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America’s Healthy
Cooking Teacher

Eating with the Seasons: Series Post 1 of 5

We live in a great country where we can get any fruit or vegetable at any time of the year. That’s good news and bad news for us. It’s good because it’s a sign of abundance. It’s not so good because in all that abundance, we have lost touch with what’s in season—and how foods change and shift from cold to warm weather. We eat strawberries at Christmas and beef stew in the summer and wonder why our bodies are uncomfortable in the weather of any particular season. Mother Nature has blessed us with a great variety of foods that are constantly changing, constantly providing us with new excitement, as well as the particular nutrients and levels of moisture we need in any particular weather.

If we eat in season.

Fresh produce is at the heart of eating well, and is the main reason you will decide that this is the life for you. The true glory of a plant-based diet comes from the freshest ingredients.

Hang on, I am not going all Alice Waters on you (although I love and respect her), telling you that it’s heirloom tomatoes or nothing. But think about it. When your ingredients are fresh and seasonal, your recipes are delicious.

Personally, I come alive when the farm markets in my community are in season. Winter is long and dreary for me once they close down. There is nothing like connecting with the person who grew my food or like the flavor of vegetables and fruit freshly harvested or picked that morning. The produce at a farm market travels less distance and didn’t ripen under lights during transport, so the food is fresher, the flavors more authentic. They are kissed by fresh breezes, warm sunshine, and gentle raindrops.

It’s important to me that I buy locally as much as possible. When I buy locally-produced foods, I know that less fossil fuel was burned to transport it. I can look into the eyes of the farmer who grew it and ask questions, like what, if any, pesticides are being used. I am supporting the rural economy of a small family farm. The cost is very reasonable most of the time. It’s a win-win-win-win for me.

Never in modern history has there been such an interest in food and at the same time, such a lack of confidence in the basic quality of the food we are buying, which makes eating local more relevant to us.

The benefits of eating locally produced food whenever possible are almost too numerous to mention, but here are my top reasons to go local as often as you can.

1. Eating local eliminates the distribution middle man as well as the wasteful spending on packaging and marketing that accounts for about 20% of food costs and drives prices through the roof.

2. Eating local saves fuel because food is not being transported so far before sale. The food is fresher and in season and so the cost is often lower.

3. Eating local makes for improved food quality because the food is grown more sustainably, in smaller crops by family farms that can pay attention to how they grow and harvest. Plus fresher food is more flavorful and nutrient-dense.

4. Eating local inspires you to cook. The food is so fresh and alive; the air at a farm market is perfumed with the aromas of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s completely seductive. Fresh foods don’t need a lot of fussy enhancement to be delicious so you can cook simple, easy recipes and they will be divine.

5. Eating local makes food shopping more meaningful because we are getting great quality for our money. We are supporting local farms and not just accepting industrially produced foods like those sold in many supermarkets.

6. Eating local supports the local rural economy. By purchasing food from a local family farm, we ensure that they continue to exist and are not swallowed up by commercial enterprises or developers. You get great food and help to save precious farmland.

7. Eating local helps reconnect us to our food by connecting with the people who produce it.

8. Eating local helps you play a part in restoring the quality of our food supply. A new, more sustainable system is thriving because farmers are working with their customers and producing food in a more traditional way. Caring for the land and the food becomes second nature.

It’s also important to me to buy organic produce as much as possible as you have seen. I shop for local and organic first and work my way down the list to commercially produced food when I have no other option.

Organic food is more than just for our health and the health of the planet. I have discovered in my own research that organic food is, in fact, more nutrient-dense than commercially produced varieties. According to Organic Info, an online clearing house for all sorts of information on organic foods, organic produce contains 50% more vitamin C than commercially produced veggies and fruit. That’s worth a few extra cents to me! Since the demand for organic produce has risen so dramatically, more farmers are growing it and the prices are becoming much more competitive. Our demand for better food yielded great results.

However, circumstances and availability may drive the way you buy fresh fruit and vegetables. I am very blessed to live in a region where farm markets and CSA’s are abundant, so in season I have access to the most delicious food at the most delicious prices. You’ll never see produce more reasonably priced than at a farm market. Not everyone enjoys such abundance, so listen --and I mean this--wherever it is that you must buy your vegetables, whether it’s a farm stand, a CSA, a supermarket or a corner bodega;--and whether those veggies are organic, local or commercially produced --buy and eat fresh veggies.

In the end, armed with information, you can make the best choices for your health. In the end, marketing and subsidies, corruption and greed, special interests and bottom lines, force us to do the best we can. We can make informed choices, eschewing products we know do not serve our health and demand better from the people growing, producing, and manufacturing the food we eat.

Over the next weeks, we will be posting seasonal primers for what’s freshest at any time of the year. Want to learn to love your veggies? Eat them in season and you will see a most delicious difference.