To everything there is a season: fresh-picked food is just plain good
Strawberries in January, peaches in March, tomatoes in December. Unless you live in a state with a long growing season, all of the above violate the laws of eating naturally–in other words, eating in season.
When we eat in rhythm with the seasons, we can appreciate Earth’s natural cycles. Let’s consider the peach. That fuzzy fruit defines summer. Fruits taste best and reach their nutritional peak when picked ripe and eaten shortly after harvest. We can buy imports from Chile all winter long, but out-of-season peaches lack fragrance and the sweet juice that drips down our chins.
To everything there is a season fresh-picked food is just plain good
Feasting on Fossil Fuel
Our global food system allows us to eat just about anything we want, any time of year. However, choosing foods grown and harvested thousands of miles away takes its toll on our planet and our health. For example, long-distance trucking to transport food from faraway places requires fossil fuel, adding hidden costs, such as global warming. “Seasonal eating is environmental eating,” explains David Bruce, an organic farmer from Wisconsin.
“We are the only species that can protect our planet,” says Kathy Cobb, a consultant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Fruit & Vegetable Program. She knows fruits and vegetables help us stay fit and healthy. But she also understands the environmental benefits of eating local seasonal produce.
Cobb explains: “When we eat food that is planted and grown locally during each of the four seasons, we allow the earth and soil to replenish itself, and reduce harmful effects on the environment caused by transporting food long distances.”
Healthy for Earth–and for You
Nourishing ourselves “goes beyond just filling our bellies,” according to registered dietitian Amanda Archibald. She favors seasonal foods because of their overall quality. “If you use the season as your guide, you will always get the best flavor and nutrient content.”
There are many ways fresher is better.
* Fruits and vegetables picked too early can’t develop their full flavor and nutrients naturally.
* The extra time needed to get distant foods from the farm to your plate further cuts nutrient levels.
* Heat, light, and exposure to oxygen are big nutrient destroyers.
All told, a five- to 10-day road trip might result in a 30 percent to 50 percent loss of some vitamins. Stashing fruits and vegetables in a refrigerator may help reduce nutrient losses. But it’s better to get the produce from the plant to your plate pronto.
Teen Tasters Testify
In Missouri, brothers David and Christopher M. live on Prairie Birthday Farm, where they enjoy fresh, seasonal foods every day. David, 14, understands how long-distance transportation has affected plant variety. With a seasonal food system, “the types of plants farmers could grow would be picked for taste, not their ability to hold up during shipping,” he explains. David’s favorite in-season fruit is watermelon.
“Eating seasonally helps preserve the environment by letting food grow in its natural setting,” says Christopher, 17. “It provides the community with a product that can’t be naturally replicated anywhere else in the world.” The most delicious fruit he remembers was pineapple in Hawaii. “It was grown right on the island where I was staying, and it tasted very sweet,” he says. But the tastiest vegetable Christopher has ever eaten was “a pod of fresh peas from a vine growing in my mom’s garden.”
Taste and nutrition aren’t the only factors for Louie R., 17, from Portland, Ore. He recognizes that eating local, seasonal foods helps “support local farms.” Louie can find his favorite–fresh marionberries–at farmers’ markets.
Consider the wisdom of the writer and environmentalist Henry David Thoreau. He said, “Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.” If you care about climate change, pollution, nutrition, or simply enjoying the best-tasting food on the planet, give seasonal eating a try.
Question: What’s for Dinner?
Answer: What’s in Season?
Northerners don’t have to give up the sunny taste of an orange in the middle of winter. But anticipating, appreciating, and savoring more of what’s fresh and ripe in your geographic backyard gives your plate a sense of time and place. (Availability will vary by region, of course.)
spinach, lettuce, strawberries, asparagus, sugar snap peas, rhubarb, onions
tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, plums, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, peaches, eggplant, melons, corn, beets, raspberries,
sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, kale, pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, garlic
WINTER (after the frost)
potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips
meats, dairy, eggs, dry beans, whole grains
* Challenge students to name the fruits and vegetables that are currently in season where you live.
* What are the nutritional benefits of eating in season? (Food is fresher and at its peak level of nutrients.)
* How does a harvest-based approach to eating help the environment? (Fields are not overburdened; foods are not shipped great distances or loaded with preservatives.)
* The chart on page 25 names some common foods and the seasons in which they are harvested. What others can you add to the list? (Answers will vary.)
* Field to Plate www.fieldtoplate.com/guide.php
* Local Harvest www.localharvest.org