What’s seasonal? It depends on where you are.

Eating locally is about eating seasonally. It’s about finding a diet that is delicious and varied, and grown as close to home as possible. It also means branching out from the typical and rarely changing fruits and vegetables you see gracing the supermarket shelves. It might mean doing some investigation and finding out what does grow in your neighborhood at various times of the year. Often, it’s as easy as signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) basket, where the basket of produce you receive will change according to what the farm is harvesting. However, not everyone is lucky enough to live where CSA’s have emerged. And some may not want to buy a “surprise” basket of produce each week. I’ll talk about how you can find out what’s seasonal where you live, but first, let’s discuss the merits of eating seasonally.

Counters covered with freshly picked strawberries from New Hampshire: you gotta get while the gettin’s good – and boy is it GOOD! The sweet juiciness of the strawberries taste so good that it makes the wait worth it! I can go ten months without eating fresh berries just to wait for these precious weeks!

One consequence of the globalized world we live in is that we now have a globalized supermarket. You can easily find a variety of fruits and vegetables from all across the United States and the world: bananas from Honduras, apples from New Zealand, oranges from Brazil, grapes from Italy, pears from China, apricots from Turkey, coconuts from Indonesia, tomatoes from Morocco, onions from India, artichokes from Egypt, asparagus from Argentina….you get the point. We have become so accustomed to eating an increasing variety of exotic fruit that we’ve abandoned our roots. (And I do mean that literally to some extent.) Sadly, the increase in diversity and availability of fruits and vegetables does not mean there has been a simultaneous boom in fruit and vegetable consumption. In most areas of the world, consumption as stagnated or declined. Even the famous Mediterranean diet is no longer dominating Italian plates in favor of a more processed Industrialized diet. So, abundance and availability does not equate to health and wealth.

By eating seasonally, you will find many of the same benefits of eating locally: the food has not been harvested too early and shipped thousands of miles, your food dollar will go directly to the person who put all of the hard work in caring for your food before you bought it, and your food will be tastier and more nutritious than the long-distance alternative. Seasons, however, can help set the stage for our local food foray. We can plan week-long menus around the seasonal fare, and add a little pizzazz and flare to your dinners. You can create some dishes that become old favorites, something to look forward to when August rolls around. Yes, it’s lovely we can eat strawberries all the time, but it’s even lovelier (in my humble opinion) to not eat them unless you are surrounded by a mountain of freshly picked strawberries begging to be eaten. Yes, it may only last a month, or three weeks, but those weeks you are giddy with strawberry goodness. The same with mangoes. Yes, I can buy mangoes all year round, although they are certainly more expensive at certain times of the year. But the best times are when the mangoes are dropping from the trees and you have so many taking over your kitchen that you Google “mango recipes” to see what can be done with all of them. Personally, those food moments make eating seasonally worth it. I suppose it’s the “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” mentality, which makes me appreciate these items when they are the tastiest, freshest, most nutritious, and – usually – cheapest.

A bowl of freshly picked cherries from NH in late June.

If you live in the States, you have it easy, thanks to Sustainable Table, a website dedicated to promoting local and sustainable living and eating – they have a guide that will tell you exactly what’s in season wherever you live in the U.S. Lucky you. If you live in the UK, you are also in luck because Eat the Seasons compiles a list for you as well. An excellent website lists what’s available in Australia by seasons, and another site is more specific to Sydney. I found talks of a seasonal food chart for South Africa, but all I could really find was this article on what’s in season. For Europe, I found this compilation on seasonal fruits and vegetables in Spanish. There’s likely others that I did not come across, certainly in other languages. However, if you live in a region that does not fall within the domain of one of these excellent websites, it’s not hard to find out what’s in season. Talk to farmers, find a local farm or farmers market, or just see what’s for sale on the sides of the road. It’s easy to tell when it’s jocote season in El Salvador because you can’t drive anywhere without someone trying to tell you a bag of them.

So, when I say “eat seasonally,” I’m not talking about eating avocados when it’s avocado season in Guatemala – unless you happen to live in Guatemala. I’m talking about finding the food growing near you at all times, and being creative with it. There are numerous websites dedicated to eating seasonally, a quick search for “eating seasonally” will get you on the right path to recipes and stories galore.

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