I don’t know about you, but when I think of seasonal produce my memory casts back to picking berries and sweet peas in a friend’s back garden when I was little. Each summer my family and I were tempted by the ‘pick-your-own’ strawberry sign on the roadside. And I also remember the annual Harvest assembly at school where we would sit and look at a bountiful table of Autumnal produce.
I lost this excitement for seasonal crops when I grew up and took myself off to university. I bought what I could afford, not what was seasonal. And I searched for food that was easy to prepare and that satiated my hunger (and hangover). I was living separate to the rhythms of the land.
Soon after I moved to Bristol and began to enjoy the diverse array of food establishments supporting seasonal produce I became re-attuned with the availability of foods. And their origin. Bristol is a wonderful city for sourcing seasonal and locally grown produce. Although as in most cities the eye and the hand can easily be lured into buying apples that have been shipped over from New Zealand. And often we do so without realising.
SO WHAT IS SEASONAL PRODUCE?
Produce is always going to be in season somewhere. And with technological advances such as polytunnels and glasshouses these seasons can be extended. In today’s globally connected world, we can source produce from all over the world with very little effort. Taking the subject back to our Palaeolithic roots though, seasonal food used to consist of what was grown within the reach. The gatherer collected wild fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds. Meanwhile the hunter would source wild meat, and fish if near coastal waters or lakes. Seasonal produce, then, is what food is available to us, at that time, in the climate and terrain where we live.
Most shops and greengrocers and shops will be able to tell you the origin of your food. Choosing locally often means that it is seasonal, but check out the seasonal food calendar to be sure: www.eatseasonably.co.uk.
When choosing produce it is important to make sure that it is seasonal to the region in which you live. And not just for the environmental benefits of fewer food miles, but also the nutritional gains of following nature’s rhythms.
FOOD FOR HEALTH
When eating in accordance to the food that is in season in your region, you will be reaping the cyclical benefits needed for cleansing and healing during that period. For example, red grapes and blueberries, available in late summer and autumn, contain stilbenoid compounds that work with vitamin D to boost the immune system in preparation for the colder months ahead. Spring foods, such as leafy greens, are nutrient dense, giving us the energy we need for the New Year. Moreover, they are packed with chlorophyll to detoxify the liver and purify the blood. Always useful after a New Year’s celebration.
The philosophy that ‘food is thy medicine’ goes back to Hippocrates. But that has been lost from much of Western medicine. Chinese medicine still believes in the power of seasonal food at helping us through the yearly cycles. And practitioners still live according to the Five Elements, their season and corresponding pair of organs. These are: wood in spring (the Liver/Gallbadder), fire in summer (the Heart/Small Intestine), earth in late summer or the transition between seasons (the Spleen/Stomach), metal in autumn (the Lungs/Large Intestine) and water in winter (the Kidneys/Bladder) (1).
To gather energy in autumn for example, apples are among the foods recommended. Apples are a fruit that Britain should pride itself on. The apple has a number of nutritional benefits including helping to fight bacteria and viruses (including colds). And they contain valuable bulk fibre, both pectin and cellulose, which is needed for regular bowel movement (2). All these are things we need to keep us in good health while we slow down during autumn and winter months.
REGAINING WHAT’S BEEN LOST
Liberalised markets have afforded the UK all sorts of exotic ingredients. And it is exciting to see that we can supplement our diets with superfoods and herbs from around the world. However in the process we have lost sight of the richness of the food that is and can be grown in the UK. Foods that are rich in both taste and nutrients, and important for biodiversity. To me, there’s nothing like tasting freshly plucked vegetables from the ground full of minerals or juicy strawberries.
1 Pitchford, Paul. Pg347, Healing with Wholefoods, North Atlantic Books 2002
2 Kirschmann, John D. and Nutrition Search, Inc. Pg 95, Nutrition Almanac, McGraw Hill 2007