The sun lingers a little longer in the sky and the evening breeze feels warmer and more inviting. Flowers are emerging from dormant hibernation and birds have returned to wake us from restful post-winter slumbers. Nature’s rhythms are telling us one thing: spring is on its way! But the return of spring doesn’t merely entail a return to mid-afternoon picnics in the park. It also indicates that a rich and bountiful change is underway in the complexity and the breadth of fruits and vegetables that we can seasonally introduce into our diets.
In today’s convenience driven, season blind food economy archaic concepts like seasonality seem dated and passe. We can all be forgiven for buying into the illusion that seasons no longer matter in the modern food system. We have never been limited by lack of availability because our supermarkets have in many ways ruptured the holistic cycle of nature by charting across hemispheres and crossing oceans to ensure year round supply of the produce we love.
Benefits of Eating Seasonal Produce
Reduced Carbon Footprint
One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye.
Reduced Pesticide Consumption
In addition to the fossil fuels used to transport out-of-season produce to all corners of the world a little something extra needs to be added into the mix to keep these jet set fruits and veggies fresh. This ‘something’ would be pesticides and preservatives. Let’s get real: a grapefruit that travels for three days to reach its final home needs a little pick me up to look the fresh and plump part we consumers have come to expect. Pesticides and preservatives are an unfortunately pervasive part of the modern food system and some of these pesky little intruders will inevitably make their way into our diets. However, by avoiding out of season produce and choosing locally grown – and organic where possible – we can minimize the intake of these chemicals. The bottom line is that researchers are still ambiguous about the long term effects of high pesticide consumption. My perspective? Why risk the extra intake.
High Intensity Nutrients
In tandem with the environmental karma, you’ll accrue eating seasonally, you’ll also be infusing your diet with a saturation of vital minerals and unretouched flavors and colors. Seasonal produce is generally harvested at its peak so it retains its full nutrient and vitamin content. Because it has naturally ripened on the vine or in the ground it will have a more complex and rich flavor. It’s no lie that the juiciest and most vibrant tasting fruits and veggies are those that are in season. Nature is wiser than we acknowledge and seasonal foods support season specific needs. After a long winter, the human body craves detoxification and longs to shed the extra weight of winter. Spring vegetables like spinach help to alkalize our bloodstream and energize us for the warmer months when we typically expend more energy being active.
On a deeper level, eating in harmony with the cycles of nature connects us more deeply to the earth and fosters in us a respectful reverence for the food we eat. It may sound kind of out there but many holistic nutritionists argue that getting in touch with the earth helps us get in touch with ourselves and our natural rhythms.
How to Choose Seasonal Produce
Year round industrially grown food often appears airbrushed: with a photoshopped perfection that seems at odds with its origins in the dirt. Seasonal food allows us to experience all of the authentic contours of our fruits and vegetables, deviations included. This allows us to appreciate the realness of our food, and acknowledge it is a gift from the soil and not a replica from a production line. The best advice we can give newbie seasonal shoppers is to be open minded to the natural state of the produce, flaws and all! The best seasonal produce will be locally grown and organic and will, therefore, resemble all of nature’s creations: imperfect and delightfully unique. Light bruises, bumps, asymmetrical bodies…don’t let these features deter you. I consider these an encouraging sign that the integrity of the produce has been retained rather than compromised in favor of false flawlessness.
Seasonal Spring Produce
The naked truth of the natural world is that every fruit and vegetable shines its brightest when in season. This year I challenge you to think about your food as something that comes from the earth, rather than from the neon aisles of the local market. Not only will this provide you with insight into the rhythms of the natural world (that farmers have adhered to for millennia) but will give you a new appreciation for your food. There is a simple joy in discovering and consuming the fruits and vegetables that nature designed for your specific temporal and geographic locale.
Some of our favorite seasonal produce picks (and their associated health benefits) are as follows:
● Artichokes: Chock full of potassium, fiber, and iron this wonder veggie promotes liver health.
● Asparagus: Versatile and rich, asparagus is an amazing source of Vitamin K and folate. This Veggie Penne Pasta is a great way to increase your asparagus intake.
● Celeriac: This unusual veggie contains a veritable who’s who of all your most vital minerals! These make amazing oven baked fries.
● Fennel: This licorice like veggie is a perfect addition to spring salads- and it’s an antioxidant to boot!
● Fiddlehead Ferns: A whimsical looking veggie that is rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin A and beautiful in salads
● Mustard Greens: Host to a wealth of nutrients and vitamins C, K, and A, mustard greens are a promoter of positive cardiovascular health.
● Peas: These go down easy as anything and they’re high in filling fiber, too! Try this Veggie Primavera for a big helping of spring peas!
● Radishes: Tasty and colorful, radishes are pretty on the inside too; offering antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. This creamy roasted vegetable soup is delish
● Rhubarb: This root veggie has a rep for being a bit of a tart but rhubarb’s true power lies in its density of fiber and magnesium! Add to homemade granola for a sour kick.
● Scallions: These little guys play well with others, sprucing up everything from guacamole to salads to omelets. This Garden Fresh Fritatta is the perfect healthy make ahead breakfast with tons of veggies including scallions.
● Spinach: A wonder veggie if we’ve ever seen one. High in iron and Vitamin K, spinach shines its brightest in the mildly warm climes of April. Try this Sweet and Simple Spinach Salad or this Garden Fresh Fritatta to enjoy the all the benefits of spinach.
● Watercress: Iodine, iron, calcium, beta-carotene, Vitamins B6 and K – she’s got it all!
● Avocados: Yes, this healthy fat and folate packed fruit du jour shines its best in Spring, despite the prevalence of trendy avocado dishes available year round. Try our Berry Avocado Smoothie Bowl for a delicious taste of avocados.
● Grapefruits: Coming into their own in March, grapefruits are delicious sources of Vitamins A and C.
● Pears: Hearty and fiber-rich these cottage kitchen staples are delicious raw or grilled. Try them in this creative and comforting salad
● Strawberries: A vibrant dose of Vitamin C, spring strawberries are particularly sweet. Reach out for some organic seasonal berries for all the goodness without the pesticides. Try this Strawberry Basil Lemonade for a refreshing dose of these sweet berries.
As you store your sweaters and look forward to the flowers, sunshine, and relaxed mood of spring be sure to read up on the produce that is in season in your unique location. I love the website Seasonal Food Guide. It provides detailed regional overviews of seasonal produce, month by month.