The Low-down on Eating Seasonally and Locally
Submitted by: Maria Biasutti
If there is one thing I truly believe in when it comes to living healthy, it is eating foods that are in season and are from local sources. There are big social movements going this direction and the future of our food is becoming a growing concern for people around the world.
Eating local and seasonal means you can benefit in different ways:
1. Food is richer in nutrients
Certain vitamins and minerals are quite sensitive to different environmental factors (ie. heat, cold, sunlight, moisture, oxygen etc). So, it would make sense that consuming food that was technically just harvested the day before would contain a significantly higher amount of nutrients than say, a carrot that travelled over 1,000 miles, 2 weeks and has been exposed to all kinds of heat, cold, sunlight, moisture and oxygen before it ever got onto your dinner plate. The longer the produce stays out of the ground and exposed to these factors, the more nutrients that get destroyed. Spinach, for example, loses between 50-90% of its Vitamin C content within 24 hours of being harvested.
2. Flavour of local in-season foods is outstanding
This time of the year, local peaches are in season and are incredibly sweet and succulent! A great way to test out exactly what I mean is by making a visit to your local farmers’ market (there are plenty scattered all over Ontario) and purchase some Ontario peaches. Then, make a visit to a supermarket and buy a peach from somewhere outside of Canada. You may notice a significant difference in flavour because the peaches that were transported to your supermarket already lost a lot of its flavour in transit.
The length of time the fruit or vegetable stays on the vine, ground or tree determines the amount of flavour and nutrient content. Unfortunately, produce that needs to be transported longer distances to its final destination are usually picked green and therefore doesn’t maximize the flavour or nutrient content of the food.
3. Variety, variety, variety!
Of course, seasonal foods depend on the climate in which you live in. In Ontario, we have a very large variety of produce that’s available each season. There are some vegetables that you can only buy in the summer months. So buying a bushel of fresh peppers in the summer, roasting them and then freezing or canning them will give you delicious peppers throughout the winter months as well.
4. Don’t forget cost-effective!
The cost of transporting food is trickles down to the consumer price you pay at the end of the day. With the increasing price of gas, it means that you are going to have to pay higher and higher prices each year for food. Also, local food that you buy at farmers’ markets may seem slightly more expensive than the food you can get at a grocery store, but it is a true reflection of the price of food (which should include all labour, material and some transportation from farm to table). If a pint of farmer fresh local strawberries are selling for $4.99 but another pint of California (just as an example) strawberries is only $2.99, doesn’t it make you wonder how that could even be possible?
Low and behold, there is hope. It simply comes down to supply and demand. If the demand for local foods continues to increase, the prices will eventually decrease. When you buy seasonal and local foods, you are able to support your neighbouring farmers and local economy.
And if this still hasn’t convinced you to eat seasonally and locally, the more demand for seasonal and local foods means that your food doesn’t have to travel far. This also means that large transport trucks that distribute foods to different grocery stores will have to travel less and will leave less carbon emissions. Eating locally and seasonally is environmentally friendly!
Now, it doesn’t mean that everything you buy HAS to be local. It’s meant to help you become more conscious of the food you buy – both in respect to its source and it nutritional aspect.
So what can you or I do?
Slowly buying a few apples or strawberries from the local farmer’s market is a great start! Most farmers’ markets run every week during the months of May to October, depending on the weather. During winter months, the best way to know that you are buying local and seasonal food is to check the small sticker labels on the produce itself or check the label of a canned food. These stickers and labels will indicate where the food came from. Also, the Greenbelt Fresh Farmers’ Market is a great website to find foods that are in season in Ontario.
Every time you buy groceries at the supermarket, make it a habit to buy at least one or two produce items that says it is from Ontario. It doesn’t have a huge impact on your budget and it gives you all the benefits of healthy living. Next thing you know, you’re hooked on eating local and seasonal!