Building Block #2: Embrace Seasonality
If you’ve heard Jason Mraz sing his classic, Back to the Earth, you can’t help but be inspired! HIs voice is at the same time joyous and comforting and I love the tune … and the message, well, it’s right on point. If we take this to heart when making our food choices, it’s definitely a step in the right direction!
As our wise friend, Michael Pollan, says in his ‘Food Rules’, it’s important to “Eat Close to the Earth”. We all know intuitively that the shorter the food chain, the more wholesome the food is likely to be. When we count calories and fixate solely on nutrients, the message gets muddled. Instead, why not let the degree to which food has been processed be your guide to its healthfulness: the number of steps and the amount of time between field and fork?Brilliant!
Much of our current wisdom, handed down through the years, is worth preserving and reviving … and heeding. Foods are more than the sum of their nutrient parts, and those nutrients work together in ways that we are still trying to fully understand. So back to the earth we go for guidance. We pay attention. We listen. We watch. And we’re nourished.
Eating ‘seasonally’ is a great approach to make sure we’re staying true to our aim. However, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds, considering that in America, we have gotten used to eating whatever we want, whenever we want. Tomatoes in February? Blueberries in April? Asparagus in November? No worries. It’s all available – even if it has to be shipped 3,000 miles or more to get here. No wonder we have lost our way along the path. It’s time to take a deep breath and look around. What’s available right now in your locale?
In addition to anecdotes and intuition, we’ve found that research corroborates that it’s quite an advantage to consider a back to the earth approach. Let’s start with flavor …
In-season produce is much more flavorful than fruits and vegetables shipped from across the country — or the world — so you’re more likely to choose them over processed and less nutritious options. An easy option that almost improves your diet all on its own! The taste can be quite a revelation. Think back to that tomato that was in your salad this winter … tasted a bit like mealy cardboard, right? And while kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts may not make the top of our “fun foods” list –they definitely fall to the very bottom when they’re out of season because they will taste flat and dull. Fresh produce picked in-season will undoubtedly please our palates the most – think of a crisp Braeburn apple in the fall, or a juicy tomato in late August. Out-of-season produce can spend up to ten days in a transit crate that arrives in your supermarket bruised, squishy and tired, lacking the vibrant flavors that make fresh vegetables and fruits so darn good. It doesn’t much feel like a difficult decision anymore, right?
Eating with the seasons is intuitive so it feels right but most importantly it also brings variety to your diet — and that helps you to get the full complement of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that nature offers. Eating seasonally means that every few months or so, we’re trying something new, and that’s a good thing for our taste buds and our health. Different vegetables and fruits contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, fiber and more. But we don’t get the good stuff that comes from asparagus or nectarines if all we eat are peppers, potatoes and apples. It pays to be curious, always! And following the seasons forces us out of our produce comfort zone – and increases the chances that we’ll stumble upon a few new vegetables or fruits that we didn’t even realize we liked.
One study found that women who ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables from 18 different plant families (including cruciferous vegetables from the Brassica family, such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) had significantly less damage to their genetic material than women who limited themselves to five plant families. This probably reflects the tens of thousands of years that our genes evolved in concert with the environment as our ancestors gathered food from a wide variety of sources. This diverse array of nutrients from the plants we eat (phytonutrients) work together like a symphony to support our body and the way it works optimally.
A part of what we do at Crisp with our seasonal ‘resets’ is designed to help you reset what you might look at as broken food and hunger mechanisms. We want to return you to the place where “hungry” means “hungry” (not “bored”, “depressed” or “cranky”), and we want you to be in tune with whether your body is craving a particular food, or whether your brain just having a sugar tantrum! Being more focused on eating seasonally will help you reset those ancient and beneficial connections between body and brain, between ancestral heritage and today’s modern world. A peach in the middle of winter isn’t “normal”, but pomegranates or butternut squash feel right. If we make seasonal eating a bigger part of the daily approach to diet, those connections reset almost without great effort.
In-season fruits and vegetables are harvested locally just as they’ve developed abundant nutrients. For instance eating spinach at its peak provides up to three times more vitamin C than eating it out of season. And back to “number of steps” it takes before it’s on the fork, it’s always best soon after it’s picked both from a flavor and nutritional profile. As soon as a fruit or vegetable is harvested, the nutritional breakdown begins. Many vitamins present before harvest are highly unstable and much is depleted after a few days. Since out-of-season produce may be shipped from thousands of miles away, it is usually harvested under-ripe and it spends many days in transit, starting out at a disadvantage and all the while losing some of the key nutrients. Buying produce at its height of seasonality you’ll get all the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in force!
I am an advocate of local food, partly on environmental grounds but mainly because I think it's so important that people feel a strong connection with where their food comes from. And to support our community of local farmers goes a long way to help us to feel connected to the food we put on our plate and to one another. And in turn, it provides us all with a bounty of delicious foods to enjoy!
Buying things out of season means long shipping times, fuel costs and other factors that all add up to an insanely huge price tag. And even if they’re not shipped a great distance, growing out-of-season produce in a greenhouse still adds up to more energy consumed and costs incurred, which are in turn passed along to the consumer. Eating seasonally means buying things that can be grown locally (or relatively locally), in their natural weather and climate conditions. And when you buy organic, seasonal, locally grown foods you help provide financial support to the farmers in your area which helps the local economy thrive. Less energy, less transit time, cheaper price tag, healthy economy. Score!
Organic foods and those grown using sustainable practices are plentiful when in season. These farmers really care about protecting our planet and providing you with the best, most natural form of food as it was originally intended to be. They will rotate crops to increase soil fertility, use integrated pest management to control pests using beneficial insects instead of toxic pesticides, plant crops in between seasons to revitalize the soil, and use sustainable composting methods for disposing of organic waste.
By restoring their fields in a natural way and not using toxic chemicals, poisonous pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified seeds, these farmers provide us with healthier foods along with protecting our planet, the farm workers’ , and their customers’ health. And often times sustainable methods yield a superior product that offers better taste, quality, and nutrition over more conventionally raised foods.
And in a greater sense, we are protecting our planet by purchasing locally grown a well since reducing the amount of time from field to fork also means less fuel is used to get it to market which also reduces pollution. By making a conscious choice to purchase sustainable, seasonal and local foods, we help protect our air, land and water.
Eating seasonally isn't a new idea, even though we’re hearing so much about it these days. Michael Pollan started garnering the attention of the media, and then the masses, several years ago as he discussed the idea of seasonality in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Before global transportation was as speedy and commonplace as it is today, eating seasonally and locally were just things everyone did. No one assumed you could get peaches in the winter, or chestnuts in the summer. Those things were part of enjoying that season.
While it would be ideal to pledge 100% local 100% of the time, realistically it’s important to use common sense. There are great benefits to paying close attention to seasonality, but as soon as your food movement becomes a banner you march under, you lose sight of the benefits. If you can get apples year round and you love apples, enjoy them. If you enjoy bananas, and don’t happen to live in a jungle, it’s of course ok to purchase those … as it is for pineapple and so forth. But its always good to be mindful the majority of the time of the bounty that’s around you and for every out-of-season item, or those that just aren’t readily available in your area, that there may be a seasonal or local alternative that's just as good, and good for you.
As we get “Back to the Earth”, thanks Jason for the reminder that it feels good to put my hands in the dirt and my feet in the grass! And so nice to remember that my home is where my food is grown as we live with the land in harmony!