Ask Eartha: The benefits of eating foods in season
Recently I have heard a lot of hype about eating with the seasons. What are the benefits to eating seasonally?
— Alexis (Frisco)
Thank you for your question this week, Alexis. Simply put, eating seasonally means preparing meals with foods that have been harvested when they’re ripest. In recent years, eating with the season has become a trendy thing to do. But when you think about it, this practice is something that humans have been doing since we evolved millions of years ago. Until agriculture was developed about 10,000 years ago, our ancestors were hunters, gatherers, fishers and sometimes scavengers. Eating only what could be sourced nearby, these people ate seasonally by default. Even after the advent of modern agriculture, people still would have eaten seasonally because they were limited by their means of transportation. After all, strawberries wouldn’t last on a wagon trip across the U.S. Things began to change in the late 1800s with the invention of refrigerated rail cars. This allowed producers to transport perishable foods long distances without spoiling. These days, we can find a number of fruits and vegetables available at our local grocery stores year-round even though these foods are no longer grown and harvested according to their natural cycles. Why? Well, quite simply because consumers will buy them. This is an unfortunate turn of events, because eating seasonally has many benefits, not least of which is becoming more in sync with nature, the seasons and what grows when. But that’s not all. Here are five more reasons why it’s important to eat foods according to the seasons they naturally grow in.
1. Eating seasonally is less expensive. This is simple economics: When food is in season, there’s more of it, which drives the cost down. Think about it. Are strawberries more or less expensive in the summertime?
2. Eating seasonally tastes better. In general, eating seasonally also means eating more locally, allowing foods to be harvested when they’re ripest and taste best. Foods shipped from far-off places are picked before they ripen to avoid rotting during transportation. Which tastes better — tomatoes you purchase in January or sun-ripened tomatoes you buy in the summer?
3. Eating seasonally is better for your health. Food picked when it’s ripest has more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than food picked prematurely and transported thousands of miles to your kitchen. Moreover, crops lose nutrients during transport, putting the consumer at an even greater nutritional disadvantage. Eating seasonally can also help your body adapt to the surrounding environment. For example, squash and root vegetables which ripen in the fall are full of beta carotene, an immune boosting nutrient. This is a time of year when illness is common, so the extra immune system support can help us stay healthy. Furthermore, eating seasonally forces us to consume a greater variety of foods, which also yields nutritional benefits.
4. Eating seasonally inspires culinary creativity. In the Steward household, we sometimes find ourselves in a boring culinary routine where we eat the same meals over and over again. Eating seasonally breaks that habit by making you think outside of the box. You can find seasonal produce guides along with recipes online. Get inspired to try new ingredients and recipes that keep your taste buds alert and your body healthy.
5. Eating seasonally minimizes your carbon footprint. Most produce in the U.S. is shipped nearly 1,500 miles from farm to plate. By eating produce that’s in season locally, your food won’t have traveled quite so far. If you absolutely must have out-of-season produce, look in the frozen food section of your local grocery store.
Want some tips for getting started? Joining a CSA is an easy way to get local produce delivered to your door. If you’re feeling ambitious, consider starting your own garden next spring. Start gathering the information you need now, so you will be prepared when planting season comes. CSA shares and garden plots are available through the High Country Conservation Center. This year, save money, treat your taste buds and eat healthier by digging into what is in season.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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