From Farm to Table
Back before the days of mass transportation and the global marketplace, it was natural to eat seasonally. Folks ate tomatoes in the summer. If they wanted them in the winter, they made sure to can some at the end of the growing season. If they didn’t have enough to can, they went without.
Most of us cannot even fathom not being able to find celery all year long. Or onions. Or green beans. We live in a fast paced world where food is shipped from one side of the globe to another. We import a lot of fruits and vegetables from South America where the seasons are the reverse of ours. Next time you’re at the grocery store, look at the labels on the produce. You might be surprised to see all of the fruits and vegetables from Argentina, Chile and Peru.
Because of globalization, we enjoy pineapples and bananas on the mainland. Folks in Minnesota can get fresh citrus fruits. Folks in Kansas can get lobster. Folks in New York can enjoy aloe and prickly pear cactus fruits. And don’t even get me started on world-wide chains.
The upside of globalization and the shipping of perishables long distances is that we can enjoy “exotic” or out-of-season foods at any time. This can expand our culinary horizons and educate our palates.
The Downside of a Global Supermarket
Unfortunately, there are many downsides, as well. One of the most pertinent in light of global warming is the carbon footprint involved with shipping. Think of the amount of petroleum products needed to ship foods over long distances. For every person who gets to enjoy a banana, there are greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere by the ships, trains and trucks that carry the bananas.
Another consideration is pesticide use. While the EPA, USDA and FDA has banned the use of certain pesticides in the United States because of health concerns, other countries might not have such strict standards. I am not saying that the fruits and vegetables grown in other countries are bad for you; I would just recommend that, if you have any concerns, you research the chemicals approved for use in the country in which the food was grown.
Since shipping perishables damages them, much research has gone into breeding “sturdy” fruits and vegetables that can stand up to the rigors of transport. Sadly, what is gained in hardiness is often lost in flavor. Many fruits and vegetables are harvested before they are ripe so that they continue to ripen during shipping. Vegetables lose begin to lose their natural sweetness once they are picked as sugars in the foods are converted to starches.
Plant Your Own Garden
There is nothing like the freshness and sweetness of freshly picked fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables, when picked at the height of ripeness, are also at the height of flavor and nutritional value. If you can, plant a garden with vegetables that will thrive in your USDA Hardiness Zone, and enjoy vegetables from spring through early fall. Talk about a small carbon footprint—I doubt you’ll need to drive out to the backyard to harvest your vegetable bounty!
This year we planted a small garden with my youngest daughter so she can experience growing her own vegetables. We are all very excited to see how we do. As a kid, my dad always had a small vegetable garden out back and I remember summer nights when he would come home from work, head back to his garden and pick some ripe tomatoes and dig around for new potatoes for dinner. What a treat!
Community Supported Agriculture
If you don’t have the space or the time to plant you own garden, consider signing up for local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The rules vary from CSA to CSA, but generally, for a flat fee for the season, you can get fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables weekly from a local farm. Some deliver, but many require that you drive to pick them up. Regardless, the carbon footprint is pretty minimal, since the grower is local, and you can rest assured that the produce is freshly harvested.
We have belonged to a couple of CSAs that were affiliated with my wife's workplace and enjoyed finding out what we were getting each week. Yes, sometimes there would be an abundance of greens we weren't sure what to do with but all in all it has been a fabulous experience.
No CSA in your neck of the woods? Frequent your local farmer’s market. Besides produce, many farmer’s markets have expanded into meats, dairy, honey and even pastries—a one-stop shop for local food. My wife and I go to the year round farmer's market every Saturday morning. It has become a ritual for us and because we go so routinely, we've gotten to know and because friends with the butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers, and farmers so we alway learn about what's fresh that day.
Eating seasonally requires a little forethought and planning. It also requires that you be flexible—you cook what’s available when it’s available. Eating seasonally also means environmentally friendly, healthier, more flavorful, fresher food for you and your family.