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GEORGE: Why we should eat seasonally

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Chris George
August 14, 2018 - 12:09 PM

 


OPINION


The global food system is amazing. We have created a process that can put enormous diversity of food onto any plate in our province, assuming the plate will be sliding in front of someone who can afford to pay. 

Do you want lamb with fresh mango chutney? A trip to the grocer and a couple of hours in the kitchen will do it. Do you want zucchini in January? Simplicity itself as the summer squash is now a staple of produce departments across our province.

The system has transcended both time and place but at a cost. I think we need to have a hard look at what we eat and go back to eating a seasonal diet.

This is the first year that our household has participated in a CSA box program. In exchange for a one-time payment in early spring we are treated to a diverse and tasty box of produce each week over the 15 week season. Every single vegetable is fresh and in season. It travels from Golden Ears Farm in Chase to Sorrento, where I pick it up.

A huge benefit of eating seasonally is the low energy use inherent in local food. The energy used to grow organic veggies in Chase and transport them here was negligible when compared to what it takes to get the same product from California or Mexico. Transporting produce has some serious problems beyond the obvious pollution footprint. The rigours of the journey must be overcome and the primary method used by growers has been to grow only varieties that transport well.

Tomatoes are a good example of what has happened. In most grocery stores we are now down to a handful of varieties. All were chosen for their excellent storage and handling capabilities. Flavour and nutrition simply don't make the cut. Given that there are more than 15,000 known varieties of tomatoes out there including 3,000 heirloom varieties under cultivation, the loss of diversity and flavour is painful. Hence the joy even one tomato plant in a planter on a balcony can bring to a flavour starved human.

All of those flavours and textures are local to somewhere. The loss of diversity that has come with the industrial food system has led to the slow extirpation of thousands of local varieties of produce of every kind.

Plants that are well adapted to local growing conditions slowly develop their own vigour and taste. Variety is not only the spice of life, variety leads to resilience. If everyone grows one variety of a plant and a bug, blight, or weather event wipes them out, that crop is lost.

Our food system is based on a few varieties of grains.

Corn, wheat, and soybeans have been developed over time to provide benefits to the financial aspects of the process. As we saw last spring in Kansas and are experiencing this year in Russia, unusual weather can play havoc with large quantities of these monocrops. Lack of diversity makes the system brittle. One stressor can ruin an entire crop. If thousands of varieties are in the ground it is far less likely that any one thing will take them all out.

The loss of diversity affects not only what is on our plate but what lives inside us.

Our family has been eating off our small acreage (not exclusively) for a decade now. The microorganisms in the soil now live inside us. A healthy population of bacteria in our guts helps keep the bad bugs out, helps us process nutrients, and helps keep us healthy.

Eating nothing but processed foods or foods grown in mainly sterile soils (like the herbicide and fertilizer drenched ones in the places our food is grown) isn't doing us any favours when it comes to fighting off e. Coli and its brethren.

Eating seasonally means eating locally. British Columbia currently produces under half of what we would need to feed our population.

Fires, floods, drought, and demagogues with random tariffs can all put barriers between us and the food we need to live. Looking after our own needs locally will have obvious benefits to our province. Money spent on local food is money that stays here in our communities supporting local enterprise and local families. Food grown in your backyard or on your balcony frees up resources for your family to use for other things.

It is now going on three weeks since our garden zucchini has been hitting the plate here. From four plants we have experienced a daily tide of the summer squash that has at times threatened to overwhelm our kitchen.

We have cracked recipe books and tasked Google with providing us with different ways to prepare this bounty but as it does every year, zucchini for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is getting old. Zucchini's season, at least in our house, is reaching its end.

Just in time for blueberries!

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.


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