There are so many reasons to eat seasonally. Each of them alone is good, but together they make a powerful argument for paying more attention to the produce on your plate. Seasonal food is going to benefit your health, your palate, your wallet, your country, and the big ol’ earth. So here’s one reason for every finger of the hand you eat with, and one for the thumb.
1| For quality.
It’s astounding how long we can make fruit and vegetables last. We can circumnavigate the globe with them in controlled conditions and they’ll come out the other side edible. A little pale, maybe. But we’re pretty used to it. Really, we’re making big sacrifices in regards to quality. Year round, Britain’s taste for asparagus is satisfied mostly by farms in Peru. It’s fine Peruvian asparagus. But it comes too far. In-season British asparagus? It’s just better, fresher, and more delicious.
If you’ve eaten fruit off the tree, or a vine ripe tomato still hot from the sun, you feel me. If you haven’t, add it to your bucket list. No matter which country you’re in, you’ll find local seasonal produce is where the quality is at.
2| For your wallet.
I grew up eating plums in summer and apples in winter. Not because you can’t buy plums in winter, but because in summer they’re cheap, and my dad is shopping-on-a-budget King. When fruit and vegetables are in season, they’re easier to grow and there are more to go around, meaning that the price naturally drops.
Of course, that’s not always true for imported produce. Mangoes are fairly steadily priced in the UK because they’re always imported, while in Australia the cost rises and falls more with the seasons and the weather, because Aussies get (superior) seasonal Aussie mangoes.
It’s important to remember that the low cost of labour/resources in many exporting countries can keep the price of imported goods even lower than locally in season alternatives, which causes a different bucketful of issues.
But, in general: if it’s grown at home, it’s cheaper when in season.
3| For the earth.
How much carbon dioxide is that three week old vegetable worth to you? Seems a little dramatic, but it’s something to consider. The further it’s come, the longer it’s been in transit, the more fuel and energy have been involved in packing, shipping, ripening, repacking, redistributing, and so forth. Buying produce that’s in season locally and therefore hasn’t travelled is simply the best way to eat for the environment.
4| For your health.
Fruit and veggies start to lose their goodness as soon as they’re picked, so the nutritional value of food that’s travelled and been stored for weeks is just not quite the same. Yes, eating travelled or frozen veggies is better than eating no veggies. Obviously. But the quicker and fresher it gets to your little tum, the better.
Modern tech means food really does travel from all over the world. A banana that was picked green in Ecuador takes up to two weeks to reach the UK. It will likely be ripened using ethylene gas once it’s arrived, or sold green and labelled as ‘ripen at home’ (you’re not fooling anyone, Tesco). Transportation can also include irradiation — exposing the produce to radiation to preserve shelf-life by killing bacteria and inhibiting sprouting — which is apparently proven safe but still seems all a bit freaky to me. Kind of like microwaves. (But living without bananas would be way worse than living without microwaves, am I right?) Irradiation can also mess with the nutritional content of the produce, although the amount varies in different species. (Foods that have been irradiated have to be labelled in most countries, so you can find ‘irradiated’ or ‘treated with iodising radiation’ on the packet/label if it’s got one.)
5| For your country.
Oh yes— it’s time to get patriotic. Supporting growers in your country means keeping those farmers in business and supporting your countrymen and your home economy, and that’s an all round great idea, right?
What now? How to eat with the seasons
Eating seasonally sounds brill. But how can local seasonal produce be a realistic aspect of life in the city? In an ideal world we’re all eating fresh, lush, seasonal food grown in our backyard. But in the real world we can only do the best we can with what we’re given, and it would be highly impractical to entirely avoid imported or out of season produce. So what can you do?
1| Educate yourself. Know what’s in season and grown near you. Scroll down for how!
2| Shop at markets. While some farmers markets are pricey, local veg markets can be cheaper than supermarkets and generally have in-season produce.
3| Stay conscious. Before long, it all becomes second nature to understand the seasons. But for the start, it’s just a matter of remembering that seasonality exists, and to consider it when you’re shopping.
how to know what’s in season
This is a sure sign; British supermarket shelves overflow with strawberries in July, and you can buy trays and trays of perfect mangoes for pittance in the sweaty Queensland summer.
When you’re consistently finding tiny, less-than-lush versions of your favourite veg, it’s probably because it’s not in season. Go for the stuff that’s looking like the tastiest, plumpest, most gorgeous version of itself.
Highly seasonal fruits often show the biggest swing in price. Think berries and citrus. That’s seasonality in action. If you start to pay attention to how much you’re paying per kilo, you’ll be surprised to have missed it before. In the UK, where fruit and veg is sold pre-packed in trays or bags (eugh), it’s sometimes easy to miss the difference in weight price. Keep your spy game strong.
A good hint of seasonality is when local produce is available, as opposed to imported. Obviously this can’t apply to foods that don’t grow in the local climate, but it’s a good place to start.
Use the vast powers of the internet! If it’s all a bit overwhelming, just check what’s in season every month. Do some online searching about your country or check the links below.
Go forth and embrace the bounty of the seasons! I’d love to hear about any other reasons you eat seasonally, and your own tips on how to keep in touch with your local produce!