By Ayesha Grewal
By opting for seasonal fruits and vegetables, you eat healthy and reduce your individual carbon footprint
When was the last time you stopped to think about which of the “fresh” fruits and vegetables that you purchase every few days are actually in season? How many locally grown and freshly harvested vegetables can you include on your dinner menu?
We are so far removed from natural cycles and seasons, especially in regards to the food we eat. In Delhi, even a very seasonal and fragile fruit such as plum is now available almost throughout the year. Vegetables like tomatoes, beans or cauliflower are no longer associated with any particular season. We just expect them to be around 365 days a year.
However, all of these of course come from plants, and plants are seasonal. But then again, if we are getting broccoli at the height of summer, why not use it? Why stop and think about it?
The nutritional content of the fruits and vegetables we eat is greatly impacted by when they were harvested. As soon as you pluck something off a tree, it starts to lose nutritional value. If you are eating something “fresh” that’s not in season, chances are it was harvested a while ago and shipped quite a distance. The produce degrades through this journey and the health value of what we finally eat is greatly compromised
Why Seasons Matter
The global economy has presented us with more choices than ever before. In Delhi, “fresh” apricots are available in December and cauliflower in June. We are bombarded with a large number of seemingly easy choices when it comes to food. But are these the right choices?
I am personally of the opinion that eating fresh produce that is in season really is the right choice. Locally grown and harvested fruits and vegetables simply taste better! Produce that has to be shipped large distances are typically harvested when it is still unripe and is then allowed to ripen in transit. As children, many of us have had the good fortune to pluck fruits like guavas off of trees or pull carrots out of the ground and eat it. There is simply no comparing the fullness of flavour and taste of these to their store bought substitutes. My seven-year-old niece devours the broccoli and peas that are freshly harvested from our farm in Rajasthan in the winters. But try and get her to eat them in summers when they are trucked in from cooler regions! Trust me, her reaction is not for the faint-hearted!
Similarly, the nutritional content of the fruits and vegetables we eat is greatly impacted by when they were harvested. As soon as you pluck something off a tree or pull it out of the ground, it starts to lose nutritional value. If you are eating something “fresh” that’s not in season, chances are that it was harvested a while ago and shipped quite a distance. The produce degrades through this journey and the health value of what we finally eat is greatly compromised.
The cost of local, in-season fruits and vegetables is substantially lower. “Off season” products are more expensive. Prices are lower when a produce is available in abundance! Further, there are additional costs associated with transporting produces across distances– diesel costs, labour costs, costs associated with wastage, and so on. It’s not a hard guess as to who pays for these.
Growing things that are in season allows you to keep in sync with nature. As such, human intervention required to grow seasonal crops is lower than that of trying to grow off season crops. Unfortunately, more often than not, this intervention takes the form of chemicals or genetically modified plants.
Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables is also a way to ensure variety in your diet. It means that every few months, the fresh produce we eat is changing. This helps us get a fuller version of the nutritional spectrum that different vegetables have to offer. And needless to say, it protects our taste buds from the monotony of repeated menus!
What Can You Do?
Until relatively recently, we only consumed local, seasonal foods. Ironically, developments in agricultural technology and infrastructure, such as greenhouses and cold storage facilities have done away with seasonality of many vegetables and fruits. Improved air cargo and international delivery systems has further blurred the seasonal variation of fresh produces.
Get to know what’s in season. Simply ask your subziwaala. Just for a week, try and eat only those produces that are in season and local to your region.
I am in no way suggesting that you go into your kitchen and throw out all the fruits and vegetables that are not in season. In Delhi, we are lucky to be relatively close to a number of diverse agro climatic areas: from the hot desert in Rajasthan, the Himalayan belt (which is less than 350 km from Delhi by road), to the fertile alluvial plains of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. As such, we get cauliflower and cabbage, which grow in cooler temperatures, from the plains in winters and from the hills in summers. However, watermelons in winter? That just doesn’t sound right!
All I am saying is that the next time you shop for vegetables and fruit, try and go for those that are locally grown rather than imported. At the end of the day, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables taste better, have higher nutritional value, and are less expensive. By doing so, if you reduce your footprint on the environment, even in a tiny way, all the better!
The author is Founder of The Altitude Store, New Delhi, which carries a wide range of certified organic and natural products, as well as, the Altitude Café & Deli. She is also an organic farmer, who manages her family’s 40-acre organic farm in Rajasthan. Ayesha works with farmers in Uttarakhand and Haryana, encouraging them to adopt organic practices by assisting with related know how and providing a market for their organic produce in the Delhi NCR region. She is also trained in making artisanal cheeses, preserves, sausages, and charcuterie products—all of which are available at The Altitude Store
This article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Pure & Eco India