Weekend Inspiration: In Season

I try to eat food in its season because it always tastes better. Usually the texture's better, too, and the color and so on. And generally it is cheaper than when it's not in season. So for very practical reasons, seasonal eating makes sense to me.

But there are also less practical and more philosophical reasons to eat in season. Do you pay attention to the seasons in your kitchen?

It's important to note that there are some vegetables that I never think about seasonally. Lemons and onions and grapefruits seem to be seasonless to me. So do carrots. And while I'm aware of new (green) garlic or new potatoes, both these foods also have a ubiquitous, year round presence. So I'm not that strict about my 'only in season' preference.

But what about meat and dairy? Don't they have a season, too? And what have we done to manipulate those natural cycles to have milk and lamb and butter all year round? Might be helpful to find out.

Foods grown out of their season require a lot more energy, either to ship them in from another hemisphere or to augment current conditions to match their growing conditions, such as hothouses, sprinklers, fertilizers, etc. Eating with the seasons lowers our impact on the environment.

Is it always possible? No way. How can a northern city like Chicago or New York eat seasonally year round? Not with our current food system model, although there are some forward thinking people who are looking into more sustainable ways to grow local food year round for urban areas. Vertical Farming and Will Allen of Growing Power are just two examples of this.

But for me, the most compelling reason to eat with the seasons is that it roots me to place, grounds me in the sense of belonging. I'm in the Bay Area and it's late spring. So we're just about peaking on local strawberries, fava beans, asparagus. Sand Dabs are on the menus and at the fishmongers. Some of the new cheeses are starting to come in from Sonoma. When I lived in Wisconsin it was lilacs and peonies and asparagus, too. Tender heads of lettuce and fresh peas and spring onions.

So I don't want asparagus all year round, all the time, whenever. I want it to be a special treat, a sign that the wheel is turning and spring has come again. When its season is over, there will be plenty of other delicious things to take its place. A tomato in August is surely one of life's most amazing things. Why limp through most of the rest of the months sawing away at those watery mealy imitators? Eat your tomato when it's time for tomatoes and then move on. 'Eat your zip code' as much as you can!

(Image: Dana Velden)
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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.