“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seasonal Rant

Apparently even though British supermarket giant Tesco have had their worst sales in 20 years, they still managed to rack up £1.9 billion profit. This is why I hate supermarkets. There is something fundamentally wrong with supermarkets and people's attitudes towards them.

We haven't always been as enamoured with them as we are now, but the supermarket companies created the mentality by providing consumers with the ability to get produce from around the globe, so you could always get asparagus or plums whenever you wanted them. Sounds like a great idea, huh?

"Oh," says Joe Consumer (who, generally speaking, is a bit of a thickie), "that's brilliant, I can get whatever I want whenever I feel like it, just by not going to my local farmer or greengrocer and going to Sainsbury's instead. How convenient!"

That's the key word right there. Convenient. See, human beings are essentially a bunch of lazy bums at heart, and if Joe can avoid all those tricky extra steps to get what he wants, he will. This is why drive-thrus are so popular. Automatic car washes. Microwaves. It's all bullshit.

Because in order for those things to work, the companies behind them have to know they are on to a winner before they even start. Which they do, because they are human too, and as I said, humans are essentially lazy creatures.

But what then happens is that these things become popular - supermarkets, fast food, car washes, microwaves - and the things that were there before them - locally based food producers, mom and pop restaurants, home cooking, washing the car by hand - slowly but surely get eased out and disappear.

There is a commercial on TV here in the UK at the moment, for some supermarket chain or another, I'm not sure which one it is, in which a little girl holds up an apple and asks the kindly supermarket employee, "what's this?" to which the genial man replies, "That's a delicious British Cox's apple!". And we're all supposed to think, "That's great! they have British apples in their store! How wonderful! Save the British apple!" but the harsh reality is they also stock apples that have come from far-flung corners of the world like China and Japan, and they're probably cheaper than the Cox's Orange Pippin, to give it its full monicker.

The trouble with all this convenience is that it has stopped us humans from doing what we used to do which was eating with the seasons. Back in the day people knew that it was impossible to get plums in the depths of winter, and they ate what was locally and seasonally available. Which was good for them, good for the local farmers and gardeners, and nutritionally sound.

What happens to food after it's picked? The quality of the nutrients packed therein slowly begins to degrade. The further an item has come to get to your dinner plate, the less nourishing it will be. Some plants, like broccoli, asparagus and spinach degrade very quickly so the health benefits can almost completely disappear over time.

'Modified atmosphere' packaging, used to help fresh veg travel further, has been shown to degrade the nutrients in salads. Seasonal creatures such as lamb, wild game or some wild fish will have eaten a natural diet and thus be more wholesome.  'Food miles', such as those used in air-freighting out-of-season produce, are a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions.  Glasshouses and polytunnels heated to provide out-of-season produce also add to global warming.
Lambs that are bred and raised in their natural season do not need the same amount of specialised feed and housing as those bred early for Easter eating.
Salmon aquaculture has contributed to a devastation of the wild, seasonal stocks of salmon and sea trout.
Seasonal food has also been shown to be gastronomically superior.  Produce that is designed to have a long season and withstand packaging and transporting is always inferior, e.g. strawberries and tomatoes.  Most fruit and veg picked and eaten close to the source will taste better: the shorter the season (asparagus, plums, strawberries) the more important this is.  Seasonal creatures such as lamb, wild game or some wild fish will have eaten a natural diet and thus be more tasty.
Eating seasonally means maintaining a sustainable food chain.  You remember the food chain, right? High school Biology? Well...

The supermarket-driven insistence on predictability of supply and 'permanent global summertime' has made Britain's food chain very oil-dependent and has radically reduced our self-sufficiency. Producing and eating seasonally insulates the food chain against fuel shocks and works towards guaranteeing a sustainable food supply.
Producing food seasonally reduces the need for artificial, resource-intensive inputs such as shelter, heating and special feed.

Back in the day, as I said, folks knew what was in season without the need for enormous reference tomes, but the supermarket, and before that The Industrial Revolution, changed all that. We became a mechanized society, things started inexorably to speed up, and we lost touch with nature. So where can one go in this day and age to find out about eating with the seasons?

http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk/ is a good place to start. Don't worry, it has a North American site as well!
There's also the Center for Urban Education about sustainable Agriculture, who have a seasonal chart at http://cuesa.org/page/seasonality-chart-vegetables

Also, I'm not sure that many of you even paid attention, but for at least a year, my Name This Food! section has been based on things that are in season. Just sayin'.

So what do we need to do? Avoid supermarkets wherever possible. Grow your own fruit and veg. Support your local farmers market, your local greengrocer. And ...

Kooshti sante!


  1. Eating seasonally is also good fun, because you can look forward to different foods at different seasons. Amongst my favourites are Kentish Cobnuts - season just finishing - and sweet chestnuts - season starting in a month or so; also, asparagus in season is great and ... (I could ramble on, but won't). Buy local and stay in tune with your locality

  2. Ooh, go on, Abaddon, ramble at will... I do it all the time. And a hearty amen to your comment! Thank you, kind sir.


Come on and chew the fat!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...