Before you pick up the limp head of lettuce in the produce aisle, consider this: “fresh” fruits and vegetables aren’t always fresh. Depending on the time of year, the head of lettuce you are consuming may have been grown south of the border, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles before making it to your grocer’s shelves. By this time, the nutritional value of this lettuce has greatly diminished or disappeared.
Instead of eating tasteless long-traveled lettuce, you can provide your family with tasty produce by shopping for foods by the season. Eating seasonally appropriate fruits and vegetables maximizes your nutritional intake, reduces energy used to grow and transport foods and can support the local economy. And they taste better too!
How to Find Seasonal Produce
A great resource for finding seasonal produce in your area of the United States is Sustainable Table, which lists fresh foods by state during each month of the year. For those in the UK and Ireland, Eat the Seasons matches food season by food item and provides weekly e-mails featuring a “food of the week.”
Eat Locally by Growing a Garden
An easy way to eat by the season is to grow your own garden. This can be done in planters and pots or in a typical garden plot. Planting cool and warm weather plants at their appropriate times ensures that you can eat produce throughout the spring, summer and fall. In many places you can grow a garden throughout the year. For those of us who have a chilly fall and hard winter, canning or freezing at harvest time is a great way to preserve the “fruits” of our labor for the off-season.
If growing a garden just isn’t an option for you, supporting local farmers is an easy alternative. Nutritionally, it gives you produce that is freshly harvested and at the peak of nutrition. It is also helpful to the environment because it essentially eliminates transportation costs and supports the local ecomomy. The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget by Leda Meridith covers such topics as growing and preserving food, budgeting for local foods and shopping for produce according to your local climate.
Nutritional Advantages of Eating Locally and Seasonally
Eating food grown locally (which by virtue is grown in the correct season) gives you the benefit of consuming produce picked at its peak of ripeness. Food that is transported long distances is picked before it is ripe. Although it will ripen during transport, the nutritional value of produce comes through the stem. The vitamin and mineral content deteriorates each day the fruit or vegetable spends sitting in the truck or on the shelf. The flavor and texture of freshly harvested foods is also much better when purchased or grown locally.
It may take some time to transition to this type of eating, but growing and buying local, seasonal fruits and vegetables is a tasty, simple and eco-friendly way to boost your healthy eating habits.