Did you get met with a blank stare and perhaps some mention of potatoes and onions? We’ve become so far removed from the land that most folks don’t even know what vegetables are in season this time of year. Because of our “food on demand” system, with food coming in from all corners of the globe, many people who don’t grow food have absolutely no idea what is growing on local farms right now. We live in a country where it doesn’t seem outrageous to serve asparagus and pumpkin in the same meal, followed up with blueberries for dessert. The people who are slaves to the grocery store can’t even fathom what people eat when they enjoy a local, seasonal diet.
But…what would our ancestors think of that combination? It’s not even close to being realistic since asparagus hits its peak in the early spring, blueberries come along midsummer, and pumpkin pulls up the rear, stubbornly waiting to ripen until fall.
It’s far healthier to eat food that is actually in season.
When you demand produce that is out of season, it’s coming from across the globe. This means that the items were picked before they were actually ripe, which means that the nutrients had not fully developed. The vitamins and minerals contained in produce begin to decrease the minute the food is picked. The harvested item immediately begins to die and decompose. By the time the food arrives at your local grocery store, it might already be 3 weeks old – and sometimes it’s even older than that.
What’s more, the packing plants take great pains to be sure that the fresh fruits that grace your table mid-winter look pretty. Many packagers add a waxy, glossy coating to the produce before shipping. The coating not only looks shiny and inviting, it slows down the decomposition of the fruit or vegetable. Some foods are sprayed with preservative chemicals, as well, to help them survive the arduous journey to your supermarket.
Reducing the distance your food travels isn’t the only health reason to eat seasonally. Nature provides certain foods at certain times because that is when your body needs them the most. They are also less likely to be drenched in pesticides, fertilizers and fungicides if the plants are growing as nature intended them too.
Right now, in the cold days of winter, you should consider eating more carbohydrates like those from root vegetables – they help the body to sustain a little more weight, which is needed to insulate against the cold weather. Warming vegetables like potatoes, cabbages, carrots, onions, rutabagas, and winter squash all store well in cool, dark places, providing energy and comfort throughout the winter season. Adding more fish to your diet during this time of year is also beneficial for the warming effect, the higher calories, and the high levels of vitamin D (the vitamin you get directly from the sun during the warmer months). Vitamin D is important for good mental health and a strong immune system. Nuts, which store well for the winter, are loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids, which help moisturize your body from the inside out – this helps to fight that dry winter skin so many of us suffer from.
How do you prepare winter vegetables?
Hand some people a rutabaga and they’ll have no idea what to do with it. Probably one of the most common reasons that people pass on the winter vegetables is because they don’t know how to prepare them. Invest in some great cookbooks for inspiration. I like Depression-era cookbooks for simple instructions on preparation, and there are some wonderful locavore cookbooks on the market that will teach you to turn these humble looking veggies into mouth-watering treats. These are 3 of my favorites.
What’s in season right now?
The wide variety of climates means that there’s no one “in-season menu” that will be applicable to everyone. I live in a very moderate climate, so I’ve still got some veggies growing, ever so slowly, in my garden. With a cold frame or greenhouse, you can extend your growing ability even more. As well, certain foods harvested in the late fall will store beautifully in the right conditions, keeping you nourished until spring goodies like asparagus and snow peas begin peeking out to tantalize you. If you don’t have the space or inclination to grow stuff yourself, you can visit your local farmer’s market for some in-season bounty.
Eating locally in the winter is easier than you might think. You don’t have to go without fresh vegetables just because the snow is flying! Check out this infographic to learn what vegetables you should focus on right now. Please share it with your friends, too!