not continuously need the same nutrients day in and day out. Instead, our bodies need more of certain vitamins in the winter and different types of vitamins in other seasons. For example, in the winter we need more vitamin c to help fight illness, citrus season happens to be in the fall-winter months. Summertime's hot days can cause dehydration, grab one of the many melons that are in season to rehydrate. Natures perfect way of helping our bodies ever-changing need.
When possible we should try to eat with the varying seasons. Eat what is naturally ripe at that time in your climate zone. The food will taste better, offer the right nutrients your body needs for that season, and have higher levels of vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients. You will also helping be helping the local economy, your wallet, and environment. Your body also changes like the seasons in what types of nutrients it needs. Seasonal variation of produce naturally makes up for your body ever-changing desire for vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
What To Do
- Buy directly from local farms, if there are some in your area.
- Join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program and get fresh produce delivered to your door or pickup location.
- Find a farmers market in your area and get you produce there
- Local Harvest is a great website to find farms, farmers markets, and CSAs by zip code.
- Eat with the seasons when buying at your grocery store to ensure produce hasn't been sitting in storage facilities.
- Here is a list of what produce is in during which season