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There was a time, not all that long ago relatively speaking, when “eating seasonally” was not a catch-phrase or a “food movement”—or even a choice. It was simply the way humans received their daily nourishment. Tender greens appeared in the spring, tomatoes and corn were abundant in the warm summer months, and root vegetables flourished in the fall and winter. Chickens laid their biggest and best eggs in late summer, and made a fine roast in December; sweet and tender spring lamb was just that, and slow-cooked mutton warmed the winter nights.
Today, of course, we have supermarkets that are jam-packed with every conceivable foodstuff known to man and then some. Too cold in your neck of the woods for asparagus? No problem, we’ll fly it in from Peru. Wrong time of year for peaches? Fear not, New Zealand has a terrific crop they’re willing to share. This must be a good thing, right?
Not necessarily. Everything comes with a price, in some instances literally. Higher costs, environmental damage, and loss of nutrition and taste are only a few of the more evident ones in this scenario.
On a practical level, transporting food long distances increases the cost. If you have to pack a case of asparagus, get it to an airport, fly it to another country, transfer it to another truck, and deliver it another several hundred miles away—well, that will be pretty pricey asparagus. Compare that to some seasonally correct broccoli that was harvested on a local farm and took just one day and maybe 60 miles to reach your table.
Then ponder the fossil fuel consumed in that aircraft and those trucks, and the emissions created in the atmosphere, and suddenly your dinner vegetables are contributing to wide-ranging pollution.
Finally, consider this fact: any foodstuff that has to travel further and longer will have to be picked sooner and will be less ripe than its local counterpart. Blush-ripe peaches cannot endure the rigors of massive packing crates and tumultuous travel; hence, they are picked when they are still pale and hard, instead of developing to perfection on the tree. Any vegetable or fruit that is not allowed to ripen properly simply won’t taste good—and worse, it won’t contain as many nutrients as a naturally ripened one.
So here are a few suggestions for getting back to nature, even if in a limited way:
First and foremost, shop at local farmers markets and health food stores; that’s where you’ll find the best and healthiest local produce, poultry, fish, and meats.
Look for restaurants that feature seasonal menus and local produce.
Read the signs at the grocery store; the origins of food should be labeled. Choose items that are as local as possible.
Plan your menus with an eye on the calendar, and select dishes that reflect the natural flow of the seasons. Your family will enjoy them more, and you’ll be doing your part to help preserve the environment and support businesses in your own community.
Top restaurants that take pride in serving locally grown, seasonal food
West Coast • Fig & Olive, West Hollywood, CA • figandolive.com
Here, taste buds are transported to the South of France, where founder Laurent Halasz grew up—and where fresh regional produce is part of daily life. With a respect for provencial flavors and culinary principles, executive chef Pascal Lorange has created an acclaimed three-course Farmer’s Menu that changes seasonally to showcase selections from five local family-run farms across Southern California. Signature dish: Provençal Roasted Organic Chicken with Heirloom Potatoes and Ratatouille.
East Coast • Blue Hill, Greenwich Village, NY • bluehillfarm.com
A favorite among folks in the big city for date nights and special occasions, Blue Hill’s menu incorporates high-quality, fresh ingredients from small farms surrounding the city—nothing is flown in or trucked in over great distances. A Farmer’s Feast Menu features a five-course tasting inspired by that week’s harvest. Signature dish: Purple Potato and Ricotta Gnocchi.
Midwest • North Pond, Chicago, IL • northpondrestaurant.com
One of the core philosophies behind this restaurant is that farm-to-table dishes simply taste better. True to this tenet, chef Bruce Sherman relies almost exclusively on produce and cheeses from local farmers and artisans—creating cuisine that earned North Pond a Michelin Star in 2013. Signature dish: Cauliflower-Apple Velouté Soup.
South • TRACE, Austin, TX • traceaustin.com
TRACE is literally named for the importance of knowing the source of your food, so you know they’re serious about fresh, regional ingredients. TRACE sources directly from the city’s nearby farms, and the menu changes frequently to showcase the best of these ingredients at the peak of the season. Signature dish: Niman Ranch Lamb Chops with Broccoli, Cipollini Onion, and Potatoes.
Click here for the Roasted Cauliflower Purée recipe shown below.