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“The seasons had always been a part of the way I cooked and ate.”
— Daniel Humm, Swiss Chef and Restauranteur —
Each new season brings with it an exciting new assortment of fresh produce: strawberries in summer; courgette squash in fall; carrots in winter; and rhubarb in spring.
Eating seasonal food is very important to good health. Keep reading to learn more!
Scientists—including researchers sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food—have found that the nutrients in foods can change according to the seasons in which they’re produced. Fruit and vegetables grown in their appropriate seasons tend to be the healthiest choices.
There’s also the issue of unwholesome additives. Out-of-season produce often: a) contains preservatives, and/or b) was grown using potentially harmful chemicals such as pesticides. And to lend an appearance of freshness, before being sent to market some non-seasonal foods are covered in wax.
In addition, out-of-season produce can sit in warehouses, losing nutrients and antioxidants. A study of spinach and green beans at the University of California revealed that these otherwise healthy veggies lose as much as two-thirds of their vitamin C content within a week of harvest.
Be aware that so-called “fresh” produce at a supermarket has typically remained for a day or two at the farm waiting for pick-up, travelled another day or two to get to the store, and been stowed in a back storeroom for at least several hours before being put on the shelf, where it has sat perhaps for another day or two before you buy it. So even “fresh” supermarket produce is already several days old.
Worse than purchasing supposedly “fresh” produce that was really harvested last week is buying frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
The health website Medline Plus suggests frozen or canned products lack nutrients and antioxidants, especially if the foods weren’t processed immediately after being harvested.
Worse still are the additives in many canned goods. Canned veg can be loaded with salt, says Medline Plus. And the United States Department of Agriculture acknowledges that frozen or canned fruit may be drenched in sugary sweeteners such as syrups.
If you want certain foods out of season, you must settle for items that have spent long periods in transit and storage—again, losing nutrients and antioxidants.
And if you opt for fruits and vegetables grown overseas, think about this: some countries have low standards for such things as dangerous pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
It’s sad but true that too many nations have lax regulations about harmful chemicals used in the growing process. Even when strict laws are in place, there may be rampant corruption and bribery, so that crop inspectors and other officials look the other way instead of penalizing infringements.
There may also be issues with water and soil purity. The water that is used to grow produce in some countries may be substantially less pure than what’s required in the U.K. Moreover, soil may contain contaminants such as heavy metals and other toxic substances spread by neighbouring industrial sites.
These problems exist even in developed nations. Last spring in the U.S., for example, more than 200 people became ill after eating American-grown cos lettuce that was tainted with E. coli bacteria through a farm’s polluted water source; 27 suffered kidney failure, and 5 died.
There may also be issues with the health of the agricultural workers or with their hygiene practices. Not long ago in Australia, there was widespread hepatitis A contamination via berries imported from China.
Add to all this how the food is treated before being shipped to Britain. Foreign produce may undergo long periods in trucks and ships. And according to nutritionist Claire Georgiou, “Produce . . . is irradiated, bleached, and sprayed with methyl bromide to withstand quarantine and long periods of travel.”
Geogriou recommends, “When produce is in season, cheaper, and often on sale, it’s a great time to buy in bulk for yourself and preserve, pickle, ferment, freeze, and store your own food at home.” She concludes, “I collect berries, mangoes, peaches, nectarines in season and store in the freezer, chopped up for later use. . . . I can be sure where they have come from.” Plus, she knows what has and has not been added to foods she preserves herself.
If you’re unconcerned about not science and contaminants, consider this: seasonal fruits and vegetables simply taste better. As food editor Grace Elkus points out, “There’s no denying that most fruits and veggies taste best when eaten in-season.”
This is the case because the moment that live cells are cut off from the rest of the plant at harvest, the fruit or vegetable starts struggling to compensate for this separation. The weakest cells wither and die, and others follow. Antioxidants dissipate. Nutrients ebb away. And taste erodes with each passing hour.
Taste has to do with flavours, textures, and smells. Think juicy, crispy, and fragrant—yum! But when one of these factors is compromised, taste goes downhill. Soon after harvest, the decaying process begins, and all three qualities go into decline.
Food that is less than fresh loses moisture, which negatively impacts texture. The wonderful aroma of freshness begins to fade almost immediately upon harvest. And the elements that contribute to flavour subside during storage or as the item sits on a store shelf.
When food tastes old, stale, outdated, or just plain bad, it’s sending you a message. “My antioxidants are almost gone,” it’s saying; “My nutrients are used up.” And in the most extreme cases: “I’m not good for you, I’m no longer healthy—throw me away and find a fresher version.”
If you’re not convinced by the health benefits and taste of fresh seasonal produce, ponder the financial savings.
It’s all about supply and demand. When produce is abundant, prices fall. Seasonal food is cheaper because farmers logically prefer to sell perishables at a lower price than for no price at all.
Seasonal produce bargains are especially plentiful when the food is locally sourced. Long-distance travel and storage are unneeded, so costs are reduced and savings passed to the consumer.
Finally, buying locally and eating seasonally offer the following advantages:
So cash in on the bounties of produce in season! Be healthy and eat seasonally.