Why you should shop and eat seasonally

“Vegan American Apparel helvetica letterpress, farm-to-table sustainable mustache irony aesthetic,” reads some of the filler text generated by Hipsteripsum, the hipster version of Lorem Ipsum (the placeholder text graphic designers use when they’re still waiting on writers to give them some text). Like Lady Gaga on the radio, it’s hard not to become a little cynical about ideals like farm-to-table, after hearing them the hundredth time.

Seasonality is another of those words. Check out the menus of the top restaurants, and listen to any of our beloved celebrity chefs, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to tire of this catchphrase. So does it really matter whether something is in season or not? Is it just another elitist, hipster concept?

Writing for the New York Times, Mark Bittman says no. Titled Local Food: No Elitist Plot, Bittman’s article looks at the problems currently facing America. Despite being one of the biggest agricultural producers in the world, their economy and food security is dependent on imports. “This is just plain embarrassing,” laments Bittman. The answer? According to Bittman it is focusing on regional agriculture rather than trade. Which means eating what’s in season in your own back yard.

So what about us?

In fact, it’s worse for us than the US. We’ve been a net importer of food since 2007. And earlier this week, IOL reported that in the next 15 years, our 40 000 farmers will have shrunk to a mere 15 000—driving food prices up, and creating yet more poverty. Hardly an elitist issue.

Part of this has nothing to do with our desire for strawberries in mid-winter. Millions of Rands worth of stock theft, and uncertainty about government land reforms, are certainly factors. However, the fact remains, that farming just isn’t profitable enough any more. Which is where we can help, by increasing demand for local, seasonal produce.

What’s in it for me?

Adding up the benefits

First of all, it just tastes better. Many of us have become used to insipid strawberries, or un-ripe apples, drained of all flavor in cold storage. But at the height of their season strawberries are more juicy, mangoes more flavourful, and broccoli more crisp; and your dishes will be more delicious as a result.

Then there’s the fact that apart from anything else, buying seasonal produce is better for your bank balance. Foods that are in season are generally cheaper than those that have to be shipped in from the northern hemisphere. Even if they are produced locally, making for a less weighty carbon footprint, foods that are out of season require more pesticides and genetic modification to survive. Which surely can’t be a good thing!

Finally, there’s the fact that mother nature really does know best. Foods that are in season in winter, when our bodies happen to require more fuel, have naturally higher calorie counts, than those which are produced in summer. Eat seasonally, and your waistline will benefit too.

How do I know if it’s in season?

It can be tricky to think about seasonality when rushing through the supermarket, so check out seasonal calendars before you head off. Crops vary from area to area, but right now, you should find artichokes, asparagus, avocados, berries, blueberries, grapes, heirloom tomatoes, leeks, mange tout, mushrooms, peaches, peppers, plums, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelons in your local supermarket of greengrocer.

Go to www.eat-in.co.za for more food news and ideas.

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