Q: It seems like most produce is available year-round. Is it ok to buy produce out of season, and if not, why?
Thanks to modern agricultural technology, we're able to eat a variety of produce year-round, but is that exactly a good thing? In most cases, the answer is no. Produce that is available out of its normal season is often shipped from far away countries or grown in artificial conditions, both of which can have a negative impact on the taste and nutritional profile of the food, as well as on the environment at large.
Different seasons of the year provide different growing conditions for crops. Fruits and vegetables that need lots of sunlight and warmth to grow will flourish in the summer, for example, while those needing dark, damp spaces grow better in the late fall and winter. When environmental conditions (weather, sun, the soil’s nutrients, seasonal pollen, etc.) are conducive to the growth of a particular crop, that crop will grow to be fragrant, succulent, and colorful. Crops grown out of season often lack the intensity of flavor and texture that ideal conditions facilitate.
What about shipping ripe produce in from other countries? This also poses a problem, because food tends decrease in nutrients as it moves further away from its point of origin. The next time you reach for a tomato in the winter, know that imported foods may travel upwards of 1,500 miles to get to your store, and most are kept in sub-par conditions. This doesn’t even account for its time spent sitting on the supermarket shelf! According to a Penn State study, spinach lost most of its folate and carotenoid concentrations after just eight days of proper storage.
And finally, the fuel and energy spent shipping foods from all over the world, as well as the chemicals used to maintain controlled environments in greenhouses have a very real and negative impact on the health of our planet. Buying local, organic, and in season is the most sustainable way to eat. With the reduction of travel distance and the elimination of harmful preservation methods, the environmental impact of your purchase is greatly reduced.