It’s the start of September and we are starting to feel the change of the seasons. Gone are the days when the fruits and vegetables of the summer season are abundant. We know it’s best to eat ‘seasonally’ but what does it mean and how do we eat seasonal foods in the winter?
What is seasonal eating?
That can be a tricky question. Unlike the term, “organic”, there are no set standards or regulations that govern the term “seasonal”. An orange harvested in Florida in the winter can be termed ‘seasonal’. But when you don’t live in Florida, it is not the most sustainable food to eat since orange needs to be transported to your local market, even if it’s considered a seasonal.
Therefore, eating seasonally may not be as easy as, say, eating locally. That’s not to say you shouldn’t treat yourself to that nice organic orange. But optimally, it’s best to spend most of your food dollars locally. So, eating foods that are at their freshest from local sources would be the simplest answer to what eating seasonally is.
Why eat seasonally?
There are many reasons to eat the best and freshest food you can. Let’s see why we should strive to eat seasonally.
- Better for the environment – the health of the planet is our health. Eating foods grown close to home during their natural growing seasons reduces the carbon dioxide emissions produced by eating foods out of season that are shipped in from halfway around the world.
- Food Safety and Sustainability – when you rely on food shipped from far away your food source, it is oil dependent, and drastically affects food security and sustainability.
- Less chemicals - with elimination of long distance transportation, freshness is not an issue and there’s less need for chemicals to keep the foods fresh.
- Know thy farmer – buying local foods gives you the ability to visit the farms where your food is grown. It gives you the ability to ask questions about the processes used to produce the food. You can see the conditions and treatment of the animals that are being raised – something you don’t get to see at a feed lot fifteen hundred miles away, if you don’t buy locally.
- Healthier crop – plants and animals that are allowed to develop naturally are stronger than those forced into unnatural situations or raised to be aesthetically pleasing and picked before ripe. The plants raised in natural conditions in accordance with the season need fewer pesticides and fertilizers. Animals raised with the same seasonal considerations need fewer antibiotics. It may seem strange but different meats have different seasons.
- Support smaller local farms – buying seasonal also means you are supporting small family farms. They, in turn, can support local economy. When you give your money to big agriculture, it further perpetuates the the use of chemicals and the acquisition of land. What once may have been a piece of property owned by an independent multi-generational farmer, may become a large animal lot, ripe with the unpleasant smells of big operations bring. Investing in local food sources that are independently run returns the control of our food economy to the consumer and the effectiveness of corporate monopolies to control our food security is weakened.
- Less processed – since buying local and seasonal food means it doesn’t have to travel far, it needs less processing and packaging. That also means, less waste, with less impact on the already burgeoning landfill problem.
What about winter when nothing is growing?
If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has a year round growing season, the availability of fresh foods all year round can be something easily taken for granted. If, however, you live in a place with four seasons with harsh winters, it can be a little harder to eat seasonally.
When nothing is growing outside what do you do?
You can plan ahead and learn the tricks of food preservation. There is still enough time to stock your pantry, cupboards, attics and basements in preparation for winter. Obviously, it would be great to store foods that do not need processing, like winter squashes and apples. But some foods need processing to preserve them for the winter. Dehydrating, canning, pickling and fermenting are all great ways to preserve the summer (and fall) bounty and preserve them to last the winter.
There are many ways to still obtain food in the winter without having to resort to foods shipped from other side of the globe. Having things stocked and preserved are great ways to eat ‘seasonally’ and locally, even when nothing is growing in your garden.
There is something very gratifying about knowing where your food comes from and that you are able to meet your needs, especially in the challenging months of winter.
What type of foods do you eat seasonally during this time of the year? What are you preserving for this winter?
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