There’s a reason why Nature provides different foods at different times of the year and ignoring the seasonality of food can have long-term negative effects.
These days it’s not unusual to find a bowl of berries as part of a Christmas Day feast. Strawberries in winter… Surely not?! That’s because UK supermarkets stock all sorts produce, year round, irrespective of what’s in season; strawberries from California and tomatoes from Senegal in the middle of winter and pumpkins and beetroot all through the summer. This ever-increasing disregard for homegrown, seasonal British produce, casts a long shadow both in terms of our health, and the environment.
Nevertheless, given the opportunity, people will still buy watery and tasteless berries in winter, even though the seasonal, home-grown varieties of summer taste so much better. There are other, better and more seasonal alternatives that are perfect for the Christmas table.
Seasonal foods are naturally in tune with our body’s nutritional needs; winter vegetables (think of all those lovely squashes, beetroot and cabbages) tend to be high in the phyto-nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are essential to boost our immune system throughout cold-season. On the other hand, stone fruits and berries found in the summer and early Autumn have extra beta-carotenes which are found to help protect us against sun damage. Each season comes with it’s own array of produce to cook and eat; taking our cue from nature and varying what we eat this way leads to a naturally diverse diet, and one in-tune with our bodies’ needs, which means we are less likely to develop food intolerances.
Eating seasonal foods brings a number of environmental benefits too; seasonal produce undergoes less human assistance from pesticides and genetic modification that can contaminate water, soil and our health. Many out of season products are gassed, irradiated and preserved in wax to extend their shelf life – not what you would expect when you pick up an innocent looking apple in April, which was actually harvested back in December. Moreover, seasonal foods avoid the risk of overseas contamination due to laxed policy on pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Food miles are another key issue: the distance the food travels from where it is grown to the shop where you ultimately buy the product, and the amount of energy is used to transport the food make a big impact on the ecology of our planet. On average, fruits and vegetables travel 1,300 to 2,000 miles to get from farms to the consumer; 95% of fruit and 50% of vegetables in Britain are imported, with foods such as green beans losing up to 77% of their nutritional value by the time we eat them. Cargo ships used to transport foods across the globe emit 7,000 tons of pollution a year – is it worth it for a pear in May, shipped all the way from Argentina, that has lost its juicy, fresh taste and the majority of its nutritional content, when you could wait for a sweet and fresh British one for half the price, in September?
Each new season, there is an abundance of new produce available, home grown here in the UK and picked when the harvest or flavour of the food is at its peak. Additionally, this results in the foods having a higher nutritional value; certain antioxidants such as vitamin C, folate and carotenes rapidly decline when stored for periods of time or harvested out of season. Crops can contain up to three times the nutrients when grown in season compared to those out of season, with additional nutrients lost during transportation.
I know that it isn’t always possible to eat 100% locally and seasonally, however, it is worth being mindful and trying to make decisions that take into account seasonality and which fully support you, your health, and the environment. If you do fancy something more exotic, opt for something grown in Europe instead of some far-flung corner of the planet!our health, and the environment. Just be mindful, if you fancy something more exotic, opt for something grown in Europe instead of from some far-flung corner of the planet.
If you would like more information on when foods are in season in the UK, check out this great guide from BBC Goodfood: