Buying seasonal produce…

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the idea of only eating foods when they are in season. We are so lucky here because we have our weekly market just up the road, and we feed ourselves almost entirely on fresh fruits and vegetables. Nearly all our meals are made from scratch, and we almost never buy processed food. This means our diet is about as healthy as you could get and we also have relatively little non-organic waste from our food or the packaging it comes in.

So, generally, the only things we throw away in the non-biodegradable category are: plastic bottles for olive oil and sunflower oil (I really need to start buying olive oil in bulk in a big tin or at least in glass bottles. I don’t know if I’ve seen sunflower oil in glass bottles but I think that can be bought in bulk in a tin too.), glass bottles for our fresh milk and their little plastic caps, TONS of plastic bags that all the wonderful fruit and veg and fresh bread are put in when you buy them (we use these for our kitchen and bathroom garbage bins, so at least they have an extra use), occasional plastic packaging from pasta, a very rare piece of cling film/plastic wrap used to keep a slice of fresh melon fresh in the fridge, a few paper towels every week… I really think that’s about it. Not perfect, but not too bad.

I really wish we were able to compost here, since the vast majority of what we throw away is just bits of fruit and veg. But this isn’t really the sort of place where people have worm boxes (I don’t even know if anyone would know what it is!) and in the middle of a city, when you live in an apartment, you can hardly just make a compost pile wherever you want. I really wish we could though. Then we’d really throw very little away.

But anyway, back to eating seasonal foods. Living here has turned me into a very different kind of shopper and consequently a different kind of cook. When you shop at the market, you can see the change in availability of different produce throughout the year. Sometimes things aren’t available at all or they are more expensive when they’re out of season. When things are in season, they look and smell beautiful, they’re full of flavour, they’re available EVERYWHERE and they’re cheap. Buying seasonal is almost effortless here.

Its changed the way I cook though. I used to look up a recipe I wanted to try and then go do a special shopping run to get the ingredients I needed for that dish. In Dublin, sometimes this involved multiple stores; the Middle Eastern shop for spices or herbs, the green grocers for the fresh fruits and veggies, the supermarket for general items like dairy products, pasta, rice, maybe a health shop for dried beans or fruits, and then the fancy food market for fish or nice cheese, or the butchers for meat. So, I think lots of things I cooked turned out to be a bit expensive, and I don’t think it was the most efficient way to shop. Although I did enjoy experimenting with exotic recipes.

Now, I buy our sort of staple items every week, such as a couple of kilos of aubergines/eggplant, green peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, salad greens and fresh herbs, onions and potatoes, and lemons. Then I might buy a few different veggies that are easily available to make a certain meal which usually still centres around the staple items above. I have a few favourite dishes that I make every week that involve the main produce I buy. Obviously, we eat tons of aubergines every week! Two whole kilos! So, food preparation is actually easier, and since I make some of the same recipes regularly, I have them memorized and I don’t have to follow any complicated instructions. Its good for a busy schedule. Then when it comes to buying fruit, its the flavour of the moment, so to speak. At different times, different things are on the market;  plums, cherries, melons of different varieties, peaches, pears, and nectarines are all in season at the moment, so there’s tons to choose from.

So, I feel very lucky to live in a place where it is possible to eat well, have a nice varied diet, and still buy seasonally available foods. This involves less shipping, and consequently less pollution from transportation of foods, it also involves basically no packaging, since produce isn’t stuck into plastic containers to keep it safe and fresh while being shipped all around the world. I think buying seasonal is a great thing to do, but I also realize it isn’t really possible in every country. Some places are just fortunate to have a great climate and great produce and others are much more limited. I’m not sure what the solution is if you’re from, say, a more northerly country with a limited number of native crops, such as Ireland. And there are also items that are more specialized and only come from certain places. For example, tons of the worlds hazelnuts come from Turkey, or certain delicious cheeses only come from France or Italy, or lots of peanuts are grown in West Africa (I think). Maybe these things are a luxury, and therefore not necessary, but they’re awfully good. I also think there are some unfair laws and subsidies and biases involved in being very exclusive about only eating local, seasonal foods. It certainly can put poor farmers in developing countries at an unfair disadvantage and can have serious ‘protectionist’ tendencies, which I’m not in favour of.

But anyway, that’s a pretty long post just about food. I think I’m just happy to have the internet back so I’m willing to babble on about anything!

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