Mankind has been eating seasonally since the dawn of time. Not only is it a cost-effective way of adding more nutrients to your diet, but it’s also tastier, cleaner, and better for the environment.
Clean eating, keto, juicing, plant-based, zone. When it comes to healthy eating and food, there seems to be a new trend surfacing every minute, but are any of them actually that good for us? Instead of looking forward, then, perhaps we should be looking back to one of the oldest methods in the book: seasonal eating — something that humanity has been practicing since the dawn of time, only then it was simply called ‘eating’.
Not only is seasonal eating better for you in that food tends to be fresher, therefore containing more nutrients, it’s better for the planet as it reduces production and transport costs. To find out more, we spoke to leading nutritional therapist and healthy eating expert, Amelia Freer.
What is seasonal eating?
“Seasonal eating means eating food shortly after it is harvested in the local area. The definition of ‘local’ varies, but generally it means food grown in your own country or from close international neighbours. Local can, however, also mean hyper-local, and there are a growing number of shops and restaurants that source the majority of their ingredients from within a few miles of their establishment. This hyper-local sourcing also means hyper-seasonal, as local produce will change considerably according to the seasons.”
Where did the phrase ‘seasonal eating’ come from?
“It stemmed from our desire to reconnect to the patterns of nature and growing. Seasonality was a given as no foods other than those that were growing, or could be caught locally, were available. This meant that our diets over the past few hundred years were pretty bland and repetitive for months on end [now they can be more varied as a wider variety of fruits and vegetables are grown].”
Why is seasonal eating having a resurgence?
“The past century or so has seen a huge change in the way we produce, manufacture and process food, increasingly disconnecting us from the cyclical nature of growing. But this has taken its toll on both the environment and our health, so it is no wonder that we are starting to think about it more, and want to gently correct ourselves back on to a more connected course.
“Seasonal eating most certainly isn’t confined to privileged people or developed countries. It is an absolute necessity for many millions of people around the world who rely on growing their own crops to feed themselves and their families. Intimate and expert knowledge of the cyclical pattern of the growing year, with its ebbs and flows of different crops, is essential to survival.”
What are the health benefits of seasonal eating?
“The key benefit is that eating seasonally means we are also likely to be eating food that is freshly picked at the point of ripeness and transported to our plates in the minimum amount of time. This can help to optimise the concentration of certain micronutrients and phytonutrients contained within the produce, and often tastes better too (as crops haven’t been selectively bred and grown for their long shelf-life and transportability above taste or nutritional value). But perhaps more importantly, it is variety that is key here in terms of health benefits.
“With international sourcing, we can now eat the same five vegetables and five fruits day-in, day-out for the entire year without so much as a single deviation. They are always available, regardless of the journey cost or length, in the supermarket. Yet as humans, we evolved to eat a hugely varied and wide-ranging diet, enjoying hundreds (if not thousands) of different plants over the course of the year. Seasonality means variety, and variety of produce means variety of nutrients. It is this variety that can help to protect us against the risk of nutritional overload or deficiency, and is at the heart of what we mean when we talk about ‘balanced’ diets.”
Why is seasonal eating better for the planet?
“This answer is not, actually, quite as straightforward as it first might seem. If we could tolerate only eating seasonal, locally grown foods, then that would probably have the most beneficial impact on the environment.
“Growing your own is a great place to start, and in some places around the world you can now buy locally sourced fruit and vegetable boxes. But for many people, this is a bit too repetitive, and so a few imported goods are required. The key therefore is to work out the total environmental cost of production and transport. It is unlikely to be environmentally superior to grow tomatoes in heated greenhouses in the UK than it is to ship them in from Spain where they can grow under the natural heat of the sun, for example. And then we need to factor in packaging, cost and availability among a plethora of other considerations. So while yes, it is certainly a good idea from an environmental perspective to eat more seasonally, it goes a bit beyond that in real life.
“Overall, however, shopping and eating sustainably starts with an awareness and willingness to question our long-established buying habits — reading labels, asking questions, doing our own research and deciding that caring for the environment is going to be a priority when we buy. It’s not about being perfect, but it is about being open-minded enough to change, bit by bit.”
What’s the biggest misconception about seasonal eating?
“The biggest misconception is that it is expensive, or only for the rarefied few who can exclusively shop at organic farmers’ markets. This is about as far from the truth as can be. Understanding seasonality gives us a head-start when it comes to budgeting for the weekly shop. Seasonal ingredients are, by definition, more abundantly available, which almost always means they cost less. This is reflected in supermarkets as well as at the grocers and other markets. Eating seasonally can be the cheapest way to eat, so long as we know what to look out for and when.”
How can I incorporate seasonal eating into my own life?
“I do my best to minimise buying foods that have been air-freighted (I’m a little less concerned about those that can travel by sea as the environmental impact is less), and those that may have contributed to deforestation through our increasing demand for tropical crops.
“There are, however, a variety of foods that store well for long periods (such as pulses, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, oils, root vegetables, and frozen or canned foods) that I don’t worry so much about seasonality with. They may be harvested just once a year, but we can enjoy them throughout the entire year without worrying if they are seasonal or not.”
For more nutritional advice, Amelia Freer has just launched an online course with Create Academy
Read next: Your Complete Detox Guide to a Healthier Lifestyle
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk