Regional and seasonal are catch-cry words, but does everyone understand exactly what they mean? And if they do, are they willing to pay more than just lip service to them?
Seasonal food is produce that is available locally or regionally around the time it is harvested, such as asparagus in spring, tomatoes in summer, root vegetables in winter etc. Meat and seafood are seasonal too.
As a world traveller, I love the immediate difference in the seasons which is apparent when I frequent local markets wherever I may be. To arrive in the UK during game season is special: just to be able to buy and cook wood pigeon from a local farmers market and eat grouse in a restaurant. Bliss.
Seasonal food is, by definition, fresher, better, and more nutritious than food consumed out of season.
This is also when it is cheapest, so a bonus for the cook!
Such produce is plentiful and has not had to travel long distances to market, or worse, be held in cold storage or frozen. Also, produce which is allowed to ripen naturally, on the vine, bush, or tree will have more natural flavours. Studies have shown that fruit and vegetables contain more nutrients when allowed to ripen naturally on their parent plant. They not only taste better, but they are also healthier for you. And, so, they make you happier.
Food grown out of season or its natural environment needs more intervention such as pesticides, waxes, chemicals, and preservatives to grow and look appealing to consumers. By choosing local and seasonal food, you are also more likely to get cleaner products.
There’s also something quite lovely about living in tune with the rhythm of nature and, thus, with the seasonal food that is found in whatever climate you are in. Wherever you are, you will find something online or in a food magazine about what is in season locally.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the provenance of food. Look at the popularity of growers markets. People want authentic, traceable, taste experiences. These markets are profitable for the farmer, allow direct customer interaction, offer ancillary business growth, and reduce food miles.
Certainly, for the customer, it is more pleasurable than shopping in a supermarket. It reinforces seasonality and teaches about the provenance of that food. It makes you feel good.
But what of regionalism?
In the bygone era of infrequent communication and little transportation, non-nomadic peoples everywhere relied naturally on the produce that the land, sea, and air around them provided. So food styles, cooking techniques and cuisines developed in isolation over hundreds of years. Think about such traditional recipes and cooking methods which are inextricably linked even by name to their provenance, like boeuf bourguignon, paella Valenciana, chicken Kyiv, etc. However, countries opened up, settled or established even in the last few hundred years did not experience such isolation.
Even in the modern world, certain areas are better suited to producing particular ingredients: the tropics for Asian vegetables and tropical fruits; cooler areas for milk and dairy products; wide plains for wheat; coastal areas for seafood, to name but a few.
Food festivals all around the world often celebrate what is grown and produced in local areas – not forgetting the importance of the skills of the people who live there and what they do with it. It’s about the terroir and environment but it’s also about local pride and the community – what the locals do with the local environment and what is grown there.
As multiple award-winning author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism, Michael Pollan said: “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” He added, “And don’t buy your food where you buy your petrol.”
Next time you sit down to breakfast, reflect on your food’s connection to the wheat, corn and sugar-cane fields, the dairy cows, the chickens, the orange orchards and the tea or coffee plantations. And think further — of the food supply chains that have transformed these raw agricultural commodities and transported them to your plate.
Remember, that eating whole, healthy, local, and seasonal can only bring you joy, pleasure, and a greater opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of the table.
“A lot more is going on at the farmers’ market than the exchange of money for food.”