In some countries like Cyprus, you can tell the season by what is for sale on the market stalls. There is very little imported fruit and vegetables and the frozen produce is negligible. Fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables are enjoyed by everyone as soon as they come into season. When the first cherries and apricots appear on the stalls, everyone is excited to buy them; knowing that the season will last just a few short weeks and after that these fruits will be replaced by others and not available for another whole year.
This is eating seasonally at its best! Eating a healthy diet of plenty of fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables that have been grown locally and grown sustainably is definitely good for you and also good for the planet. Eating seasonally is fun and is a diet that can be easily adopted, you just have to learn which local produce is in season in your area, at what time of the year.
Each type of fruit and vegetable requires different growing conditions to enable them to grow well and produce good quality food. These growing conditions vary in different countries and regions, depending on their climate and the result is that the same fruit or vegetable will have a different growing season in each country and region.
In recent years as mass distribution has improved, it has become increasingly easy to obtain different fruit and vegetables from all over the world, all year round. This has meant that shoppers can buy a wide variety of fruit and vegetables whatever the month or season. However, this luxury does come at a cost. There is a huge environmental impact caused by the demand to grow produce out of season in greenhouses or to transport it thousands of kilometers to countries where it does not grow naturally. There is an urgent need for us to switch to eating locally produced seasonal produce to improve the sustainability of our diets and to help reduce our environmental footprint.
The term ‘seasonal’ has become synonymous with ‘locally grown’ because the different fruit and vegetables that are grown naturally in the fields and allotments near where you live are your area’s seasonal produce. If you would like information on the UK’s different seasonal produce, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) produces a list.
What are the perks?
Locally produced seasonal produce that is harvested during its natural growing season is great for your health. The nutritional value of fruit and vegetables is at its highest immediately when it is harvested, but declines from then onwards. Buying fruit and vegetables that have been grown locally means that they have been grown in the best conditions and picked at the peak of the season.
These fruits and vegetables will be really fresh and full of flavour and will contain more anti-oxidants and be packed with vitamin C, folate and beta carotene as well as being full of natural fibre. When you purchase these local seasonal foods it is much less likely that the produce will have been treated with pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. There have been several studies of the nutritional value of vegetables and it has been found that vegetables grown in greenhouses and not in their usual seasonal rhythms contain fewer nutrients than those grown naturally.
Mother Nature helps you to eat really well when you embrace a seasonal diet. In the springtime, there is an abundance of fresh leafy greens and these are perfect food to eat after a long cold winter -especially as they help detox the body. During the summer months, cucumber and berries help to keep your body hydrated during the hot weather. During the autumn and winter months when it is much colder, there is an abundance of root vegetables, pumpkins, and squashes that are the perfect ingredients for hearty soups and casseroles.
How does it protect the environment?
● Highly perishable out-of-season soft fruits, as well as exotic fruits, are usually air freighted for speed as they can spoil very quickly. Transporting produce in this way greatly increases greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, buying locally grown fruits saves dramatically on greenhouse gas emissions.
● Produce that is grown in heated greenhouses across Europe uses a great deal of energy – examples of these are the different salad ingredients that come from the Netherlands and Spain. Locally grown produce uses the warmth of the sun to grow and there are much lower transport costs involved too.
● Ready bags of produce including salad bags and fruit salads also use additional energy as they have to be washed, packaged and then refrigerated prior to selling. Far better to go to the local Farmers’ Market and buy a bag full of salad ingredients and fruit and spend an extra five minutes preparing them.
● Eating healthily and really well helps protect our planet when you opt to only eat fruit and vegetables that have been grown locally outdoors during their natural season - without the use of pesticides. They will have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, lowest water consumption and lowest pollution levels. They are the most environmentally friendly fruit and vegetables to buy, so will be an important part of your sustainable diet.
How does it create healthy habits?
Eating locally grown seasonal produce is really eating fruit and vegetables at their best when they really have such a great taste. The bonus is that when you are eating such fresh food, you only need to cook it in the most straight forward way so that you can really enjoy the flavour. For example, aubergines can be thickly sliced, brushed with olive oil and cooked on the barbecue or under the grill – nothing more is needed.
If you want to give growing your own vegetables a go – even better! Even if you live in a flat, without a garden, it is amazing what you can grow on the balcony and kitchen window sill! This will be organically grown produce at its very best.
The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ becomes so true because you will feel really good when you are eating only top-quality fruit and vegetables grown in your area. You will feel even better knowing that you are doing ‘your bit’ for the planet, too.