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The movement to eat and shop locally is now widespread and constantly gaining more attention. It’s the more responsible, kinder way for us to exist on the planet. We reduce our food miles significantly, we curb our use of destructive mass agriculture systems, and we really get to know who our food producers are and how they operate. It’s a worthwhile venture, if only for this reason.
However, there are many more benefits to eating locally and, especially, seasonally. Using what’s in season equates to taking what the earth is giving at that moment rather than forcing artificial production through chemical and energy-intensive means. It also means that our food has better flavor and higher nutrient content because it is fresh. Moving our meals with the seasons naturally provides us with a diverse diet and a cultural hitch that is defined by our location.
That’s not to say it’s always easy. Eating seasonally is a big switch for many of us, and it does require some careful consideration, perhaps baby steps, and self-centered forgiveness. Nevertheless, it’s something worth considering and here are some things to think about.
Have a Plan
Whether it is going plant-based or using whole foods or eating seasonally, it helps to do a little research to learn what might need special attention and what options are out there. It’s important to keep a seasonal diet balanced, just as we would any other healthy diet, and that means making sure our plates are colorful and contain the vital nutrients we need. It helps, then, to be aware of what will be available during October versus May and know how that will probably affect your meals.
Just because seasonal diets tend to introduce us to a new pantry of food doesn’t mean that things have to get overly complicated. It’s a good idea to stick with simple recipes and preparation methods until things become comfortable and familiar. Most anything can either be tossed into a salad or made into a soup. Other things have the potential to be good roasted, sautéed, grilled, or steamed. A side of rice or pasta or bread, a legume dish of some sort, and that’s a meal.
This seems a like a no brainer when we are talking about seasonal foods. They are intrinsically fresh. But, the best way to ensure they are, indeed, locally produced and recently harvested is to frequent a farmers’ market or become involved with a CSA. This way the money you spend, at least with regard to our produce, is going to small local growers rather than international importers. Fresh food will be a reward in and of itself, as it tastes so much better (and hasn’t been doused in chemicals to fake freshness), which helps the transition to new fruits and veggies be that much easier and healthier.
Seasonal eating will require changing habits and, likely, habitual change. Most of us are accustomed to a banana every morning or always having avocado on our sandwiches, but when eating seasonally (and locally), these things — unless we live in really specific areas — are not going to be on the menu. What’s more, most things will not be on the menu year-round, so we have to habitually change our diet — not a bad thing, really, but perhaps shocking at first — to stay with what’s in season. Be gentle and ease into doing this.
The freshest, cheapest food available is that which we grow ourselves. Many things — lettuces and herbs, in particular — are simple to grow and can actually be done in containers in the house, so they have the potential of being available to a seasonal eater all year. Otherwise, growing some food out in the lawn or on the balcony is a fun and healthy, good for providing stress relief and exercise, as well as something for dinner. Even for those not into gardening, some fruit trees and perennial plants in the yard are highly productive with very little maintenance.
There are many simple ways to preserve foods at home so they are available when out of season. Favorites like tomatoes can be canned. Common breakfasts items like blueberries freeze very well. Cabbages can be turned into sauerkraut or kimchi. Dehydrating fruits and seasoning vegetables also helps. Fall and winter squashes and many root veggies can last for months in a cellar. Technically, of course, this isn’t eating seasonally, but it is taking advantage of the surpluses that we find when things are in season locally. So, it’s probably not a bad idea.
Undoubtedly, eating locally and seasonally can be challenging because nowadays we always have the option not to do so. And, if you do decide to give it a go, remember it’s okay not to always be 100 percent on it, especially in the early days. Nevertheless, using these tips should help to make the endeavor more successful. Best of luck.
Image source: Sherry V Smith/Shutterstock