Six reasons to have a seasonal diet

Eating what's in season means eating what's local, benefiting the planet - and you.

Israeli vegan food (photo credit: MICHAELA BANK TWEETO)
Israeli vegan food
(photo credit: MICHAELA BANK TWEETO)
Israel’s marketplaces present a different experience every day: different people, different noises, and most notably different foods. Fruits and vegetables are delivered fresh every morning, and their supply fluctuates greatly throughout the year. Different produce goes out of season as other produce becomes available; in the summer, shuk vendors offer piles of tomatoes, cucumbers, nectarines and more, but only a small amount of bananas. In the fall, however, bananas can be found at almost every stall as nectarines slowly disappear.
This trend may be unusual for those who frequent grocery stores instead of markets. But it is common in Israel, and is a big part of the food awareness movement that has become popular around the world, especially in Israel.
“The food awareness movement is a movement of people who are conscious about food-related issues and take an active interest in designing their diet to be more in tune with their own values,” says Jonah Goldman, the farm products manager and internship coordinator at Hava ve’Adam Ecological Farm outside Modi’in.
“They also seek to have a positive impact on a very broken food system.”
Hava ve’Adam is a sustainable farm community that aims for total ecological independence and a small carbon footprint. It produces its own energy through solar panels and composted waste, reuses or recycles all its waste products, and relies heavily on its small-scale organic agriculture. While projects such as creating energy from compost seem relatively unattainable for the average person, eating local, in-season foods is one goal people can work towards.
There are numerous benefits to eating in this manner.
1. It is cheaper.
“If you go to the shuk right now you will see they are selling tomatoes at two-thirds of the price that they sell them for in the winter, because in the winter they are not in season and there’s a much smaller amount of them being produced,” says Goldman.
The price of produce in the shuk reflects the current market. When a food is out of season, fewer producers are growing them and, those that are generally spend more money creating micro-environments in which the food can grow.
2. It supports your local and regional economy.
Buying local food builds up the local community, says Goldman. In addition to supporting local farmers, it can also positively affect the rest of the community.
Buying local generally means knowing to whom and where your money is going.
“When you make a purchase in the supermarket, maybe a small amount goes to the cashier and the rest goes to businesses outside of the region,” he says. “Alternatively, when you buy local you support a resilient local economy.”
3. It is healthier.
Foods that are currently in season are the plants that nature provided as food to eat in that season. Oranges are plentiful in Israel in the winter, and they pack extra vitamin C that is used to fight off colds. Watermelon, a summer fruit, is an excellent additional source of water for hydration.
However, Goldman admits that in the right greenhouse, any food can be grown all year round, with no loss of nutrients.
“If you can control the conditions, you can grow, for example, tomatoes or watermelons all year if you do climate control really well and monitor your humidity really well.”
4. It is fresher and tastier.
Fruit eaten straight off its tree or vine always tastes better than if it was shipped from a far distance. This shipping process generally causes produce to lose not only its freshness but also some of its nutrients.
“When you’re eating foods out of season it means they’re being transported from other areas and that results in loss of taste, loss of calories, and the nutritional benefits diminish,” says Goldman.
Not only do they lose nutrients during the shipping process, but they also are not given enough time to mature those nutrients to begin with.
“They have been prematurely picked and haven’t had time to ripen on the vine or on the plant because to be shipped large distances they have to be hardy and strong enough to withstand the voyage,” he says.
5. It keeps you connected to the food system.
“In the global system today we have really lost connection with how food comes to our plates,” says Goldman.
“The main idea that I think seasonal eating is aiming for is conscious eating and buying.”
He stresses that above all other reasons to eat local, in-season food, the most important reason is that it helps people understand where their food is coming from, what exactly is in it, and how it was made. People are joining the food awareness movement because they want to know what is going into their body, who was involved in growing or making it, and also who was affected by it.
“In Israel people are really curious and willing to act on their values,” he says. “As people become more aware of the potential health risks associated with eating all sort of industrial foods, they’re looking for different ways to be more active in the food system.”
6. You can grow it yourself! “That’s by far the best part. It’s so rewarding, it actually tastes so much better when you’re able to create it yourself,” Goldman says excitedly.
Nothing tastes as a good as homegrown food, he maintains, and it’s even easier to know exactly what is in your food and where it came from because there is no middleman.
SEASONAL EATING is not always easy or possible, however.
For people who live in a harsh, cold climate, they might have to put in a lot of extra effort to eat locally and seasonally all year round.
“You can grow a lot of food in the summer and then preserve, pickle or dry it; that way you’ll be able to enjoy local produce even in the most intense winters.” Goldman reasoned.
Additionally, eating locally and seasonally inevitably means missing out on variety. He points to the global trading system for having transformed our eating habits and making it incredibly challenging to eat only local, in-season foods.
“In a global system we have the privilege of eating anything out of season, out of region,” he says. “If you decided to restrict to only what’s local, you lose so much of what we take for granted every day.”
Just because food is grown locally and in season does not guarantee that it is healthy and environmentally friendly. The food awareness movement requires looking below the surface of any food system, local or otherwise, because any producer could be using pesticides or harming the ecological landscape.
Goldman’s final advice is just to be conscious and aware when consuming, and to understand and respect your own personal morals.
“If you have the privilege to eat seasonally and locally you should. It’s something to aim for,” But, he concludes, “My main guiding principle is to connect with the source of my food and eat things in accordance with my values.”