Seasonal Eating

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Quick: what local produce is in season right now? Most Americans probably couldn’t answer that question. After all, with refrigeration and cargo jets, it’s no longer necessary — or even common — to eat primarily produce that is in season locally. Chances are good, this time of year, that the fresh berries, greens, tomatoes, and peppers in your local supermarket come not from a nearby greenhouse, but from a farm located in a warmer climate hundreds or even thousands of miles away. And, of course, certain warm-weather produce — like bananas, oranges, and pineapples — is never in season throughout most of the United States.

In reaction to this globalized, seasonless food supply, some people advocate a return to eating mostly in-season, local produce. People may take this position for a number of reasons: First, it reduces the transportation of produce, saving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Second, produce is likely to be fresher when it comes from local sources. And third — the clincher for many people — eating seasonal produce forces you to prepare new foods and try new recipes. This final reason is why some people view seasonal eating as a means to achieving better health.

This principle can be seen in action in farm-to-school programs, which some school districts have adopted in an effort to foster better eating habits in their students. A recent article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette profiles one such program, known as Live54218, in the West De Pere School District outside Green Bay, Wisconsin. (The numbers refer to eating at least 5 fruits and vegetables and drinking 4 bottles of water each day, viewing screens for less than 2 hours, getting an hour of exercise, and sleeping for 8 hours.) The program includes a monthly newsletter, sent home with students, that gives information on the “harvest of the month,” a locally in-season fruit or vegetable. This month’s featured crop is dried beans, but other wintertime produce includes beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, squash, and turnips. Newsletters include recipes for foods that students are offered at school as part of the program. One mother profiled in the article, Jen Kadletz, noted that she was surprised when her fifth-grade daughter liked black bean corn salsa served at school as part of the program, and that she would be preparing the recipe with her daughter at home.

Eating seasonally may have its success stories, but some people also find it to be more difficult than it’s worth. In the winter, after all, it means giving up healthy foods that many of us are used to — such as strawberries, asparagus, and many leafy greens — in favor of foods that may seem less “fresh” or appealing. And when faced with the prospect of making a cabbage, onion, and turnip soup, some people will undoubtedly turn away from produce entirely, opting instead for unhealthy options like packaged meals and fast food.

What’s your position on cooking with seasonal fruits and vegetables? Are you inspired or intimidated by the idea of using them? Have you ever bought seasonal produce, only to watch it spoil because you didn’t get around to figuring out how to prepare it? Does the healthiness of your diet fluctuate with the seasons? Would avoiding out-of-season produce in winter make it even more difficult for you eat well during the cold months? Leave a comment below!

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