By Sheri Wittmer
Have you noticed that our produce departments are stocked full of fruits and vegetables that have traveled from faraway places to end up in our shopping carts? Consider tomatoes in the dead of winter, bearing that tiny sticker that says, “Mexico” or those summer oranges flown all the way from Chile. As modern Americans, we have grown accustomed to eating out of season and have now come to expect it as the norm. However, long before the days of refrigerators and freezers, folks ate far differently than we do today. Strawberries were eaten in the summer, potatoes in the fall and winter. Interestingly, both strawberries and baked potatoes with skin on are chock full of vitamin C, meaning nature generously provides a steady supply of this essential nutrient year-round. After a long winter of consuming dried, smoked meats and starchy root vegetables, previous generations were wise enough to eat plenty of fresh, tender greens to help cleanse a sluggish liver.
Every region has its crops, and some health experts believe that eating foods from our region, along with the season, makes the most sense for our bodies. Although that may not be practical or even something we want to wholeheartedly commit to, taking advantage of locally grown seasonal produce may be a very wise investment in our health.
Soon California’s citrus crops will be abundant and relatively inexpensive. Eating an orange is far superior to taking a Vitamin C supplement because inside the orange, there is a vast array of co-factors that the body needs to maximize its powerhouse of nutrients. Most vitamin C tablets contain only 1 compound, ascorbic acid, which is one fraction of what the body needs to heal or stay healthy. And what’s better than a fresh, seasonal orange grown right here in California to help bolster the immune system during the cold and flu season.
Another fall and winter seasonal food is squash, such as acorn or butternut. Vegetables with orange or yellow flesh are generally high in Vitamin A, another immune builder. And don’t forget the humble sweet potato and yam, root vegetables that pack a hefty health load without jacking up our sugar count. Even from an emotional standpoint, there’s just something comforting and grounding about eating squash and root vegetables. Maybe that’s why mashed potatoes are considered comfort food. As we are shifting into the longer, darker days of winter, consider how you might shop and eat more with the seasons. Not only will you avoid eating imported produce that has long lost its nutritional power, but you may help connect your body to the rhythms of the season. Why not visit a local farmer’s market soon for a few sweet mandarins and some melt-in-your-mouth butternut squash?