Eating with the Season
Back in college, I did a summer “internship” as an assistant manager down in the Outer Banks. Instead of furthering my resume with an internship that fit my degree, my thought process? Living by the beach… THE WHOLE SUMMER… And although I did enjoy my morning sunbaths, revering the sand pipers as frantically found their next sand flea before the waves crashed down, I learned a lot more at work, and not in the traditional on-the-job sense.
A lot of seasonal workers are recruited from overseas to the OBX, and Grays, the store where I worked, was no different. I found myself regularly working with Kristina from Slovakia, and Lucy from the Czech Republic, who both enlightened me to their memories of being under communist rule among other things. I was taken one day when Lucy and Kristina were talking about how apples just don’t taste the same as they do back in their home countries. When I inquired why, they articulated that our apples were mealy, bland and not sweet at all.
After a while of back and forth, we came to the realization that the US serves produce out of season and therefore, it isn’t fresh – coming from other countries, ripening not on the vine or tree, but on a cargo ship on its way to the US of A. What does that mean? We don’t know what is in season and what is local. Anywhere in America, we go to the grocery store and always see apples, strawberries and kale, we don’t know when they grow or how far-away they come from. (Not every neighborhood is lucky enough to have The Little House Green Grocer where the owner, Erin, carefully curates all of the groceries, trying to keep items as seasonally appropriate and as local as possible.)
Plants have higher nutritional value and more robust flavor when they get nourishment from the sun and soil versus ripening in a shipping container. Sun exposure = higher levels of antioxidants. For instance, a Japanese study found that there was a significant difference in the vitamin C levels of spinach harvested in the summer versus the winter. Also, when plants are grown out of season, the likelihood of pesticides, waxes, and preservatives increases significantly, which can also detract from the taste and nutrition of your fruits and veggies.
So, as we transition into spring and things are popping up in gardens across Northside, what do you see? Dandelions, violets, asparagus, and other bitter greens which help us alkalize and detox, supporting the liver and its function of cleansing the blood, helping to get rid of the fat stored up over the winter. True North’s acupuncturist, Sean Orr, agrees, “In TCM it is important to eat seasonally… In Spring, it is of the utmost importance to incorporate foods which benefit the smooth flow of liver qi [energy force] as it fuels our creative and outward moving spring endeavors. It should come as no surprise that liver friendly foods are green, leafy, young, shoots and leaves like sprouts, asparagus, fiddle-head ferns, kale, and especially the racy onion family.”
So even if the likelihood of finding dandelion greens and violets in the produce aisle of the grocery store is low, start thinking about what’s in season and look for what’s local to get the most nutrient rich food to serve our bodies this spring. You never know – maybe those fiddle-head ferns will hit just the spot!