Fall is often known as the harvest season. But the move from local eating to a global food market has caused many of us to lose touch with how the seasons affect our local food supply. The practice of eating seasonally aims to re-connect us. Research on the benefits of eating seasonally and locally shows that eating seasonal food is healthier. -For you and the environment. Here’s why.
How Eating Seasonally Helps the Environment (and You)
What does eating seasonally mean?
Eating seasonally is eating food that’s purchased and consumed around the same time it’s naturally harvested. This typically means that seasonal foods are harvested without the use of extra chemicals or extra processes. These extra steps are unnecessary for seasonal food. This is because it’s harvested when it’s naturally ripe and ready to be eaten. Eating seasonally might seem like a new trend, but seasonal foods have long been praised. The longstanding principle of Ritucharya is a key aspect of the ancient medicinal practice of Ayurveda. Ritucharya promotes seasonal eating as a way to maintain body homeostasis.
How does buying seasonal food help the environment?
With our current global food market, you can head to the supermarket and find mangoes or raspberries any day of the year. That doesn’t mean they’re in season. Current estimates say that the average meal travels 1,500 miles from where it’s grown to get to your dinner plate. Eating seasonally available foods cuts down on the number of miles your food needs to travel to get to you. This serves to lessen the environmental impacts of your meals.
Eating seasonally reduces the number of chemicals used to grow, harvest, transport, and mature foods. Foods that aren’t seasonal or locally grown need extra processes and treatments. These are used to keep foods in good condition as they're transported long distances. And, to ensure they’re in ‘peak’ when they arrive at the grocery store. These range from heat treatment and edible coatings to irradiation. While treatments differ, they all come at the cost of more energy expended. Often this also means more chemicals put into the environment (and into your stomach). Luckily, seasonal food needs no treatments to ensure it’s at its peak ripeness. It’s harvested, purchased, and eaten in tune with the natural life cycle of the plant.
Health benefits of seasonal food
You may notice that the strawberries you buy in the summer seem to taste better than those you get in the winter. There’s a reason why. Seasonal foods that are naturally ripened have better sensory quality than artificially ripened foods. The sensory quality means the taste, texture, and smell of your foods. This also indicates a deeper health benefit of eating seasonally. Studies show that seasonal foods contain higher levels of nutrients. For example, Vitamin C levels in broccoli are almost twice as high when it’s harvested in the fall than in the spring! Additionally, the nutrient levels in foods begin to decrease as soon as they are harvested. Foods that aren’t in season where you live are often transported for several days to get to the store. This means days and even weeks between harvesting and when you buy them. Eating local and choosing seasonal foods helps you get more nutrition and fewer chemicals in your diet. Talk about the benefits of patience…
Did you know that out of 80,000 edible species of plants, just four account for two thirds of the caloric intake of humans today? Eating seasonally also helps you diversify your diet. Choosing seasonal food allows you to explore foods you might not otherwise eat. In return, you'll receive varied nutrients. Often, the foods that are in season are suited with the nutrients your body needs. Hydrating fruits in the heat of summer, hearty root vegetables for the winter months- seasonal foods have what your body needs. When enjoying seasonal foods, keep your meals chemical-free by choosing organic cookware for food preparation and serving.
Local and seasonal eating boosts local economies (and your wallet)
Buying seasonal foods from nearby growers boosts your local and/or regional economy. Local eating keeps the money you spend in your community. Otherwise, your grocery dollars often head to a company that’s based in another state or country. With the covid-19 crisis, local eating has never been more important for your local economy. When seasonal foods are purchased locally, you’re part of a system that boosts the small businesses and farms nearby.
Eating seasonally also helps you by keeping your grocery costs lower. The reason for this is simple supply and demand. When local foods are (in season), there is more of the food available near you, driving costs down. In contrast, an out of season food, such as a mango in winter, is not readily available near you. It must be shipped in from another place, making it more expensive.
What foods are in season right now?
Even if you don’t have your own garden, finding seasonal foods is easier than you might think. Check out this great Seasonal Food Guide to find out what’s in season in your state. Once you know what to get, do your best to practice eating local. One of the best places to find local eating options is your town or city farmers market. Is your farmers market seasonal (summer only), or don’t have one nearby? Search for local and seasonal foods at your grocery store. Often, you can find produce and products with a ‘local’ tag on them. And, with the seasonal food guide, you’ll know for yourself if what you’re buying is in season or not.
Eating seasonally and locally is a great way to make your diet more sustainable. But nobody’s perfect, and local eating or shopping for seasonal foods might not be possible all the time. Instead of pushing for perfection, consider other ways to make your shopping and diet sustainable. Bring reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, use eco-friendly cookware, and bring reusable cutlery when you’re eating on the go.
How you choose to eat makes a difference.