Food, Nutrition

The value in eating seasonally

Today at work I was preparing my breakfast (decanting overnight oats in to a bowl and topping with berries and peanut butter – no hard labour) and someone commented on my breakfast, as they often do.  I mentioned how frustrating it is that I’d bought some blueberries and after one day they had already started to turn mouldy; but that I didn’t mind as much when berries were in season because they don’t cost as much.  Said colleague then looked at me in surprise and said ‘foods in season don’t cost as much?’ I was a little surprised myself at their reaction but quickly realised there could be a blog post in this.

I started thinking that perhaps people hear the words ‘eat seasonally’ but don’t do it because they either don’t know how or think it’s something for foodie types or those with bags of cash.  It’s not.  In fact, it could save you money and improve your health with minimal effort on your part.  Good, eh?

When people say ‘eating seasonally’ what they mean is, eating fruits and vegetables that naturally grow or produce fruit at certain times of the year.  I make this embarrassingly obvious point because I think people need a gentle reminder.  ‘Eating seasonally’ has become a bit of a trendy mantra or catchphrase but really all it boils down to is eating food at the time of year it’s naturally available.  We live in a privileged age where supermarkets can get us tomatoes in the dead cold of winter and root veggies in the height of summer so it’s no wonder we’ve lost touch with the idea of eating to a pattern, when everything is always available to us.  And I’m not saying that’s our fault, I’m simply highlighting it’s the day and age we live in – the age of convenience.

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In recent years, as I’ve started to shop less in supermarkets and grow more food myself, I’ve come to have an appreciation of how much better it can be to eat for your current season.  Not convinced yet?  Sound like too much hard work? Well, here’s four reasons to try eating a little more seasonally (although I have plenty more):

  1. It’s cheaper – food in season is considerably cheaper than when bought out of season.  Take berries as an example.  £2/3 in British summer, about £4.50 in winter (at 2017 prices).  When we can’t grow things in our home country we have to import them from sunnier/ colder climates which then bumps the price up because of the journey they’ve travelled, which also means it’s less fresh when you finally get around to eating it.
  2. It’s better for the environment – buying food that’s in season often means it’s grown nearby (or at least within your own country). With less farm to fork time, there’s less environmental impact from shipping or air freight; and as above, the food will reach you fresher.  Which brings me on to the most compelling reason…
  3. It tastes better.  Food eaten when it’s in season tastes the best.  Summer peaches with warm fuzzy skin, tomatoes picked right off the vine and salads cut straight from the garden are some of my favourite things.  By eating the fruit and veg in the season it naturally flourishes it will have grown in conditions that it likes most and therefore will automatically taste better.  Don’t believe me?  Try eating a tomato in winter.
  4. Food eaten in season has a better nutritional profile – i.e. it’s better for you.  Those delicious strawberries ripened naturally in the sunshine have been busy creating loads of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which will benefit your body so much more than buying some that have been shipped in from elsewhere or grown in artificial lighting/ forced conditions.

If you’re thinking ‘this all sound good but how do I actually do this as a normal person with a job and a life?’ Here are three simple suggestions on how you can eat seasonally:

  1. Visit farmers markets – the obvious suggestion but a good one too.  A quick search online should tell you where your nearest one is.  I like to try new ones out and visit different ones for different things depending on what they offer.  There’s a local one to me that even does pick your own during summer months.  At a farmers market you’ll be able to pick things up and smell them (weirdly I’ve found supermarket fruit and veg don’t always smell of anything) to see how fresh they are.  More importantly they tend to stick to fruit and veg that is in season so you’ll pick up a bargain and hopefully it’ll be sourced a little closer to home than your supermarket grub.
  2. Use a fruit and veg delivery box – I’ve found that by using these boxes not only does it take the hassle out of going food shopping when I’m busy but I get good quality seasonal veg delivered straight to my door.  I know that they can seem expensive compared to the value veggies you can buy in supermarkets (29p carrots I’m looking at you) but when you weigh up the cost of supermarket organic equivalents and cutting out the junk food you’ll be replacing this with, they are in fact pretty competitively priced.  Away from the well-known names of the veg box delivery world some local farms have started their own veg box schemes so it’s worth doing a quick search online to see what’s available near you (it may also be cheaper going through an independent). I have recently discovered Odd Box which is a fruit and veg delivery service delivering wonky and misshapen produce that would otherwise be chucked away.  If you’re in London I urge you to try them; I love what they are doing to reduce our food waste problem.
  3. Grow your own – I know this isn’t for everyone but even if you have a tiny amount of space (even a windowbox or windowsill) you can grow something.  I found it such an education to learn how things grow and see the plants develop over a number of weeks.  Embarrassingly I didn’t realise how tomatoes grew until a few years ago – when that flower dropped off to reveal a tiny green tomato bud underneath you could have knocked me down with a feather.  If you’re a total beginner go grab a book from your local library (or do a search online) as there is loads of easy information to get you started.  You literally need soil, some seeds, water and a pot.  If I can manage it, you can.

And if you are wondering what to eat when, here’s a great calendar from http://www.eatseasonably.co.uk to show you when things are at their best throughout the year:

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Now, I’m not perfect (hello avocados all year round) and I’m not saying you should never eat out of season again but I urge you to try eating things a little differently.  As an additional bonus, it’s forced me to get creative with my cooking.  Very rarely do I experience food ruts from buying the same things week on week.  Now, I see what I’ve got in my veg box, grab my recipe books and get stuck in.  Ottolenghi is a current favourite as his vegetarian recipes are great for helping you get creative with your veg.

Promise me you’ll give it a go?  If you hate it, I won’t judge, but you can say you tried it.  What I’ve learned from my experience though, is that with some amazing produce only available at certain times of the year it is definitely worth a bit of extra effort as the payback in flavour and variety is off the chart.  Once you’ve tried really fresh asparagus in springtime, you won’t want to go back to the usual stuff in September.

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