It’s January. I shouldn’t be cutting a tomato. I shouldn’t be cutting a cucumber. I shouldn’t be cutting raspberries or mangoes. I shouldn’t even be cutting asparagus.
But here I am.
For the past year, I have suppressed my emotional pain when using out-of-season produce. I justified it because I was in culinary school. They have a curriculum and as much as I’d like that they teach my how to concasse a tomato in summer, it doesn’t always work with the schedule. I get it. I accept it…until graduation.
(By the way, concasse is to make an ‘X’ on the bottom of a tomato, plunge it into boiling water and then immediately into ice water to more easily remove the skin.)
Yet, last weekend I was working at a conference assisting a chef from a very brand-name condiment company set up for his demonstration. I was asked to chop a few tomatoes. My heart sank and so did my opinion of him.
We once ate seasonally, but it’s one of those things that got lost somewhere in our ‘instant gratification’ culture. That hurts my soul.
Your and my long-lived grandparents and great-grandparents – what were they doing? They were eating foods that were local and seasonal…and actually a hell of a lot less meat, too. Ok, they didn’t have a choice, but maybe choice is our problem today. Just because we can have tomatoes in January, should we?!
Even though I live in the largest agricultural state in the country, I know those tomatoes I was chopping didn’t grow in California. They most likely came from Florida.
There are multiple problems with this scenario.
Instead of being shipped just a dozen or so miles from a local farm, they would have to be transported more than 3,000 miles to me. That takes fuel – lots of fuel. Not only adding to their cost in the grocery store, but to the cost in terms of environmental damage – huge carbon footprint! There is also environmental damage done by trying to grow tomatoes in Florida’s sandy soil.
Also, its nutrition just sucks. Produce that is intended to go on long truck rides is often picked before it’s ripe and therefore before it can fully develop. It’s robbed of nutrients even before it’s out of the gate.
In addition, the moment something is picked it starts losing nutrients so the longer it takes to get to you, the less healthful it is. Exposure to prolonged oxygen, light and heat can also suck away nutrients.
So by the end of its cross-country joy ride, you might as well skip the tomato and gnaw on your shoe lace. An exaggeration, I admit.
Actually, if you are interested in reading more specifically about how tomatoes are grown in winter in Florida, check out “Tomatoland” by Barry Estabrook – two-time winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Food Writing. Here is a link to an excerpt.
I care so much about this topic and feel so passionate about sharing the benefits of eating seasonally that last year I incorporated this idea into my six-year-old recipe blog, Vegetarianized.com. My growing list of more than 250 original recipes are now searchable by season. As of this post, I have exactly 147 winter recipes.
To find out what is in season in North America or even in your state, here are some great resources:
Here’s just a partial list of seasonal produce for California in late January:
Ready to get started this winter?! GET MY FENNEL, PERSIMMON AND GOAT CHEESE SALAD RECIPE