Confessions of a Seasonal Shopoholic
I like my food to taste good.. who doesn't? I have taste buds and I know how to use them... or at least I think I do. Yet sometimes that old proverb - you eat with your eyes first - comes up and bites me right in the ass. Picture, if you will, I am walking through the grocery store, slowly filling my cart with my yummy weekly essentials and there they are... beautiful, large, red strawberries. They look so delicious.. I can't resist and quickly snatch up a box. Later when I get out the berries, just thinking about how wonderful those strawberries are going to be and I can't wait. I wash one off and take a bite. Joy quickly turns into dismay as it is mostly flavorless and very lackluster. My dreams of strawberry fields turns into a nightmare as I remember - it’s the middle of winter.
What does that have to do with it? EVERYTHING!! The simple truth is that we are not meant to have access to everything year round. Preposterous many say, but really, think about it. A hundred years ago no one would dream it would be possible to enjoy the fruits of spring and summer in the middle of winter. People may argue that it is the wonder of our times, but just because we "can" doesn't mean we "should". So here is a suggestion : eat seasonally. There are tons of reasons why, so lets get our little noggins working and see that a lot of this is just common sense that we have lost because it has become too easy just to settle for what is there.
#1 - Save your Pennies and Support Your Community!
Ok, this is kinda two topics in one, but I think they overlap. When produce is in season there is usually an abundance and in turn, it is normally less expensive. Let's go back to the strawberries. When in season, I can find strawberries for $1.50 a container. Out of season I am looking at close to $4. But it goes way beyond berries. If you live in area where "pick your own" farms, they offer the ability to buy produce in bulk and at a relatively good price. It's a fun experience and if you enjoy canning your own preserves, it is an excellent way to keep those fresh flavours all year! But try to keep in mind - the "two for the bucket, one for me" method of picking is frowned upon (unfortunately, I perfected this method early in life).
Also, when you eat seasonally you are usually eating locally as well. Farmer's Markets are a great way to see what is in season, and I don't know a single farmers market where you won't get great quality for a good price! This is money that is going back into your local economy - and now a days isn't it a great to know you are helping out your own community? If you don't have a farmers market near you, or you are just too busy to go (life - it happens), take a few minutes to find if you have a homegrown local food cooperation in your area. They are usually all local product and have online ordering. Which means home delievery, which means everyone wins! Oh and fresh produce...it lasts longer too!
#2 - Hugged a Tree Lately?
Next thing you have to think about is the impact you are having on the environment. Fruits and veggies grow when they do for a reason! Nature designed it that way and it's been working for thousands of years! (That mother nature is one smart lady) Crops growing in their ideal season tend to be naturally stronger plants. The environment around them is ready and able to give them what they need to be all they can be. As a result they are naturally more resistant to pests and diseases - lowering or eliminating the need for pesticides and fertilizer.
Now I am not going to get into the organic debate today. That is a whole other blog on its own, but it is just common sense - the less chemicals used on plants mean less that end up on our tables and in our atmosphere. Think of the carbon footprint being created just to ship in produce (lettuce, herbs, melons, peaches...shall I go on?) thousands of miles, when it is out of season. And since I am sure the world won't end in 2012, why not take some initiative to make the planet healthier for the generations to come. Embrace your inner Ed Bagely Jr. a little - it couldn't hurt.
#3 - Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes..
What we put in our body, affects our bodies (go figure huh?). As soon as produce is picked it starts to lose its nutrients. Those happy little vitamin and minerals that keep our bodies strong, our minds sharp and our blood flowing. Unseasonal items are picked days, weeks, if not months before you actually receive them in stores. Most of the time they become "ripe" on the ride to the supermarket, usually done with the aid of ripening agents. Out of season produce tends to be lacking in the majority of nutrients you will find during it’s peak season. Seasonal, local eating also promote food safety. You know where your food comes from, who grows it and less steps from farm to table means less chance of contamination. When an E. coli breakout happens, and they do happen, wouldn't it be great to know that your produce isn't affected because you know exactly where it is from? Who wakes up wanting to play Russian roulette with their food?If you really want those berries or veggies any they are not in season - look to your freezer section! Most if not all brands of frozen veggies and fruits advertise that they pick them "at the peak of freshness" and they are flash frozen quickly to keep in all their yumminess. Even canned veggies, even though I am not the hugest fan of them, offer you a better option when it comes to keeping the nutrients in...and my humble little opinion canned tomatoes are the best way to enjoy them when they are not in season!
#4 - TASTE!!!
Admit it, there is no denying it. Seasonal produce tastes BETTER! It is fresher, more flavorful...a culinary party in your mouth! Also, you know the saying - absence makes the heart grow fonder? Slippers feel the best after a long day wearing heals, a roaring fire after being out in the cold, or a visit from family you haven't seen in months. Nothing can be truer when you eat seasonally. I would personally have the joy of the freshest cob of corn in season - remembering its flavor, texture and aroma, than mediocre to poor corn any other time of year because "oh it was there".
I remember to this day watching an episode of "Barefoot Contessa" on the Food Network (I love you Ina - if we both weren't married and we were gay, I would totally have your love child) and she was visiting her local market. She had lots of useful info, but to sum it up she said smell your fruit! It should smell appetizing, it should smell fruity.. A peach should smell like a peach! So if you see some weirdo sniffing fruit at your local supermarket or farmer's market - do not be alarmed - we haven't lost it. Who knows.. it might be me, embracing my inner Ina Garten!
I am not saying I am an expert - because I have questions like everyone else. But we live in a technological world where a quick Google is part of almost everyone's day. So, do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes to think and research about the food you are going to be putting into your mouth.. I am sure your tummy (and the rest of your body) will thank you for it.
If you are interested in eating seasonally or just want some helpful ideas or tips here are some sites I have found that helped me!
Mia - aka the "not so barefoot contessa"