What Eating Seasonally Has To Do With It

Apr 13, 2017

Elspeth Hay: Almost every week, late Friday or early Saturday, my house runs out of milk. We belong to a milk co-op; each Sunday a different local family takes turns driving to Dartmouth and bringing back milk for every family in the group. The amount we get is the closest to what we need, but it doesn't always last us until the following Sunday. 

For simplicity's sake, I've grown to appreciate this gap. It's taken me awhile to quell the instinct to run out for milk the moment we run out, because like most of us, for most of my life, I’ve accepted the idea that certain items—milk, or eggs, for instance—should always be on hand.

But eating seasonally and locally has forced me to challenge that assumption.

Ali Berlow: The ingredient that was my ‘A-ha moment’ about eating seasonally was chicken. Because before I started buying locally raised birds, it had never occurred to me that there was actually a ‘chicken season’ for Island farmers. Since they’re raising their flocks outside—the season begins in the spring and ends with turkeys at Thanksgiving. That means if I want to have chicken year-round, I need to stock my freezer for the winter—but judiciously though, since local meat is still more expensive. So this also means we eat less meat and I keep learning how to make the most of every bird. From a Sunday’s roast which can turn into chicken salad (for example), and then to stocks for soup, wishbones for luck and then finally to compost. Anticipating the next season is fine by me.

EH: I’ve gotten used to the waiting. I’ve also noticed that the saying is true: necessity really is the mother of invention. We belong to a grain-and-bean CSA in western Mass, and recently we ran out of oats. I started wondering how we might still conjure up a hot cereal for breakfast, and we discovered cornmeal cooked slowly with water into a porridge. Topped with a big pat of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup it’s delicious, and strikingly close to cream of wheat.

AB: Eating seasonally is a challenge. It’s like a practice, or a discipline—to hold back from the immediate gratification of buying whatever, whenever, and out of season. My mom likes to say: ‘Hunger makes the best appetite’. A classic example of this I think are strawberries shipped here from California. They’re not sweet, the texture is dry, and they’re cardboard-like. So why not wait for them when they’re at peak here, in our region? They taste so much better, and then I’ll put them up if I want them year-round.

Spring ramps
Credit Ali Berlow

EH: We don’t eat 100 percent local foods—I’d say we’re around 75 percent in the summer, but in the winter that number hovers closer to a third or half our diet. Local meats, seafood, dairy, and grains are easy, but produce on Cape Cod is tough. Full disclosure: I hit our local produce shop on Saturdays every week after the winter farmers’ market to stock up on things I can’t find from local vendors—fruits and veggies I believe my family needs to stay healthy. But every year, as both my own knowledge of how to cook with and preserve local foods and the availability of these foods grows, that percentage of local food we consume in winter gets a little bit bigger.

AB: It’s unrealistic for most people to eat everything local or within some arbitrary boundary like 100 miles, for instance. And I think that there can be a fair amount of competitiveness and even judgment swirling around how ‘local’ is your grocery basket. There are so many dynamic factors and decisions that go into our food choices - like history, culture, finances, lifestyle, food preferences and access, even zip codes. I’m hoping seasonality gets into the mix no matter where we live. Because from what I’ve discovered in shifting my own mindset in the kitchen is that there’s a sense of security and comfort to be had in cooking and eating more local and in sync with the seasons, and that includes sometimes going without. All that said, I really am looking forward to the growing season.

EH: My rhubarb just came up... Soon enough, we’ll have the first pie of spring.

Here's a resource to find markets, farmers markets, restaurants and other outlets for local, sustainable food.