With a limitless variety of produce available year-round, it’s easy to forget fruits and vegetables are seasonal. Just a few generations ago, summer meant corn and tomatoes, winter was for hearty root vegetables and asparagus was gobbled up during it’s short spring growing season. But now we can find these foods at the grocery store any time we like. They may not taste very good, but hey, the option is there.
In a way, it’s a good thing we have so many options. It allows us to expand our tastebuds and enjoy foods that may not grow in our region. With an overflowing produce section, it is easy to get all the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals we need throughout the year. And of course, those who live in areas not suitable for farming, must rely on foods shipped in from other areas.
But mostly, this food system which allows for endless variety, regardless of the season, is harmful to our envirmonment, econonomy and health. Depending on where you live, it may not be realistic to only eat what is in season, but there are some good reasons to try!
Eating seasonally is better for the environment.
Have you ever been to the grocery store in the dead of winter and wondered where all the bright and colorful produce is coming from? A good guess would be 1,500 miles, since that’s the average distance produce travels from harvest to your local grocery store. The concept of food miles is becoming more well known among environmental activists. Afterall, the fuel used to transport our food is considered one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Next time you are grocery shopping, look at the stickers on your produce and plug it’s hometown into the maps app on your smartphone. It’s an eye opener. I once heard food miles explained like this – if we racked up frequent flyer miles for the distance our food traveled, the average person would earn a free ticket to Europe every 2-3 days. Even if you are purchasing a conventionally grown fruit or vegetable, it is more likely to be local, or at least from the same hemisphere, if it’s in season.
In season produce is more nutritious.
Because it has spent less time traveling and in storage, in season produce contains more nutrients. Some studies indicate in season produce can have as much as three times more nutrients compared to when it is purchased out of season. Vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, and folate are especially sensitive to nutrient loss. People often purchase organic fruits and vegetables, assuming a higher nutrient content, when in fact, seasonallity affects nutrient content more than farming method.
Produce costs less when it’s in season.
Economics wasn’t my strongest subject, but I do remember the concept of supply and demand. Produce is much less expensive when it is plentiful in steason. Tomatoes sell for $2-4 a pound in the winter, but in the summer, I’m able to buy a big basket of organic tomatoes for only $3. I just bought one pepper on sale for $2. When in season, I can get four for the same amount at the farmer’s market.
In season fruits and veggies just taste better.
If you’ve ever bitten into a perfect looking strawberry in the middle of February, only to find it tastes, well, like nothing, then you know what I’m talking about. I thought all tomatoes were mealy and bland until I tasted an heirloom summer tomato. It was an “Aha” moment! As a fruit or vegetables loses nutrients over time, it also loses flavor compounds. Eating the purple asparagus we picked up in Asheville reminded me how flavorful a vegetable is in the peak of it’s season. I even ate one raw!
Asparagus season is notoriously short, from late April to June. It’s a huge deal in Europe, especially Germany and Austria, where annual Spargelfest, or asparagus festival, celebrations are held. Asparagus quickly turns woody after it’s season is over, so eat up!
Not sure whats in season? This chart should help!
- 1 bunch asparagus, woody ends snapped off
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 piquillo peppers* or 1 fire-roasted red pepper, chopped
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil or organic canola oil mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 4 cups lightly packed arugula
- 1 7-ounce jar premium tuna, packed in olive oil, drained and flaked
- 4 slices 100% whole grain bread
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat grill to high heat. Toss asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill asparagus for 3-5 minutes, turning halfway, until lightly charred. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Chop into 2 inch pieces.
- Combine asparagus, shallots, peppers, chickpeas and garlic in a large bowl. Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar and paprika in a small bowl. Toss bean-aspragus mixture with dressing.
- Arrange 1 cup of arugula on a plate. Top with ¼ of the bean mixture and ¼ of the tuna.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cheese over each slice of bread. Place on a baking sheet and broil for 2 minutes until toasted. Serve with salad.
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 10 cups mixed greens
- 4 ounces thinly sliced proscuitto
- ½ cup goat cheese
- 4 slices 100% whole grain bread, toasted
- Bring vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the vinegar is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in honey. Mix in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the asparagus with 2 teaspoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes until tender and lightly charred.
- Arrange mixed greens on four plates. Top each with 1 ounce of proscuitto, 2 tablespoons of goat cheese and ¼th of the roasted asparagus. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve with toast.