One of the largest indicators of shifting seasons, for me, is the new produce that begins adorning our supermarkets. Bright, succulent summer strawberries. Pumpkins and squash signalling that autumn has come and the weather is about to get a wee bit colder.
With each season comes its own unique and abundant seasonal produce — and with that a change in our eating habits.
Whether consciously or not, many of us are eating seasonally already. Some of us will be doing it because of the benefits that come with it; seasonal produce is fresher, tastier and more nutritious than out of season alternatives.
A large portion however do it simply because our normal favourites become extortionately expensive out of season, and start to look a little bit sad on the shelves (looking at you, tiny $8 cabbage).
Consumers need to be flexible with their meal planning, look for the affordable seasonal offerings and be prepared to try different varieties of produce if their family favourite is low in supply. Fresh fruit and vegetables in season still offer good value when compared to many other popular supermarket choices.
It's no secret that seasonal produce is far more affordable. With cost saving being such a huge weight on our minds right now, finding areas to trim our grocery budget is of the utmost importance.
But, in this article, we'll talk about the wider benefits to eating seasonal fruit and vegetables than just saving the pennies up...
- What is seasonal produce?
- Benefits of eating seasonally for your health
- Benefits of eating seasonally for the environment
- Benefits of eating seasonally for our pockets
What is seasonal produce?
Seasonal produce refers to fruit and vegetables that are eaten around the time that they are harvested, or when they're at the peak of their flavour and nutrition.
Asparagus, for example, has a very short period of availability in New Zealand, with locally-grown asparagus only available between October and December. Many types of Apple, on the other hand, are available almost year-round, but are at their best just after their harvest in March and May.
The alternative to locally-grown seasonal produce is produce that's been imported, frozen, or otherwise stored to maintain a semblance of 'freshness', ready to be distributed and sold out of their respective seasons.
Benefits of eating seasonally for your health
1. It's more nutrient-dense
When you eat fruits and vegetables in their natural season, they're likely to be more nutrient-dense — as they're been harvested at their peak ripeness, they're able to fully develop their full nutrient profile.
Many kinds of fruit are harvested before they're ripe and then artificially ripened many months later. This has the benefits of providing 'fresh' produce throughout the year, but vastly decreases their nutritional content.
Alternatively, some of our fresh fruits and veg are frozen to be defrosted later (which, surprisingly, doesn't really make them fresh any more). This has been shown to decrease their nutritional content by up to 80% of their seasonal counterparts.
2. It tastes better
Similar to the above, when you harvest produce at their natural ripeness, you're also catching them at the peak of their flavour and texture. For many fruits, this is due to being able to produce and develop their natural sugars — with the same being said of some vegetables, such as carrots too!
You've probably encountered this before, biting into an overly-sour kiwi or a bland pear.
Equally, seasonal produce is more likely to have been grown locally, and have had to travel a shorter way to get from our fields, to our shelves, to our kitchens. This has the added benefit of keeping the produce fresher for longer, and closer to that peak ripeness that's oh-so-important.
3. More variety!
When you're eating seasonally, you're not boxing yourself into the same vegetables every single meal. Variety is the spice of life, some might say. Eating a variety of fruit and veg exposes you to different nutrient profiles, new tastes and new recipes. And who knows, maybe you'll find some new favourite too?
Benefits of eating seasonally for the environment
1. It reduces our carbon (food)print
Eating seasonally can significantly reduce your carbon foo(d)print — that is, the impact the growth, production and transportation of our food has. Produce that is grown out of season requires energy-intensive methods such as heating greenhouses or long-distance transportation.
By choosing to eat locally-grown, seasonal produce, you are supporting a more sustainable food system and reducing your environmental impact.
2. It reduce food waste
We've spoken a lot about food waste before (spoiler alert: it's a pretty big deal). Opting for NZ-grown seasonal produce can be another tool in fighting this. Fruit and vegetables that are in-season often stay much fresher for longer, reducing the need to throw that old, wilted spinach away at the end of the week.
It also reduces the food wasted right from the source: our farms and fields. It's unsurprising to think that growing crops when they like to be grown is the best for them. It can help to increase yields, and reduces the chance of the crop going 'bad' — usually from frost, rain or too little (or too much!) sun.
3. It supports local agriculture
Supporting our local farmers, producers and economies has never been more important, and eating seasonally can do just that.
Venturing down to your local farmer's market will always have the largest impact in this regard. But, even by just buying seasonal fruit and veg in the supermarket, you're helping to promote our regional food systems. And, you reduce the reliance on imported, and often lower quality goods.
4. It promotes biodiversity
With a variety in our diets and the foods we consume, comes a need for a variety in the crops we're cultivating to support this. Growing seasonal fruits and vegetables supports the diverse crop rotations used by local farmers.
This diversity then goes on to maintain healthy soil, and reduces the need for chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which are harmful to the environment.
It further prevents monocultures, and leaves our food systems far more resilient to the outbreak of disease and adverse weather. The need for the latter becoming all too apparent with Cyclone Gabrielle earlier this year.
Benefits of eating seasonally for our pockets
Now, I know I said I'd focus on the other benefits (and I have!) But making the budget stretch that little bit further is super important right now. So I feel it's equally important to cover it in a little more detail.
At the core of it, seasonal fruit and vegetables are more often than not the most affordable options in our supermarkets. When produce is in season, it's usually in high supply which helps to drive the price down (thanks to our old friend supply and demand).
The production costs and associated waste is also lower, which means that the cost for the farmers to grow their crops is also lower. And, as another effect of this, we reduce the need to import foreign-grown produce, removing the associated import and transport costs.
Simply put, opting for seasonal produce has wide-reaching and important benefits for all of us.
You might have known this all already and have reassured yourself. You might have been unconsciously doing this already and now realise 'hey, I'm on the right track'. Or, you might have received the final little nudge to start shopping for the abundant and delicious seasonal produce we have here in New Zealand.
Whichever bucket you fall into, eating seasonally benefits your health, your pocket and the environment, and also supports local economies.
Bit of a no-brainer, right?