Savoring Seasonality: Embracing the Benefits of Seasonal Eating
Before the days of next-day shipping, convenience stores on every corner, and groceries arriving on our doorsteps with a few simple taps, people had to eat seasonally—there was no other choice than to eat what could be grown in their region during those months. Now, in our modern society, you can easily eat strawberries in December, oranges in July, and imported tropical fruit without a second thought.
Despite the exceedingly convenient nature of being able to eat whichever foods we want in any month, embracing seasonal eating has a plethora of benefits. From better nutritional value and taste (if you’ve ever tried winter tomatoes from the grocery store, you know this is true) to reduced environmental footprint and chemical exposure, returning to our roots and adopting a seasonal eating approach can benefit both humans and the planet we live on.
Seasonal Eating 101
Seasonal eating is the practice of consuming foods—typically fruits and vegetables—that are harvested during certain seasons. This approach is cyclical in nature, eating produce only during specific times of the year when they are at peak freshness and availability in your local region.
Different fruits, vegetables, and herbs have varying growing parameters that are influenced by sunlight, climate, temperature, and soil fluctuations. Because of these seasonal differences, some produce grows during the warmer months, while other fruits and veggies are better suited for chilly, damp, low-sun conditions.
Seasonal eating and local eating have recently gained popularity—so much so that some people now classify themselves as “locavores”—but in reality, these practices are steeped in tradition and have been used by our ancestors for centuries. And for good reason, as the benefits are multifold—let’s take a closer look at the top seven reasons to eat seasonally and locally.
Top 7 Benefits of Eating Seasonally
1. Higher Nutritional Value
Seasonal fruits and vegetables are harvested at their peak level of ripeness—which also translates to peak nutritional value. Think about an apple picked on Friday and sold to you at your local farmers market on Saturday compared to a grocery store apple, which may have been picked up to a year before you buy and eat it.
One of the leading nutrients found in many fruits and vegetables is vitamin C, which is known to degrade immediately after harvesting—therefore, less time before harvesting and eating it is better for maintaining vitamin C levels.
The same goes for many antioxidants—including anthocyanins, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds—which are depleted during storage. According to research from 2020, fruits and vegetables increase their reactive oxygen species (ROS) production during post-harvest storage, which depletes the plant’s total antioxidant stores to protect its cells—but that leaves none for us humans to consume.
2. Better Taste
It’s no secret that local and seasonal food tastes better—just try the difference between a fresh-picked strawberry or tomato and a grocery store one. This is because seasonal foods are grown during the times of the year with the best natural conditions for that fruit or vegetable. The right combination of sunlight, temperature, humidity, and soil quality produces the best taste.
Plus, eating locally is another bonus for flavor. As locally grown and seasonally harvested foods don’t need to travel long distances to reach your grocery store, they can be harvested as close as possible to their peak ripeness and into your kitchen within days. This reduction of time between harvest and consumption preserves not only nutrients but also taste.
3. Reduced Cost
In-season produce is typically less expensive, as it tends to be more abundant and doesn’t have to factor in the cost of transportation or importation, which results in higher prices. Plus, if you buy directly from a local farmer, you eliminate the middleman.
4. Reduced Environmental Impact
The transportation of foods across long distances (country-wide or worldwide) is a significant contributor to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Focusing on seasonal and local eating can reduce this environmental impact.
Plus, seasonal eating can help preserve your local ecosystems, allowing farmers to avoid relying on money-making monoculture farming practices. Rather than needing to grow solely staple crops like soy or corn, local farmers can cultivate different crops each season to promote biodiversity if you keep buying from them.
Seasonal eating also helps the environment because it involves crop rotation, which improves soil health and reduces the need for chemical or synthetic fertilizers. Lastly, this method of eating and farming requires less water usage because seasonal produce is adapted to that specific region and climate and may require less artificial watering than growing out-of-season crops.
5. Fewer Chemicals and Preservatives
Non-seasonal produce typically has to sit in a warehouse for weeks to months before being sent out to your grocery store. This means that fruits and vegetables are often treated with artificial ripening agents (because they are picked or harvested well before their peak maturity), preservatives, or other chemicals to extend shelf life during cross-country transportation.
6. Supports Your Local Farmers and Economy
If you buy fruits and vegetables from a regional farmers’ market instead of a big-box grocery store, you support your local farmers and economy. Instead of sending money to big agricultural corporations, you’re keeping it within your community.
7. Encourages Culinary Creativity
Last but certainly not least, seasonal eating can foster more creativity in the kitchen. Whether you love or hate to cook, learning how to best utilize the fruits and vegetables in season can inspire new cooking techniques or recipes you wouldn’t ordinarily use.
How To Eat Seasonally
- Visit Your Local Farmers Market. Most regions now have farmers markets, which are excellent opportunities to explore seasonal produce. As the farmers solely sell what they grow, you won’t find any out-of-season vegetables or imported fruits here. This is also a great way to learn more about your region’s growing and harvesting seasons, as you’ll notice seasonal trends of which fruits and vegetables are available and when.
- Join a CSA Program. If you’re unable to visit farmers' markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are becoming more and more widespread. CSA programs allow you to “subscribe” to a farm, providing you with a regular supply of fresh, seasonal produce directly from local farms—sometimes, they even deliver a produce box right to your door.
- Preserve Foods Like Your Ancestors Did. Pretend you’re in Little House on the Prairie and preserve foods by canning or drying peak-season fruits and vegetables so you can enjoy them in the off-season. You can also explore techniques like pickling, fermenting, or making jams and sauces.
- Grow Your Own Fruits and Vegetables. You’ll learn very quickly which foods are seasonal by starting your own garden. Even a small urban garden with herbs and veggies can provide a connection to seasonal eating.
- Plan Seasonal Meals. Planning meals around seasonal foods is a fun way to get creative in the kitchen. There’s a reason why root-based soups are so common in the winter, and fresh salads are often consumed in the spring and summer—and it has more to do with than just the temperature outside.
What Foods Are In Season When?
Although this can vary widely depending on what region of the country you live in, you can generally expect the following fruits and vegetables to be harvested during these seasons:
- Fall: Apples, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cranberries, garlic, grapes, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, pumpkin, radishes, raspberries, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
- Winter: Avocados, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, grapefruit, kale, leeks, lemons, limes, onions, oranges, pears, potatoes, rutabagas, Swiss chard, turnips, and winter squash.
- Spring: Apricots, asparagus, bananas, carrots, collard greens, herbs, lemons, lettuce, limes, peas, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, and strawberries.
- Summer: Bell peppers, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, honeydew melon, lima beans, mangos, okra, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, summer squash, tomatillos, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini.
Keep in mind that you don’t always have to eat 100% seasonally—if you love bananas but live in Colorado, don’t deprive yourself of a favorite food if you don’t want to. Instead, focus on reducing your impact by eating seasonally with local produce you love—and be open to exploring new fruits and vegetables if you’ve never tried them.
With all of the benefits of seasonal eating, from nutritional value to environmental impact, it’s no wonder that so many people are going back to their ancestral roots and embracing the power of eating according to the seasons.