Do you roll your trolley through the supermarket, choosing whatever you feel like off the shelves, oblivious to where it has come from? Same.
We can have an apple, tomato or head of broccoli whenever we want. But does it matter if we eat an imported tomato in winter or broccoli in the summer?
In the grand scheme of our existence on Earth, humans have only had year-round produce available for a nanosecond, so it’s easy to forget that our diets were determined by the changing seasons. Thanks, globalisation!
There’s actually quite a few benefits eating in season can have on our health, wallet and planet — and there’s no better time than spring to take stock and start fresh.
Seasonal food is at peak nutrition
Fruits and vegetables that are allowed to develop to their optimal ripeness are packed with nutrients, but importing fresh goods is all about timing, and ‘ripe’ isn’t always suitable for travel.
If you buy a mango in winter there’s a fair chance it has come from afar and travelled around 10,000kms to get into your hot little hands. So, how does it not turn into an orange pile of mush?
These long distances call for altered picking and packing processes: fruit and veg are usually picked green so that it can ripen during transportation and seem ‘just right’ when it arrives at the supermarket.
But there is some chemical intervention that needs to happen for that ripe-and-ready look.
The most common process is to spray under-ripe produce with ethylene gas once it has reached its destination.
Ethylene is naturally produced in fruit and vegetables to support the ripening process, so when producers spray it onto green produce it restarts the ripening process, artificially mimicking this phytohormone’s effects.
The nutritional content of fresh food starts to deteriorate as soon as it’’ picked or harvested, so a banana that’’ travelled for weeks to get to our shelves won’t be nearly as nutrient dense as one picked a few days earlier.
Local produce should cost less
We know you might love your California oranges, but you’re paying for the privilege.
The first cost to consider is that fruit and veg from the USA or Caribbean has to travel a lot further than if it were grown down the road, and there are transport and fuels costs added into the final price you pay.
The second cost is that buying foods in season requires a lot less human (and chemical) intervention, and less fuss = less associated cost.
We’ve all balked at $5 avocados. Buying in-season produce is not only better for you nutritionally, but easier on your wallet.
There’s an environmental cost, too
‘Food miles‘ is a term used to explain the distance your food has travelled to get from harvest to plate.
If our food is travelling thousands of kilometres then there is a significant environmental impact from the greenhouse emissions of the boats, trucks and planes used to get it to us.
There’s also the energy consumption utilised in refrigerating, storing, and moving the out-of-season produce.
Mother Nature knows what we need (and when)
The Earth has always given us exactly what we need.
Right now, produce that aids digestion — such as leafy greens and lemons — are coming into season. They’re ideal for processing the dense foods we tend to eat when it’s cold.
What’s seasonal for spring?
With the abundance of produce available at your supermarket, it’s easy to forget what’s in season, so a great way to not have to think about it while supporting Australian business is by visiting your local farmer’s markets.
The Australian Farmers’ Market Association even has a handy finder tool.
Here’s an idea in the meantime: