The other day, I tasted my first strawberry of spring.
It’s still early in the season. We have yet to see the long stretches of sunshine necessary to fully infuse a berry with vine-ripened sweetness. But it was a dang good strawberry. I can’t wait to get my juice-stained fingers on a few more.
This is an exciting time of year, because all sorts of fruits are coming into season. Soon, we’ll be entering peak harvest time for raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and apricots. Shortly thereafter, we’ll start seeing figs, pears, and grapes.
And let us not forget our vegetable friends. Right now it’s all about the greens – chard, kale, spinach, pea shoots – as well as mushrooms and radishes. Coming up next: cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, and broccoli.
Whenever a new season begins, and particularly when the farmers market is in full swing, I’m excited to welcome back my favorite foods. I dread the end of the season when I’m forced to once again bid them adieu. But things always work out. I stuff myself for a few months, then embrace the next bounty.
Excitement aside, seasonal eating offers an array of benefits to our health, our pocketbooks, and our planet. It’s worth making it a habit, to the fullest extent possible.
For most of us, it’s not always possible, and that’s okay. It’s not about rigid adherance to the ideal. It’s about doing what you can, when you can, and enjoying the experience.
Today I’d like to share with you my top five reasons for shopping and eating seasonally.
1. It supports local agriculture.
Eating seasonally and eating locally aren’t exactly synonymous, but they are definitely related.
Many fruits and vegetables are available at the supermarket year-round, but that convenience comes at a price. Out-of-season produce is grown under unnatural conditions, requiring the heavy use of chemical fertilizers and intensive temperature controls. It is then commonly shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to different regions, countries, and continents. The end result is a less nutritious, more expensive food.
Produce grown in season requires less intensive interventions and can be purchased locally, even directly from the grower. It is more nutritious and less expensive. Every purchase supports your local economy and the farmers in your own community.
2. It tastes better.
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? It’s hard to make a habit out of anything we find unpleasant. Fortunately, when it comes to seasonal eating, the healthy choice is also the more palatable one.
Fruits and vegetables grown in season taste better. Because they matured under optimal conditions, they are ripe and flavorful. Compare this to out-of-season supermarket produce, which is grown in suboptimal conditions, picked early, shipped long distances, and stored in warehouses or kept on shelves for extended periods of time.
I always thought I disliked celery. It turns out I only dislike tasteless, stringy, out-of-season celery. When I tasted fresh celery in the middle of its natural growing season – late summer in these parts – my entire perspective changed. It’s actually quite tasty.
And then there are tomatoes. You can buy them year-round in the supermarket, but a midwinter beefsteak is mostly mush.
Of course, we have to do the best we can with what we have available to us. In certain geographic locations and at certain times of the year, local options can be sparse. And I’m not going to lie, I enjoy bananas, avocados, and pineapples, none of which are grown in the Pacific Northwest. That’s why I say do what you can, when you can, and enjoy the experience.
3. It makes fruits and veggies exciting.
On a somewhat related note, only one in ten Americans eats the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. Per the CDC, this is two to three cups of vegetables and approximately two cups of fruit. More commonly, we are advised to get our “five-a-day.” Five colorful servings of fruits and vegetables, with particular emphasis on the vegetables.
There are many reasons to get your five-a-day, most notably a reduced risk of chronic disease and nutritional deficiency. But food security is a complex issue, influenced by a broken food system. In some areas, fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive and hard to find. Many people who do not meet the CDC guidelines are economically disadvantaged, live in food deserts, or simply don’t have the time or knowledge base to prepare fresh produce.
All we can do is make a habit of choosing from the healthiest options available. Whether at Whole Foods, a farmer’s market, or a chain grocer, that means looking for ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables. Seasonal eating makes them a little more alluring.
Is that a stretch? Maybe – but I find that seasonal eating gets me more excited about the experience of eating. Tasting the first watermelon of summer. Tasting the first apple of fall. Christmastime clementines. You get the idea. When something isn’t constantly available, we aim to get our fill while we can. We associate certain foods with special times of the year. Then we get to change it all up.
4. It’s more nutritious.
Fruits and vegetables grown in season mature under natural conditions and are less likely to be imported. That means they can be harvested closer to peak ripeness, when they contain the most vitamins and minerals. As soon as a fruit or vegetable is picked, its nutrient content begins to decline. That’s why you want the freshest stuff available.
That said, we live in an era of modern convenience, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat your berries all year long. When you buy something out of season, simply buy it frozen. While it is true that some nutrients are lost to processing and extended storage, frozen produce was picked at peak ripeness and is more nutrient-dense than its fresh but out-of-season counterpart.
5. It’s environmentally friendly.
We’ve already established that produce grown in season requires less in the way of chemical fertilizers and unnatural interventions. It uses fewer resources and doesn’t need to be transported halfway around the globe. All of this adds up to a smaller carbon footprint and a healthier planet.
How To Make a Habit Of Seasonal Shopping
- Start small. Don’t fall victim to an all-or-nothing mindset. When it comes to seasonal shopping, every little bit counts. For most of us, it is unreasonable to assume that every single thing we eat will be grown locally and in season. It’s important to fill your plate with fruits and vegetables all year round, but depending on where you live, there may be times when options are limited. Just look for ways to do what you can. And enjoy shopping for, preparing, and eating your food.
- Explore your local farmers market. Check out this post about farmers markets and why they are worth exploring.
- Learn about your local agriculture. The Seasonal Food Guide website contains a wealth of information about the fruits and vegetables currently in season where you live. Or connect directly with your local food producers – at the farmers market, through a CSA, or by visiting a farm – to learn more about where your produce comes from. (Bonus: farm visits are a great kid-friendly activity, and some farms hold special field days that are open to the community. A quick Google search should yield your local options.)
Above all else, enjoy.
Whether you want to eat seasonally to support your health or the health of the planet, to save some money or support your local economy, enjoy the experience. Take joy in the opportunity to explore new fruits and vegetables, to connect with your community, and to eat in accordance with nature.
And be sure you get your fill of favorite foods, so every change of season can be a cause for celebration.
Do you have a favorite seasonal food? Fruit in summer, squash in winter, pumpkin spice everything in fall? Tell us about it in a comment!