Have you noticed that you crave different foods at different times of year? For example, in summer you might love a fresh arugula salad with strawberries, while this wouldn’t seem very appealing in the winter. Colder weather might bring a desire for a hearty stew or roasted vegetables.
It’s clear that our energies and body processes naturally ebb and flow with the seasons. We can become more conscious of this and take advantage of the many benefits by engaging with the seasonal eating movement.
What Is Seasonal Eating?
Seasonal eating would have been the norm—and probably not even an option—just a few generations ago. Before trucks and planes made it easy to eat tropical fruits from faraway lands whenever we please, people would eat what was available locally during that particular season. This might mean raspberries in summer, apples in fall and squash in winter.
While our modern global mindset might make this limited culinary palette seem boring and inconvenient today, there are actually a number of benefits in terms of health, finances, community, economy and environment.
The idea is to stick with the freshest produce and consume it closer to the time that it was ripened and harvested. This is easiest to achieve with fruits and vegetables that are local to your area. Not only does this support personal health, but it creates a sense of community and strengthens the local economy.
How to Find Seasonal Foods?
Generally you can easily determine which foods are in season simply by visiting a nearby farmers’ market and looking around. The items that are most plentiful and well-priced are those that are currently pouring in from the local landscape. This trend is somewhat visible at supermarkets as well, although less so.
You can also refer to seasonal eating charts like those from Eat Well Guide (www.eatwellguide.org) or Eat the Seasons (www.eattheseasons.com). You probably already have the seasons of certain foods ingrained into your subconscious, such as strawberries in early summer. It’s a soulful and satisfying exercise to get reacquainted with the rhythms of the Earth and the sources of our food.
Seasonal Eating and Immunity
It turns out that Mother Nature has us covered with the produce that is naturally provided during each season. For example, winter vegetables like onions and squash contain higher levels of vitamins A and C, which we need to boost our immunity through the colder months.
Fresh produce grown locally is more likely to come from smaller-scale farms, and therefore be subject to fewer chemicals, cleaning agents and preservative treatments.
Although large-scale agricultural organizations claim that pesticides and herbicides don’t harm humans, we now know that they disrupt our gut bacteria via the shikimate pathway. Since 70–80% of the human immune system is located in the gut, consuming fruits and veggies that have been treated with lots of chemicals can impair our health. When you shop smaller local CSAs and markets, though the farms may not be officially certified organic, there is a high chance of them being more naturally grown.
On an intuitive level, ancestral health strategist Daniel Vitalis theorizes that we can benefit by cultivating an internal microbiome that corresponds with our external environment. If you are living in, for example New York City, amongst the native pollens, mites and microbiota of that area, but consuming foods shipped in from Mexico, Florida and China, your endogenous system won’t be in harmony with your external environment. You might have heard the idea that eating raw local honey is like an inoculation against seasonal allergies. This theory carries on from that concept.
In addition, seasonal produce that has been allowed to ripen in the sun, harvested, purchased and consumed quickly is left with more antioxidants and beneficial phytonutrients than those that took 3 or 4 weeks to cross a continent before they got on your plate. These nutrient-dense farm-to-plate foods support robust health and immunity, much more so than those that are picked early, treated with gases and then coated with wax to keep them ‘fresh’ while they are shipped.
Seasonal Eating and Health
Beyond hard western science, we can consider what eastern medicine has to say about the energetics of eating seasonally. Sticking with nature’s current offering of produce can help us stay in balance through the seasons with the appropriate level of energy and body weight.
In the winter, we need hearty, earthy dishes to keep our energy grounded and glowing through the cold season. Green leaves eaten in the spring help the body cleanse and rejuvenate after a winter of eating heavier warming foods. Cleansing foods are catabolic, meaning they help us shed excess weight and release energy stores. In summer, colorful warm-weather fare like berries, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons keep the skin fresh and the body feeling light and cool through the heat.
Letting the body’s energy flow with the seasons links us with the Earth and gives us a healthy connection with the passing of time. This is an ancient and instinctual practice that we can re-engage with to stay looking and feeling great throughout the seasons.
Have you noticed benefits from eating seasonally?
-The Alternative Daily