I am working hard to change the way Americans eat fresh produce by promoting a return to the days of old. Well kinda… I call it a “Four Seasons Diet”, and it’s nothing crazy or fad-like. It’s simply eating foods when they are in season. The Grow and Eat It! group is working on expanding the variety and amount of foods we grow for ourselves, but even if you don’t grow produce yourself, anyone can eat this way. It’s the way everyone ate before markets were global and shipping food in from all over the place. This was before most of us were born, but think about it… If produce wasn’t in season, it simply wasn’t available back in the day. My suspicion is that, as a result, people were eating healthier back then because they were subconsciously listening to their bodies and eating the foods their bodies told them they needed.
I’ll explain why I’ve come to this conclusion. I was thinking about my garden (as I often do), and I thought about all of the foods that I love. Then I started looking for seeds for those fruits and veggies. I bought the ones I could find and planted them that summer only to fail miserably with most of them. What went wrong? Why wasn’t my lettuce doing great? I love a summer salad, but they are always so expensive. It looks like I didn’t read the fine print: lettuce grows best in cool weather. Believe me, I tasted some that did grow, and boy was it bitter! Could it be that I have been spoiled by the year-round availability of produce at the market? Why have I not noticed this before? The answer was clear: I was a typical American with no clue that fruits and vegetables aren’t really year-round anywhere.
Now I give the grocery store credit. They take advantage of the fact that we can grow food in controlled environments now that simulate the real seasons. It’s very cool technology, but is it right for us to eat the same foods year-round just because we can? I don’t think so. What about nutrition? What about the sun’s involvement? Sure, you can get it to grow, but is it truly natural with the same vitamins and minerals you get from eating food grown in season? The answer is complex. In fact sometimes it doesn’t matter at all when or how some vegetables are grown, but sometimes it does, and most of us don’t know which ones matter and which ones don’t.
What’s the easiest way to ensure that you are getting what you pay for in quality and nutritional value? Buy food that’s in season, locally grown, or grow it yourself, and skip the shipped in (un-ripe) and forced to grow crops grown in simulated environments and/or far away places. Our bodies need a more varied diet than most of us give them. Get this: You hardly have to think about it all, because if it’s in season, you probably need it in your diet!
I’m not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. This is common sense! You probably knew this already subconsciously, and I’m just backing it up with some facts. Let’s look at an example to prove our theory to be correct, and pat ourselves on the back. We’ll take vitamin C on for our example.
We all know we need vitamin C for healthy immune systems and to maintain a scurvy-free life (if you are a pirate). What’s a great source of vitamin C? Oranges! What a delicious Summer fruit! NOPE! Oranges are harvested in Winter. Believe me… I live in Florida, and I run a farmers market. Beach goers stop all Summer long looking for Florida oranges in June and look at me like I have 3 heads when I tell them they will have to come back in December if they want them fresh off the tree. Okay, you get the point… You’ve known this all along.
So where will we get our vitamin C from in Spring when those super popular Florida oranges are out of season? How about peas, asparagus, or strawberries? Summer’s peppers are loaded with the C, and there are always raspberries, pineapples, kiwi, cantaloupes, and papayas to name a few. Fall gives us apples, cranberries, mustard and collard greens, beets, and spinach all loaded up with good old vitamin C. Shiver me timbers… It looks like pirates can avoid scurvy year-round if they eat right!
That’s exactly the point I am making here. No, I’m not talking about pirates anymore… I’m talking about all of us! The fruits and vegetables available in any given season can provide us with the vitamins and minerals that we need to survive. It’s not even hard to get them, and you can probably grow them yourself! Maybe you can’t grow pineapples and papayas in Michigan naturally, but you can grow strawberries and raspberries in the same season the other two are growing elsewhere. Wherever you may live, you will have a source of what you need nutritionally that can be grown locally to you. I told you it isn’t hard!
Have you ever bought an apple in say, May, and realized that you made a huge mistake? The texture and the taste are all wrong, but why? They had them on sale at the store, and they looked tasty! Maybe it was shipped halfway around the world to a distribution center, then kept in cold storage for a while, then trucked in to the store last week before you saw it on sale this week. After you take that mushy, pithy bite of nastiness it occurs to you why it was on sale. It’s not apple season… anywhere! You bought it, because your body told you it needed some vitamin C, and you know apples are a good source of the C. They just aren’t the source you should look to in May.
What you could have bought were the deliciously ripe strawberries grown on a farm just outside of town that were probably picked yesterday. They were right around the corner from those mushy apples you bought and contain the very same nutritional value your body was looking for, but they are locally grown and in season. So why didn’t you choose them? The answer is sad: You never once considered the season as a basis for your choice. You just remembered that apples were a vitamin C source, and they are, but they taste better in the Fall when they are in season (when strawberries taste like crap and/or have an awful texture because they are shipped in from another hemisphere and held at customs for days before they reach you.)
I’ve beaten vitamin C to a mushy pulp now, but you get the idea. There are always choices in the produce department that are better than others depending on the season it is. You can be choosy and still get the nutrition that you need by picking produce when it tastes best. Oh my gosh doesn’t that sound good? It is good! It’s good for your health and your taste buds all at the same time! Back in the old days it wasn’t quite as complicated.
Before global availability came into play, you didn’t have a choice. If it wasn’t in season, it wasn’t available. Now we need to be a little more educated about our purchase decisions to make the best ones for our diet. That’s one reason that we at Grow and Eat It! are working on growing more of our own food. If we can grow it, we can eat it! That helps a lot with the situation, but we all still shop at the grocery store too, so this concept applies to everyone. How do you do this Four Seasons Diet lifestyle change starting from scratch? There are only three principles to remember.
First, think about it… you know most of the information already, but if you have forgotten something you are just a quick Internet search away from the answers you seek. Make a list of all the produce items that you consume on a regular basis, then find out when they are in season. Sort the list by season, and BAM! there’s your grocery list.
Second, think about the nutritional values of each item on the list. You might want to look that up too… look it up, record it somehow, and you can refer back to it if you need to. It will help you balance your diet easily. If your seasonal produce list is deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral during a season, you will be too. It’s time to branch out and try new things! Search for a list of fruits and vegetables that are harvested during the season you need to balance, and look for what your body needs on the list.
Third and finally, enjoy your new diet! One of the worst parts of a fad diet is that it tends to get mundane. Fad diets are not tailored for long-term adoption. They are designed for quick results, so they can be pretty short-sighted. A Four Seasons Diet is a way of life. If you adopt this baby, it’s yours! Anyone can do this, and it works for everyone. It always has worked, and it always will. Why it works is very simple: It’s the way nature intended it to be!
So get out there and buy some produce that’s in season and delicious! When seasons change, change what you buy. You won’t find yourself tired of one particular thing, and what you eat will taste better. That in itself is a win, win situation! If you want to go the extra mile, grow your own fruits and vegetables to cut your grocery bill down and enjoy the many benefits of gardening. The best benefit is that you get to Grow and Eat It! Most importantly, be healthy in body and mind with a balanced diet and a mindset to match. Welcome to the Four Seasons Diet!
Dave Palmer is a farmers market/restaurant owner with a love for science, gardening, cooking, and eating well. He’s not the creator of the Four Seasons Diet (nature is), but he is the reviver of the concepts that you just read.