13 June 2019

How to Eat Seasonally



Growing up in Malta, the concept of eating seasonally never occurred to me. Why? Because it was so intrinsic that I took it for granted. It was only years later when I moved to London and noticed that strawberries were available all year round in the supermarkets, that I awakened to the huge problem of industrialised food.

Strawberries aren’t the only problem. If you walk into the average supermarket every day of the year, you’ll see the same varieties of fruit and veg on sale, hauntingly identical in their colours and proportions. How is this possible, you might ask? A combination of techniques – importation, artificial fertilisers and conditions like special LED lighting in greenhouses, to name a few. Not only do these methods damage people and the planet, they also distance us from the origins of our food and the true patterns of nature. We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want it – never mind how it got there.

If you want to re-establish your connection with nature’s cycles, eat real, nutritious, and delicious food, support local farmers, and protect the soil – seasonal eating is a good place to start. Here’s how.

LEARN ABOUT YOUR LOCAL AREA

If, like mine, your schooling failed to teach you about food cycles, start by educating yourself on what grows when. All regions have their own climate and soil conditions that affect the food calendar. I've listed a couple of resources that might help at the bottom of this post.

FIND A LOCAL FARMER, FARM SHOP OR BOX SCHEME

One of the major 'rules' when it comes to seasonal and sustainable eating in general, is to stay away from supermarkets. Supermarkets are designed to give the consumer the cheapest price, which severely impacts every stage of production. Farmers aren’t paid properly, importation has a huge carbon footprint, and the end product falls short in quality and taste.

Try to buy direct from the farmer where you can, but don’t be fooled by any old farm shop – many still supply imported and GMO produce. Try to be selective, and don’t be afraid to ask questions – is it organic*? Is it locally grown? If so, where?

One of the best ways to source seasonal and organic food is to sign up to a box scheme. Growing Communities is a fantastic London-based enterprise, and The Veg Box is an equivalent for Malta. These schemes ensure that farmers are paid fairly, food is grown organically and, by default, you only eat what’s in season. Trust me, you’ll never go back to supermarket veg after tasting “the real deal”!

LEARN TO BE LESS SELECTIVE

Another pillar of sustainable eating is to lose our sense of entitlement to eating whatever we want, whenever we want it. Our ancestors – and even more recent grandparents – did not have this choice. They ate what was available through local sellers. Just because everything is available in the supermarkets, doesn’t mean it’s right or natural (or even healthy) to eat it.

Eating seasonally means being open to different veg varieties, trying things you wouldn’t ordinarily go for, and respecting nature’s cycles. This automatically results in a much more varied diet, which is a cornerstone for health.

N.B. this principle can and should be applied to meat, too, but we'll focus on veg here.

DISCOVER VEGETABLE FAMILIES

You’re now coming across weird and wonderful varieties of veg you might never find in the average supermarket. Better yet, you notice correlations between them: potatoes are related to swedes and other roots; leeks are in the onion family; leafy greens are all somewhat similar.

Understanding these similarities helps to plan meals. Rather than always falling back on the same veg varieties for cooking, you see that you can swap things out and get a similar result. For example: Most root veg can replace potato in a cottage pie; chard or kale can replace spinach in a side dish; any variety of squash is interchangeable. You'll soon become much more flexible and intuitive with your cooking, confident that you can make a something delicious with whatever you've got in front of you.

BE GRATEFUL

Rediscover your sense of wonder at what the earth provides through the seasons. In the West, many of us have become so passive about our food. Reconnect with that childlike curiosity and awe. It's amazing!

* Read my post about about the importance of organic food.

FURTHER RESOURCES

A UK guide to seasonal eating
Malta guide courtesy of Friends of the Earth
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