Strolling through supermarkets today is a sad experience for me. I see the same foods from season to season situated in the same place in the produce sections. One season they will be local foods; another imported foods, usually from the opposite hemisphere.
There are several reasons not to eat foods which are out of season. The body requires we move through varying seasons in order to cleanse, renew, repair and hibernate.
Moreover local foods are designed to support our nutritional requirements for the climate in which we live.
Let’s take a look at the seven top reasons to eat in season
1) Food is more nutrient dense when fresh and in season.
Many studies have proven produce to be more nutrient dense when eaten in season. One factor for foods being potentially more nutrient dense is the timeframe from farm to table.
Local foods picked and eaten fresh from a garden will contain more living nutrients and vital life-force energy, opposed to foods which have been picked, stored, transported to the supermarket, put on the shelf, then taken home and put in the fridge until ready to eat.
Supermarket apples may be as old as nine to 12 months. Apples are loaded onto pallets; the fruit goes into cold storage – a sealed room where its respiration rate is slowed. Fruit for imminent consumption is chilled to 0c. In longer-term controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, the oxygen level is additionally lowered from 21 percent to 1.2 percent, which essentially puts the apples to sleep for six to 12 months.
Likewise pears are often three months old and lettuce can be one to four weeks old. Lettuce for salad packs are cut, washed in cold water, dried by centrifuge and mixed with other leaves. It is usually treated with a chlorine-based compound, antioxidant or preservative to prolong shelf life. Then it’s placed in ‘pillow packs’, or Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), in which levels of O2 and CO2 have been altered to slow deterioration.
It is stored in the optimum controlled atmosphere storage temperature of 0-5C, with O2 levels reduced from 21 percent to three percent; though CO2 can damage it, lettuce keeps for a month with CO2 levels raised.
Typically, lettuce is sold in supermarkets three to four days after packing, which can be extended to 10 days. It is for this reason that snap frozen vegetables are more nutrient dense than ‘fresh’ varieties that have been in storage which deteriorates nutrient quality.
2) Foods grown locally, in season support your nutritional requirements
When we go against this locavore (eating local) principle the body is weakened. An example of this is consuming pineapple in winter. Pineapple and other tropical fruits help open the pores on our skin enabling us to sweat easily and thus they have a cooling effect on the body. Consuming too many tropical fruits in a cold climate is contraindicated with the Traditional Chinese Medicine Diet. By cooling our digestive system too much we weaken digestive fibre and strength, which in turn may lead to other health problems. However, root vegetables, wintergreens and winter herbs have a warming affect on the body and therefore support health during colder months.
3) Seasonal foods are at their best in flavour
When the climate is right for a particular food, the soil is at the perfect temperature to produce the best tasting produce. Think about the difference between a tomato that has sun-ripened on the vine in summer as opposed to the orange looking tasteless varieties found in winter. Vine and sun-ripened tomatoes are also significantly higher in lycopene, the red colourant-famous carotenoid and anti-oxidant that protect us against certain cancers and heart disease.
4) Seasonal foods are at their cheapest
Your local farmers’ market is usually cheaper and fresher than the supermarket. I was shocked the other day to find a tiny Lebanese cucumber on the supermarket shelf for almost $5. Really, has food become that expensive? However I can buy six cucumbers for $5 at my farmers’ market at this time of year. Buying at the peak of the season will ensure the best prices.
5) Eating locally and in season encourages biodiversity and preserves heritage food crops.
Only a few generations ago New Zealand commercially farmed more than 200 varieties of wheat, however today there are only three commercial varieties left. When we consume such high levels of a particular food such as wheat, diversity is critical to health. Too much of any one food has the potential to cause intolerance and wheat is now a food that many if not most people react to.
Varying strains of wheat mean varying types of gluten, which reduces our chances of developing gluten intolerance.
6) An organic diet is easy when you eat local produce in season.
There are a number of benefits to eating an organic diet. Avoid foods on the Dirty Dozen list if they are not fresh and organic. These foods are known for high levels of detectable pesticides and other chemical residues. Usually foods listed on the Dirty Dozen list contain endocrine disrupters and suspected carcinogens. While NZ may ban certain chemicals, we could be importing and consuming foods from countries that have not and therefore we are exposed to them.
Apples, peaches, and nectarines topped EWG’s 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ list of the dirtiest, or most pesticide-contaminated, fruits and vegetables, a new analysis of US Government data found.
Apples contained the highest number of pesticides for the fifth year in a row, while peaches and nectarines moved up to second and third spots. For this reason in summer, my children have never been allowed to eat fruit from the USA. We eat locally grown stone fruit when in season. We have just been eating the most amazing peaches, but we won’t enjoy them again until next year.
Eating this way makes our food more interesting and fun as we look forward to our favorites when they are coming into season. My girls have never eaten supermarket apples, as sadly NZ apples are also ranked high in the Dirty Dozen. I am happy to pay a premium for organic apples.
However there is also the Clean 15 of which foods like avocado, pineapples, mangoes etc top the list of foods you don’t need to buy organically.
Apart from the many chemicals used in conventional produce, supermarkets use wax on fruit because the wax retains moisture, allowing the fruit to remain ripe longer. These waxes are usually made up of petroleum and natural sources including paraffin, shellac, carnauba, polyethylene, and synthetic resins. You can tell if a fruit is waxed if you run your fingernail gently over the skin and can see the wax under the nail. You can simply feel a wax coating by just touching a fruit or vegetable. Commonly waxed foods are apples, capsicums, cucumbers, and courgettes.
7) Less impact of the environment.
Obviously eating local produce direct from a farmers’ market limits not only harvest to plate time, but also the environmental impact using less fossil fuel in transportation. Purchasing habits like these also stimulate the local economy; instead of paying food corporations in other countries we keep it local.
So everyone wins by eating local and in season. We get higher quality, fresher and more nutritious food, we help support agricultural biodiversity, and therefore we get more variety and help keep traditional foods alive and small farmers in business which stimulates the local economy.
By Deborah Murtagh
This salad is in season, fresh, crisp and a taste sensation. It’s also visually stunning.
Both watermelon and cucumber are highly alkalising and this salad will have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
1/3 watermelon cut into bite size pieces
1 medium-sized short cucumber or half a telegraph cucumber
1/2 cup kalamata olives
1 block of feta, cubed
Large handful of fresh baby mint leaves
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
Toss the watermelon, olives, and cucumber together, then place feta around the plate and top with mint leaves. Serve immediately.