July 2016 Healthy Lifestyle

Eating Options Vary With the Seasons

Ever wonder why an apple tastes better in October than it does in August? Or why oranges are so much sweeter and less expensive in winter than in summer?

The answers are simple. Apples are locally harvested in the fall, while oranges and grapefruit are at their best in the winter months.

While we all enjoy fresh, locally-grown produce, the industrialization of agriculture brought with it new farming techniques and modernized equipment that made it possible to harvest way beyond local markets.

This gave rise to the need for bigger and more efficient storage techniques. Cold storage gave us the ability to store produce for months at a time.

While this was a wonderful progression and provided farmers with more income potential and employment, there is a downside for the consumer. Having everything available all the time does come with its costs – both to our wallets and our health.

Farmers don’t always have the luxury of letting fields rest between growing seasons as the demand for consistency floods the market. Unfortunately, this can cause nutrients in the soil to become depleted and consequently yield inferior produce.

Taste, texture and nutritional value suffer when produce is not allowed to reach maturity naturally or has to be stored for long periods of time. Most produce loses up to 70 percent of its nutritional value within seven days after it leaves the field, tree or vine unless it is canned or frozen, which are good alternatives when things are out of season.

Transportation methods, like trains, planes, ships and trucks, allow products to be brought to market all over the world, but they make it more difficult and expensive to deliver “vine ripened” produce as well.

Tomatoes, for example, must be virtually picked green in order to transport with their integrity intact. If truckloads of tomatoes were transported ripe, they would be tomato sauce or rotten long before they reached market. Ever had a tomato right off the vine? Now that is a tomato.

Before industrialization, we were a farm-to-table nation.  We ate what was available and in season, although canning techniques make it possible to preserve produce for leaner times on a small scale.

We knew what to expect and accepted that we didn’t have access to everything all the time. Our daily fare reflected that. And while our diets may not have been as diversified, we have to wonder if we weren’t healthier for it anyway.

One way to counteract this trend and help the local economy going forward is to support local farmers and buy from farmers’ markets and stores that advertise locally grown fare.  While this may be inconvenient at times, it can help bring us back to the farm-to-table mentality, improve the quality of what we eat, and give us better taste while elevating our family’s health at the same time.

Corie Goodson, MPH, CNC, earned her master’s degree in public health in 1995. She is a health educator, wellness promotion speaker, author and certified nutrition coach.