In last week’s column we explored some of the benefits associated with seasonal eating. This week we’re focusing on how to gradually master the process.
It’s ironic that reacquainting ourselves with such a simple, age-old tradition can require some initial effort. Before the development of such efficient global transport systems, seasonal and local foods were the only ones on offer.
After only a few decades of relying on supermarkets for our food, we’ve lost touch with the knowledge and skills required to eat this way. Most people no longer possess any awareness of which foods are in season or even an inherent understanding of the fact that most produce and even many animal foods, do in fact have a season!
We’ve been sold the idea that we can have whatever we want all year round, when this is not how nature works. Supermarkets perpetuate this illusion by responding to consumer demand for apples, oranges and bananas every single day of the year.
If we want to co-create a thriving local food system and enjoy the myriad of other benefits we discussed last week, it requires a commitment to seasonal eating and thinking more locally.
Here are my top tips for getting started.
1: Learn which foods are currently in season
If you’re not familiar with what’s in season locally, download a guide (there’s a good one at www.seasonalfoodguide.com) and pin in to the fridge until you learn the ropes or simply start paying attention to the produce section at your local markets. Watch out for specials and on-sale items as that’s generally an indicator that there’s an abundant supply.
2: Start cooking with more seasonal ingredients
Focus on cooking with as many of these seasonal items as possible. This might involve trying new recipes or looking up creative ways to use or preserve them.
Very few online recipes pay attention to seasonality and so you’ll often find a mix of seasonal and out-of-season ingredients in each one, which is not overly helpful. Try to locate resources that observe the seasons, understand the pros and cons of buying local produce, (often there’s less variety on offer at any given time) and provide suggestions for using up large quantities of fresh produce.
Jude Blereau from Wholefood Cooking is a pioneer in this space and makes seasonal eating a breeze. Her books and newsletter emails are always jam-packed with fabulous suggestions, with recipes and ingredients right when you need them.
Aim to discover new favourite ‘strictly seasonal’ recipes that only include ingredients that are available at that time of year. Even if it’s just one or two each season, you’ll soon build a wonderful collection to enjoy once per year, as a family ritual.
I’m planning to feature a seasonal cooking guide in the column throughout this year, so stay tuned for the Autumnal instalment over the next few weeks.
3: Decrease your dependence on out-of-season items
The next step is to start paying a little more attention to foods you’re in the habit of purchasing outside of their season.
Eventually, you can set yourself a challenge and begin practicing mindful abstinence, perhaps with just one food at a time. You’ll start to notice the sheer joy that is being reacquainted with a food, after waiting for the better part of the year for that moment. The way we feel about the season’s first cherries and mangoes can expand out to other seasonal food items.
The idea is to begin to find alternatives that can see you through until your favourites are back in season. I adore making salad dressings with fresh lemon and orange juice, however in the warmer months I switch to vinegars.
When fresh garlic is out of season in the cooler months, I switch to garlic powder, pickled garlic or my bulk stash of frozen cloves which I purchase every year in December.
And my Summer salads are vastly different from my Winter salads. Tomatoes, cukes and capsicum in the former and avocadoes (which grow May to September here on the Central Coast) feature heavily in the latter along with beets and other root vegetables.
Most leafy greens grow well all year round – so thankfully we don’t need to overthink that component.
4: Step outside the supermarket!
One of the best things you can do for your health is to step outside of the supermarket aisles. Not only is it one of the simplest ways to learn about seasonal eating and cooking, but you instantly acquire all the benefits we discussed in last week’s column without having to make any other radical changes.
In a nutshell, you’ll be enjoying food that’s fresher, more flavourful and nutritious, whilst supporting local families and helping to co-create a robust local food system.
And there are so many options on the table for those who want to support local. You can try farmers markets, ordering a delivery box that sources predominantly local products, joining a local co-op or buying direct from a farmer.
We’re absolutely spoilt for choice here on the coast and in next week’s column I’ll be featuring a comprehensive list of all the best options.
5. Attend some seasonal food events
Mark out some time in your busy year to attend as many seasonal food events that you can. It’s such a fun and organic way to reconnect with the provenance of our food and learn when and how it is harvested.
The most popular series of events here on the Central Coast take place during the Harvest Festival which runs in June this year. This is perhaps the best way to discover the farms operating in your local area and a lovely way to meet the people growing and raising your food.
Many of these businesses provide farm tours or picking days all throughout the year, so take a look at the list next week, get connected with their social media pages and keep an eye on what they’re offering.
6. Grow something at home
Even if it’s just one herb or some microgreens on the windowsill! Becoming a producer as well as being a consumer gives you an appreciation for all aspects of nature – not just the seasons. And if you have minimal room at home for a garden, rest assured it’s possible in the smallest of spaces, including balconies (think more vertically). Joining a community garden is another way to experience the joys of growing if you’re lacking space. We have at least thirteen community gardens here on the coast – a list can be found on the Central Coast Council website.
Taking the first step
My advice, as with everything diet related, is to start slow. Don’t approach this with a puritanical mindset and refuse all non-seasonal food items – you’ll exhaust yourself. Make it a process of gradually expanding your awareness, knowledge and skills bit by bit, until it becomes second nature. And it will, I promise!