Living the WELL Life

A Newbie's Guide to Seasonal Eating and Cooking - by Christy Morgan

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I recently contributed to JL's Vegan 101 Seriesand I wanted to share it with you all at Christina Cooks! For me, being vegan isn’t just about saving the animals (though that is the most important piece of the puzzle for me). When I make food choices, I consider the global impact and how it’s going to affect my mind, body, and spirit.

Some of you may be thinking, “Oh you daft hippy, shall we sit around the fire and sing Kumbaya?”  But, seriously. The way we eat affects everything in our life. It’s literally the answer to all our problems physically, psychologically, environmentally and spiritually. I feel this bigger picture is neglected if we simply care that the food we eat not contain animal ingredients. If we take our diets a few simple steps further then we can reduce our impact on the planet even more than we already do by being vegan. Every step we take in our lives makes an impact and it also sets an example for others.

Eating Locally & Seasonally

When we talk about “eating seasonally” what exactly does that mean? It’s unfortunate that the grocery stores of today are seasonless. You wander through the produce aisle and you’ll find apples from New Zealand, bananas from Ecuador, and coconuts from Thailand. These things that are not local travel thousands of miles to get to your plate using precious resources and polluting the environment. Not only that, the food isn’t as fresh as something you can buy that was just picked nearby. So eating locally and seasonally go hand in hand.

If you are eating local foods you are by default eating seasonally. If something is grown within 100-300 miles it’s considered “local” in my book. If it’s produced within the next few states away from you that’s pretty good too.  The best way to figure out what is growing in your area is to visit a local farmer’s market or go to a farm near you. Maybe your area has a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you join a CSA, you pay upfront a certain amount that will guarantee you a box of produce when the harvest season starts. If you don’t have access to farmer’s markets or a CSA, your grocery store will either label where the produce comes from or you can ask the employees for the info.

Eating For Spring

We know that the traditional four seasons include spring, summer, autumn, and winter. During each of these seasons certain fruits and vegetables grow abundantly, while others may not thrive. In my macrobiotic and Chinese medicine studies along with my master gardening classes I learned what things grow in each season and how those foods affect our organ systems, energy, feelings and emotions. A great book that explains this in more depth is Staying Healthy With The Seasons by Elson M. Hass. Your body becomes in tune with your surrounding environment, the soil and the water system. Haas explains that the closer we are in balance with our environment and the earth, the healthier we can be.

All foods have a particular energetic quality. For example, if you live in a tropical environment you would want to eat foods grown in that environment because they will most likely benefit you, like cooling you off. If you live in a cold place and were to eat tropical foods all day, then you would cause an overly cold condition in your body, which would lower your immunity and throw you out of balance. I’m not saying never eat tropical foods, just understand how powerful food can be in relation to your environment.

The Foods of Spring

Different foods grow in different areas but in general you can find these things growing in the warmer warms of March, April and May. Visit this link to find state-specific seasonal produce guides.

 Grains: barley, wheat, oats, rye
 Vegetables: Leafy green vegetables: broccoli, parsley, lettuce, kale, collard greens, cabbage
 Other greens: alfalfa, green peas, green beans, zucchini, celery, asparagus, sugar snap peas/snow peas, fennel
 Roots and other: carrot, beet, onion, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, artichokes, summer squash
 Beans and Pulses: green lentils, split peas, black-eye peas, mung, lima, fava
 Fruits: limes, lemons, grapefruit, Granny Smith apple, apricots, plums, pomegranates, cucumber

Cooking for Spring

Spring is the time of new growth, rebirth, starting fresh, moving upward and everything around is sprouting and blooming. You may feel new energy or motivation pushing you forward. It’s always a good time to go through the closet, throw out the old and make space for the new.

You will also notice the weather getting warmer. Warm soups and stews are not sounding so good. Salads, vegetables and fruits are playing a bigger role in your meals. Juices and smoothies are making a big splash and water dense vegetables are filling your plates. It’s only natural that when the weather gets warm we start to crave foods that will cool us off. Lighter cooking methods like steaming, blanching, and raw foods are more appropriate for spring weather. Instead of oil sauté, try sautéing in water or broth. This will help you feel lighter and more energized.

Planning a Meal for Spring

Now that you know what veggies are growing in the spring you can create a complete meal keeping the seasons in mind. Let’s say I’m making dinner for friends. The basic elements of the meal would be a soup or appetizer, the entrée would include a grain, a vegetable, a protein dish with an optional salad, then dessert.

My favorite cookbook is Clean Food by Terry Walters because each chapter is divided by season, which takes the work out of it for me (and the food is clean and delicious). But to add variety and use different cookbooks I’ll pull out 4 of my favorite cookbooks off my bookshelf and devise my meal from those.

You can do this one of two ways; head to the farmer’s market and buy what looks good to you, then plan the meal from that. Or the easier and most likely faster thing to do would be to plan the meal first, then make the grocery list and head to the store to buy everything.

Here’s a video I did explaining my process.  Hopefully it is helpful in showing you how to plan a meal for spring. I think this process makes cooking more fun. And you’ll reduce your carbon footprint and save money at the same time.  Happy spring!


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