Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tis The Season (For Tomatoes and Berries)

A new subject that holds a lot of interest for me, is seasonal eating. Among the growing list of things we can easily do to reduce our environmental impact (and be healthier people) is eat fruits and vegetables that are currently in season.

Walk into any supermarket and you're likely to see the same varieties of fruits and vegetables on display all year long. We've grown so accustomed to seeing items like broccoli, bananas and potatoes available all the time, that most of us don't even question how they got there or whether they should even be there!

There's a number of reasons why eating seasonally makes a lot of sense:
1. In-season produce has a higher nutritional value - Produce that is out-of-season has either had to travel incredibly long distances (mainly being imported from overseas) or has been picked prior to being ripe (meaning it will only retain its pre-ripeness nutritional level). Either way, this produce has generally lost most of its nutritional content during transit since B vitamins and vitamin C break down very quickly.

2. It tastes better - Since seasonal produce doesn't need to travel as far, it arrives to its final destination (and ultimately your mouth) in a much better and much fresher condition. Put simply, fresher produce = better flavour. There's no denying that eating something that is perfectly ripe, grown in the right season, during peak weather conditions is going to taste several times better than an imported or artificially ripened version.

3. It saves you money - In-season produce naturally grows more abundantly, meaning you pay less money at the checkout. As someone who has previously shopped at the supermarket and is now a farmers market convert, I can personally vouch for the markets being more affordable and offering a better quality product. Since I'm also paying in cash at each stall, I give each purchase careful thought about IF and HOW it will get eaten before buying. This also means reduced food wastage at home.

4. It's better for the environment - Since in-season fruits and vegies require less resources (including heating/cooling/lighting/pumped water/chemicals) to flourish, they have a remarkably reduced impact on our environment. Local food also uses less fuel, transport and refrigeration energy.

5. It may prompt weight loss - Eating seasonally means you'll be eating foods that mother nature intended you to eat during that particular season. Fruits and vegetables produced in one season can often have significantly different nutritional values than those produced in the opposite or even following season. This could suggest, for example, that eating winter vegetables designed to help your body store fat more effectively can encourage weight gain when eaten in summer and other seasons since you'll be storing fat all year long. There's also the issue of taste. If in-season produce tastes better, you'll naturally be more inclined to eat healthier.

6. You'll reduce your chemical exposure - Locally grown, seasonal produce doesn’t require any genetic altering to make it withstand long journeys, needs little to no pesticides, no artificial growth hormones, no artificial ripening, has less exposure to exhaust fumes (from transport) or any other chemicals that can adversely affect our health. Plants grown in season are growing ‘naturally’ and will automatically require less chemicals and fertilisers.

Eating seasonally really doesn't require much extra work. This handy Seasonal Food Calendar gives you a comprehensive guide to what fruits and vegetables are in season for each month. I personally keep a copy of this calender on my fridge and take it along with me when I go shopping for further reference.

To start eating seasonally, make your menu a seasonal one. Plan meals that utilise in-season produce or use the internet to help you find delicious recipes based on the fresh, in-season produce you've just brought home.

The best place to find in-season produce is your local farmer's market or road side stalls. To find a local farmer's market near you, check out this website. Buying locally also supports your local economy rather than big, international companies, and is generally farmed under much kinder conditions by farmers who value their product (and can personally vouch for it). If you must buy your produce at the supermarket, take your seasonal food calender with you to assist in buying seasonally and look for items that specify 'Product of Australia'.

As you can see buying seasonally is a big step towards a healthier, greener lifestyle. Although it's more effort for me, I do my fruit and vegetable shopping with two toddlers in tow because I want to show them yet another example of eating ethically and also expose them to lots of yummy, natural, unprocessed foods. And a fresh punnet of locally grown blueberries is a delicious and healthy way to end our shopping expedition!

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