It is officially Spring! Even though it’s still freezing cold here in New York, I can see the proof of the seasonal shift in my local produce market. Living in a big city where trees are sparse, car horns are loud, and buildings eclipse the sky; it can be a great comfort to see the product of open spaces in my convenient neighborhood produce store.
This is one of my favorite times of year for fresh vegetables. As the sweet potatoes get smaller and more irregular, vegetables not long seen begin to surface: lettuce and greens are suddenly vibrant and inexpensive, carrots are sturdy and bright, beets and leeks are robust, and asparagus is cheaper now than at any other time during the year. The last of the butternut and acorn squash are taking their final bows at record low prices, and tomatoes are suddenly a little more vibrant.
There are hundreds of nutritional ideologies, all claiming the discovery of a universal code for an optimal diet. As a food writer, I have read dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of books on the topic ranging the gamut from raw vegan to macrobiotic to paleo. But whether you avoid dairy or gluten, meat or grains, I think a universally positive rule is to try and build your meals around as many seasonal vegetables and fruits as possible. Eating seasonally will allow you to do several things in one stroke, all of them beneficial:
1. You will shrink your food costs. Buying seasonally, according to your region, will ensure that you are buying reasonably priced items.
2. You will eat higher quality food. No matter how expensive or boutique, a tomato in New York in the middle of February will never rival an August tomato that was freshly picked the day before it was delivery to my local market. There is a reason that most five-star restaurants have seasonal menus: they can afford non-seasonal ingredients, but the greatest chefs in the world know that seasonal is always best. By shopping seasonally you are automatically shopping more locally.
3. You will expand your horizons. It doesn’t matter if you grew up eating fried chicken, grape leaves, or latkes, you can always add a bit of variety into your meal rotation. I know it’s easy to get into a recipe rut (I certainly have), but when you eat seasonally you find yourself trying new vegetables and fruits all the time! Soon you will be incorporating them into old family classics with ease. For example, many families enjoy a nice stir fry, try kicking in an extra serving of vegetables by including a daikon radish, collard greens, fresh ginger, or mushrooms. Experiment with your food, have fun!
4. You will improve your general vitamin intake. After years of reading food history, nutritional theories and medical studies, I have come to some conclusions of my own. I believe three things: the human body is incredibly adaptive, the key to optimal health is individual (or at least group based) and not universal, and most people don’t consume enough vitamins in their food. By incorporating more fresh produce into your diet, whether you accompany it with pasta, tofu, meat, or seafood, you will suddenly be bringing a host of perfectly lovely vitamins to the table.
Do you shop seasonally? What are your favorite seasonal discoveries? I know that I was floored the first time I started roasting beets and parsnips- delicious! Indian eggplants and daikon radishes were a revelation too.