Seasonal Eating

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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  • Deb

    I guess I’m just old-fashioned, but I like my “fresh” produce to be what’s in season somewhere in our region. I never eat strawberries or fresh asparagus or slicing tomatoes out of season, because they’re not nearly as good! I hate turnips, but most of the other winter vegetables like cabbage, beets, Brussels sprouts are among my favorites – as a matter of fact, the two of us polished off 24 oz. of Brussels sprouts as a side at dinner last night. In my family, you started dinner by preparing the potatoes. Every night.
    Generally, if I need to use an out-of-season vegetable for something like a beef stew, I use a good canned or frozen variety, and not just any brand, but one I’ve chosen for its taste, appearance (no tough yellow spots on the top of tomatoes), and nutritional value. I love frozen spinach – now if I could only buy frozen chopped Swiss chard.
    Actually, I used to waste fresh produce in the summer when we were members of a CSA, because there was so much of it that I couldn’t use it up in a week.
    My mother told me that when she was a child, the only time they got an orange was in the toe of their Christmas stocking.

  • joan

    I have food allergies so it is vital that I be able to purchase fruits and veggies year ’round to maintain a healthy meal plan. So far there has been no problem at any time of the year to be able to buy fresh fruits and veggies.

    With the weather as it has been from coast to coast we may find that the cost of fruit and veggies will sky-rocket higher. Another reason I will continue to buy what I can regardless of where the product comes from, cautiously, of course.

    Let us choose the way we develop our meals and their content that works best for each of us.

  • BK

    We use a hybrid system too I guess. I only eat strawberries in the early summer when they are fresh, only eat peaches in season, canteloupe only in summer, Regent apples only in fall, oranges in winter. Out of season, many of those are disgusting. We have a garden so eat zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, etc until they almost come out our ears in the summer and do all we can to keep them from spoiling so we can have them as long as possible after frost. We freeze and can some things. But at the same time, I don’t hesitate to use frozen vegetables or buy some things fresh out of season such as broccoli, romaine, celery, carrots. Those are staples to us that we have in the house all the time. We were raised on canned fruits and vegetables, but can’t imagine eating them now. No wonder I didn’t care much for veggies as a kid!