7 Reasons You Should Be Eating with the Seasons (More)
Walk down the produce aisle in virtually any supermarket in the U.S., and you’ll see brussels sprouts beside bell peppers, cucumbers next to cabbage — regardless of the season.
And most people may not realize it, but that’s pretty weird.
A few decades ago, you wouldn’t have expected to find sun- and heat-loving crops like tomatoes alongside kale, which thrives in the dreary, cold days of winter. Now, however, you can — thanks to the globalization of our food supply and advancements in transportation.
But just because you can buy a tomato in January, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
Though it may be a little less convenient sometimes, when you strive to eat what’s in season more often, you’ll enjoy the following benefits.
Note: It’s probably not practical to buy your groceries based exclusively on seasonality or locale. (I mean, come on, there’s no way I’m giving up coffee.) But don’t let that discourage you — even the smallest of changes can make a major difference in the long run.
1. Your food will taste better.
For supermarkets to offer foods that aren’t in season locally, they must ship them in from wherever they’re able to grow — which is typically another country.
That means your average winter tomato, for example, has likely trekked thousands of miles over a number of days before ending up in the produce aisle (where it may sit for another few days). To survive the journey, that tomato may have been harvested early — rather than allowed to ripen on the vine — and then sprayed with ethylene to encourage it to ripen just before hitting the store shelf. It looks nice and red as a result, but its flavor and texture leave much to be desired.
Seasonal produce, however, usually doesn’t have to travel great distances. So, it’s typically fresher and, therefore, tastier.
2. You’ll reap more health benefits.
Most fruit and vegetable varieties you’ll find at the grocery store are bred for one thing: a long shelf life (so they don’t rot during transport). Other important details, such as nutritional value, are simply afterthoughts.
Furthermore, the time it takes for produce to travel from the farm to the store can significantly impact its nutrient density. And not in a good way.
For example, the University of California found that crops can lose up to 55 percent of their vitamin C content within just a week of harvest. (Considering the average supermarket apple may be more than a year old, that’s pretty bad.)
Crops that are in season, on the other hand, rack up very few “food miles” because they’re grown nearby. Thus, they retain most of their health-boosting attributes. (That being said, eating fruits and vegetables that aren’t in season is still better than not eating them at all.)
3. Your groceries will cost less.
Have you ever noticed that the price of zucchini tends to plummet this time of year? The reason is simple: supply and demand. Since zucchini is a summer crop, most farmers in your general area are likely growing and selling it. To earn your dollar, they’ve got to compete on price.
Now, compare that with the price of zucchini in the winter. Different story. Zucchini can’t handle cold weather. So, farmers growing it in another climate — and then shipping the crop to your supermarket — can afford to charge more due to a lack of local competition. (Transportation costs can also drive up pricing since the zucchini is coming from farther away.)
But if you choose to buy and eat what’s in season, supply will always exceed demand — which will save you money.
4. You’ll help our planet.
When you buy an in-season crop that was grown at a farm just a few miles outside of town — or even in town — the ecological impact is minimal. But buying foods that must be shipped to your area swells the carbon footprint of your lifestyle.
Put another way, eating seasonally creates less pollution. And that reduces strain on the earth.
5. Your community will thank you.
Since eating with the seasons usually means sourcing your fruits and vegetables from local growers (and/or growing them yourself), you’ll inherently be supporting your local economy when you adopt a seasonal diet.
Doing so will likely also give you a greater sense of connection to your community — which can provide a range of health benefits, from a longer life to lower risk of stress and disease.
6. Cooking will be more fun (or at least more interesting).
If you’re like me, you’ve got a handful of recipes you return to regularly. And though there’s nothing wrong with having a few faithful standbys, it never hurts to change things up once in awhile, right?
By limiting (or mostly limiting) yourself to what’s in season, you’ll likely have to get more creative with your cooking. For inspiration, check out these seasonal recipes. Or if you’re not afraid of an old-fashioned, physical cookbook, I highly recommend Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden.
7. You’ll achieve greater harmony with nature.
On the surface, “harmony with nature” may seem like a soft benefit. But aligning your diet to natural cycles actually provides a number of research-backed health perks, such as abating allergies in the spring, hydrating you in the summer, and boosting your immune system in the fall and winter.
Syncing your lifestyle with nature can also help you be more mindful — and thankful when seasons do change and a slew of new delicious crops become available!
How to Know What Fruits and Vegetables Are in Season
Do the benefits above have you salivating for seasonal produce — and wondering how to get your hands on it? You can search online to learn what foods are in season in your area. But here are two other (more fun) ways to both see and source what’s in season.
Buy Produce Grown Locally
As I’ve touched on throughout this post, buying what’s in season usually means buying what’s local. Sources for local produce include the following:
- Farmers Markets offer a wide variety of seasonal produce in a friendly, interactive setting (plus, you can actually meet the people who grow the food).
- Community-Supported Agriculture Programs provide you with a regular supply of fresh produce from local farmers, but you may not have much control over what you actually receive.
- “U-Pick” Farms allow you to go directly to the source and harvest your own seasonal produce right from the plant.
To locate Farmers Markets, CSAs, and “U-Pick” Farms in your area, ask around for recommendations or check this directory.
Grow Your Own Food
Buying produce from local farmers is great. But nothing connects you to the seasons — or seasonal food — quite like gardening.
For starters, you’ll learn very quickly what does and doesn’t grow well during any given time of year (e.g., plant lettuce in mid-summer, and it will surely bolt). But beyond that, the seasons will naturally influence your diet because you’ll be growing some of the food that ends up on your plate.
If you’d like to try your hand at growing your own hyper-local produce but aren’t sure how to begin, this planning guide will help you decide what you should plant in your area based on the season.
Over to You
If you’re not already a fan of eating with the seasons, I hope this post has helped you see why you should be.
Have any seasonal eating questions or tips of your own? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.
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