What does it mean to be seasonal?
When you walk into the produce section of your local grocery store, chances are that it looks the same as it did yesterday. And the same as it did last week, last month, last year – you get the idea. The produce display at major grocery stores is static. It doesn’t really change all that much throughout the year. The most “seasonal” a store ever gets is offering pumpkins in October and November. So what’s wrong with that?
It’s simple – it doesn’t reflect the natural world. In today’s society, modern technology has made it possible for us to have any type of produce at any time, from anywhere in the world. This is a fantastic step in globalization and international trade, but it isn’t very sustainable. The natural world has a rhythm, and every fruit and vegetable has a certain time when it should be planted and harvested, depending on the weather and time of year. However, technology has enabled us to take produce that might have originally only been available in the summer, grow it halfway across the globe and ship it back to our stores in the middle of winter. Other tactics include genetically modifying a plant to lengthen its growing season.
Certainly this is a great thing for keeping up a varied diet and for the ability to make your favorite dish at any time of the year. Though the costs of producing food outside of this cycle are not immediately visible, they are significant. Produce not grown in season just doesn’t taste as good as naturally in-season food does. Tomatoes become watery red globes devoid of flavor, apples become mealy and bland ,and we lose the opportunity to enjoy our food at its peak of freshness and flavor.
But if flavor alone doesn’t sell you, take into account that produce grown halfway around the globe has quite a journey ahead of it. This journey requires produce to be harvested way in advance, pumped with preservatives and then artificially ripened when they finally arrive. Choosing foods in-season minimizes your exposure to pesticides and allows your food to spend more time ripening naturally.
Last but not least, eating food along with their seasonal rhythms affords us a connection to our natural world that can be difficult to find today. We experience the seasons and the flavors to which they are intrinsically linked. Spring has the most mouthwatering strawberries. In summer, sweet corn is king. Fall brings hearty pumpkins and squashes, and of course, winter is when Florida’s famous citrus ripens to perfection.
For more information about seasonal food in Florida, this chart is a great resource.