Eating with the seasons is the best way for us to eat because our bodies are attuned to the seasons of the earth, as surely as they are attuned to the cycles of the sun.
Following Our Food Instincts
The legendary dancer, Martha Graham, famously declared ‘the body never lies’. If you can learn to be aware of it, your body can tell you a lot, including what it is you need to eat to stay well. Nature’s imperative is always towards wholeness and wellness. If we don’t thwart our food instincts, they will truthfully tell us what we need to eat to be healthy.
If we listen to what we really want, it should be no surprise that our instincts follow the cosmos—–thousands of years of evolution have fine-tuned us to be in synchronicity with the food cycles of the earth. The rhythms of the earth, our earth, are intrinsic to us. Eating with the seasons is what is most natural to us, even though urban living and the technological age may have disconnected us from this knowledge.
Nature’s seasonal surprises
When you pause to think of the wonder of the universe and the seasonal surprises it offers us, like the appearance of strawberries each summer, is nothing less than cosmic. I always feel, when I enjoy a summer strawberry, that when I am eating with the seasons, I am truly blessed by nature’s gifts.
I find that eating with the seasons is not something I have to try to do. In winter, I crave root vegetables, from deep within the earth—they have something I want, for I too am enveloped by the darkness of winter, gathering my energy for spring’s return. In the perfect equilibrium of our beautiful cosmos, these vegetables give me exactly what I need at this time of year.
Summer Seasonal Eating Example
In the heat of summer, eating with the seasons also gives me exactly what it is I need. Then I crave different things, those fruits that hold their faces towards the sun and soak up its golden, ripening rays, as I love to do, and the young, tender vegetables that sprout bravely, full of new energy, when I too, feel renewed and courageous and sometimes even young again, and tender!
The practice of following the rhythms of the cosmos is undoubtedly the best way for us to eat. Eating with the seasons provides the foods that our bodies naturally need, at different times of the year. Foods are at their most delicious when in season, as that is when they reach their peak flavour. They are most abundant at this time and therefore cheaper for you to buy.
Season Food is Fresh & Available
Seasonal food is the freshest and most locally available food and therefore has most nutritional value. There is also another reason to eat seasonal food that can be locally produced. In terms of transport, is not as damaging to the environment as foods that are flown in from other parts of the globe.
Do remember that seasonal foods are those that are produced in your own region! Then you can benefit from eating what is right for you, in the climate you inhabit. (It defeats the purpose of seasonal eating, if you are eating produce that is instead being flown in from abroad!)
As oil prices rocket, where we grow our food, will become a very important issue, along with the related issue of food security. When we can no longer afford to fly in food from all around the world, how are we going to be able to produce enough for ourselves and have continuity of supply?
The Future is in Local Produce
In the future, I believe local produce will resume its importance in the economic schema. I believe that we will once again learn to value the land because we will need it to survive and will learn to appreciate it again, like our ancestors of previous generations.
What we should do now, is support our local farmers so they have not all gone out of business by the time we really need them. Be forewarned, peak oil and food security are two phrases we are going to hear more and more about from now on. If we start re-developing our regional farming sectors now, these two issues will not be as devastating to us as they might be, if we continue to depend on food flown in from other countries.
Eating Seasonally Keeps us in Tune with Natural Cycles
Another good reason for eating with the seasons, is that this keeps us in tune with the cycles of nature, the ancient Wheel of the Year revered by our ancestors. When I see sad, wilting strawberries in the supermarket at Christmas-time, I think ‘who on earth would want to eat strawberries at Christmas?’ But people must buy them, or they wouldn’t be stocked. I suspect they are bought by people, who pick them up, without thinking, because of their red, Christmassy colour perhaps, or ‘just because they can’.
But the fact that we can buy strawberries for Christmas, without thinking, shows how out-of-kilter we are with our own nature and how badly we need to reconnect with our food-intuition.
We Have Always Adapted to our Environment
Humans have evolved over thousands of years to adapt to our environment. Our needs for different types of food, at different times of year, are intrinsic to that long evolution. Part of our very make-up has been shaped by the seasons. Have you noticed how you need more sleep during winter and aren’t you inclined to put on more weight? Our digestive systems and metabolisms are tuned to our seasons.
It is one of the ways we are still ancient creatures, hard-wired to the hunter-gatherer instincts that guaranteed the survival of our ancestors. For all our technology, we are creatures of this earth, we belong to its cycles, as much as the trees and the seas, the moon and the stars. The seasons of the earth are our seasons too and that is why we should honour them.
The Tale of Two Squirrels
To see how this manifests in a practical way, read about the Tale of Two Squirrels. The foods that are timely and locally grown are those that we have an evolutionary affinity for. They were designed by nature for us and we for them.
If we take some time to become conscious of what food choices we are making, as we load our trolleys in the season-less interiors of supermarkets, we can once again become attuned to our seasons and learn to hear our body’s truthful wisdom. Eating with the seasons is a very healing thing to do, restoring to us something we have lost.
Synchronise with Seasonal Food Choices
When we start eating with the seasons and synchronise ourselves more to the earth’s cycles, even when we don’t feel drawn to, our bodies are returned to balance and our food-instincts can be re-awakened, to protect us from illness and guide us towards what is best for us to eat.
Within each quadrant of the year, we all need to eat different things, according to the unique requirements of our bodies. Within the broad template of what is seasonal, you should make your individual food choices, by consciously asking yourself what you need to eat, from week to week.
Ask other members of your household also, including your children, so that they will become conscious of their bodies’ wisdom. Children are naturally more instinctual about food than adults, because they have had less time in which to be indoctrinated into the ways of the world which cut us off from instinctual knowledge. Eating with the seasons comes even more naturally to them.
It is good to help your children listen to what their bodies are telling them to eat. When they tell you what foods they feel like, do listen and give credence to what they say.
If you do this, you will be adapting your family’s diet precisely to their needs, at any particular time. After a while, you will become so in tune with your own needs, that if you pick up a bug, or virus, you will automatically choose whatever foods have the best nutrients for fighting off that sickness.
An elderly neighbour of mine, Susan, used to say that food was the best medicine. She had inherited this way of living from her own mother, who was alive in an era when people didn’t run to the doctor at the drop of a hat and want a pill for every ill. Today, cutting-edge nutritionists, like Dr Patrick Holford, are saying the same thing as Susan and her mother. (See the book Food is Better Medicine than Drugs, by Dr Patrick Holford and Jerome Burne for more information.)
What my neighbour knew, through old-fashioned common sense, is now being proven by scientific research. When you eat beautiful, fresh, local food, during the time of year in which it naturally comes to fruition, you learn to tune in to your body’s needs, you will find that food really is the best medicine. When you eat this way you will find that your overall health improves.
Seasonal Foods List
I list below, a rough guide to the seasonal foods for my part of the world, Northern Europe. However, seasons vary enormously within countries, regions and even localities. So please bear in mind that this list is not intended to be definitive, or rigid. Also, seasons overlap and vary from year to year, depending on the climate. The best way to eat seasonally is to look for food that is freshly produced in your own locality.
AUTUMN/FALL (September, October, November)
Potatoes, turnip, cabbage, cauliflower, parsnips, pumpkin, swede, beetroot, mushrooms, carrots, onions, kale, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, French beans, marrow, leeks, chestnuts. Apples, grapes, figs, pears, rhubarb, cranberries, Venison, oysters, mussels, partridge, wood pigeon, grouse, guinea fowl,
WINTER (December, January, February)
Celeriac, brussells sprouts, red cabbage, cabbage, celery, pumpkin, beetroot, leeks chard, spinach, shallots, celeriac, turnip. Lobster, scallops, guinea fowl, halibut, mussels, sea bass, turkey, goose, duck. Pears.
SPRING (March, April, May)
Radishes, artichoke, onion, scallions, broccoli, cabbage, kale, broad beans, baby carrots, watercress, cauliflower, asparagus, morel mushrooms, new potatoes, celery, spinach, radishes.Parsley, mint, wild garlic. Gooseberries, rhubarb, raspberry.Lamb, sardines, lobster, sea trout, sea bass, lemon sole, sea bream, cockles.
SUMMER (June, July, August)
Asparagus, French beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, mangetout, spinach, lettuce, radish, cauliflower, sweetcorn, oyster mushrooms, courgette, baby turnip, broad beans, chard, cucumber, chanterelle mushrooms. Basil, sage, elderflowers. Greengages, apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, tayberries, loganberries, peaches, nectarines, cherries, gooseberries, blackberries, apricot, plums, fig, rhubarb.John Dory, skate, trout, clams, salmon, crab, grey mullet, crayfish, lamb, hare.