With fall upon us, farmers’ markets will soon be filled with more varietals of apples and other seasonal favorites found in numerous delicious dishes that we make only this time of year. But there are more reasons than nostalgia and cravings to favor in-season produce whenever the weather changes. Doing so is also good for you and our planet. So although you can buy pineapple from the grocery store in September, I strongly encourage you to focus on autumn’s harvest right now.
According to Chinese medicine, each season is associated with different elements and foods that will strengthen your health. For example, fall is linked to the element metal as well as the lungs, respiration, and skin. As the cooler weather sets in, we are more susceptible to dryness―dry throats, noses, and chapped lips. To keep our bodies from becoming too dry, the Chinese advocate eating more sour flavors, which include apples, grapefruit, and lemons. They also encourage eating more cooked foods after the September equinox. Many of us naturally make this transition from salads to soups and stews, although we may not realize that it’s to help support the immune system and fend off colds and flu.
Not only does eating according to the calendar strengthen our bodies, but also, the Chinese believe, we’re better equip to digest these foods at this time. Seasonal foods, they add, may also help us be more in harmony with nature. It may sound a little out there, but I have watched people eat for 25 years, and I think there is truth to this. Eating locally and seasonally makes for healthier living. One reason why is that they generally carry more nutrients than out-of-season supermarket foods.
After a food is harvested, as each day passes, the levels of many nutrients diminish. For example, spinach loses 75 percent of its vitamin C and 13 percent of its thiamine (Vitamin B1) when stored at an average fridge temperature for seven days, according to a review published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. The scientists also reported that carrots lose 10 percent of their vitamin C during that time. So think about that spinach at your supermarket that’s traveled who knows how far for how many days. It’s not going to be as nutritious as the local, fresh spinach you can buy.
To help prevent foods from losing heat- and light-sensitive nutrients during transit, some companies harvest food unripened and then use artificial agents to rapidly mature the food. Some are questioning the safety of these ripening agents, including researchers who put together this review published in Agriculture & Food Security last May. For now, U.S. legislature “recommends the use of ethylene [a hormone naturally occurring in fruit] for post-harvest ripening of tropical fruits and de-greening of citrus.” Though the agent is considered non-toxic, further studies are needed to investigate its long-term effects on humans. In the meantime, consider this another reason to favor untouched organic and seasonal produce.
As an added bonus, eating according to the seasons tastes better and is cheaper, too. If you pick fresh berries in the summer, for example, they are sweeter and more vibrant right off the bush. But if you store them in the fridge for a week, those same berries will not be as nice and will lose vitality, or “qi” as the Chinese call it. The same thing happens when produce is harvested and then shipped in refrigerated trucks over miles to reach your store. An orange, flavorless tomato in December cannot compare in anyway to a fresh heirloom tomato in the summer.
When it comes to costs, out-of-season foods are most expensive because there is the additional expense to store and distribute produce from across the country or the world. Local produce at your grocery store, farmers’ market, CSA, or you-pick-it farm or orchard spends less time and fewer miles going from farm to table, making it kinder on your wallet.
Another benefit to seasonal eating is how aids the planet. According to some estimates, eating seasonally and locally can reduce the carbon footprint of your food by up to 10 percent.
So as you can see, although everything is available to us at the grocery store, it’s much better to eat what’s growing right now around you. When you visit your farmers’ market or grocery store, ask what is in season and what is local, purchase those foods, and enjoy the fabulous flavors of fall, such as this side dish recipe.
Roasted Rosemary Root Vegetables
1 pound beets, cut in 1/2″ pieces
1 pound carrots cut in 1/2″ pieces
1 pound any fall squash (such as kombucha or acorn), cut in 1/2″ pieces (optional)
1/8-1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and spread evenly in a roasting pan. Roast for 35 minutes, until tender.