Monday, May 30, 2011

seasonal eating

fresh tomato | photo: xandert
I regularly teach a class on seasonal eating.  What the benefits are and why we should look to consume more seasonal (and local) produce.   Obviously part of the benefit is that seasonal foods are picked when they are fully ripe, especially if they are local, rather than being picked under-ripe and either stored or transported before being force ripened.  This means that the nutritive value of the food is fully developed as well as it's flavor.  Anyone who has ever eaten a truly fresh tomato knows what I am talking about.  Eating seasonal, locally produced fruits and vegetables also helps reduce the environmental impact of your food.  If you think about it, why eat tomatoes from 2,000 miles away when you can get better tasting ones closer to home without burning massive amounts of fossil fuels?

At my last class I got a question that I've gotten a couple of times before and I wanted to address it because I think it's an issue that tends to get a little confusing for folks sometimes.  It's about the seasonality of food.  I live in the Eastern Piney Woods region of Texas.  We have a very different growing season here compared to most of the rest of the country, with the equivalent of two spring-like seasons with a very hot season sandwiched in between.  Learning to grow food here has proven to be a bit of a challenge as I was raised in Connecticut.  Luckily I have several local CSAs and Farmer's Markets that help supplement our supply of seasonal foods with their expert skills.

This season is vastly different than what we experienced when our family lived in Vermont.  I remember once taking a garden tour with Shepherd Ogden, President and Founder of The Cook's Garden seed company, who jokingly claimed that Vermont should be renamed the Green Tomato State since the growing season was so short.

So the question that comes up is about what constitutes a season.  The answer?  Well, it depends on where you are living.  I think the first, most important place to start is to understand the concept of seasonal eating and decide if this is something that you want to follow.  We try to do so in our house for most things because we then get the ripest, best tasting produce by waiting for the season.  It also means that we more fully appreciate our food by having to wait for it.  I'm going to be honest and put in a disclaimer here to say that there are certain foods that we do not eat seasonally because we use them too much (such as onions, garlic, carrots, and celery) but in general we eat berries in the spring and summer, squashes in the winter and so on.

In addition to learning to appreciate the seasonality of your food you need to learn what exactly your seasons are.  The National Resources Defense Council has made it easy by putting together a Smarter Living - Eat Local web page.  It even has a helpful Farmer's Market listing which, while it doesn't list all Farmer's Markets (at least not in my area) should be good enough to get you started.

If you want to learn more about seasonal and local eating here are some great books to get you started:


1 comment:

MidnightAgenda said...

Can you also recommend some local CSA's? The only one I have found so far that I can get do after work is one in downtown every wednesday. (really hard to commit to)
Is there a weekend CSA or a delivery one in or north of Houston?