Here’s the problem with eating out of season

In 2014 a BBC Good Food survey showed that most British consumers can’t identify which fruit and vegetables are in season when. We may know that the strawberries in our Christmas trifle have probably been shipped over from Egypt, but few of us have stopped to consider when courgettes or broccoli are in season. What’s gone into harvesting the asparagus we’re eating in October, or the pomegranates we add to a spring salad?

Whether or not food tastes better when it’s in season is debatable. Anyone who’s tried a burgundy, juicy tomato grown on a southern Italian vine in July will surely attest to its superiority over anything you can buy in a British winter, but for a lot of people, many foods taste broadly the same throughout the year.

So if the shops are selling the ingredients at a reasonable price and they taste fine, why worry about whether your produce is seasonal?

When the ingredients on your plate have been harvested at the right time of year, they require fewer artificial resources, such as lighting, heating, fertilisers and pesticides — all of which have a detrimental impact on the environment, which is why eating seasonally is a crucial part of living an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

When you buy food out of season, all the chemicals and fuel needed to create the right artificial environment create harmful gas emissions. According to Will Allen, author of War on Bugs, including all the “manufacture and use of pesticides and fertilizers, fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking and shipping, electricity for lighting, cooling, and heating, and emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases” means the agricultural emissions cause between 25 and 30 percent of the US’s collective carbon footprint, which calculates the amount of harmful carbon dioxide released into the environment.

While eating seasonal won’t solve every environmental issue associated with agriculture, it does lower the footprint of each individual ingredient. Eating seasonally also helps to keep your produce local. If an ingredient isn’t seasonal, it will have to either be harvested using artificial methods, or transported from a country with the appropriate climate.

The environmental costs to transporting produce across the world is huge, and locally-sourced food also has additional health benefits. The less distance your food needs to travel, the less chance there is of its nutrient value decreasing, and with a smaller supply chain chances of contamination are lower. Of course, buying from suppliers in the area also helps prop up your local economy, and increase diversity in the industry.

Ultimately, eating ingredients out of season can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint, as well as affecting the nutritional value of your meals and local economies. There are so many options available at supermarkets that it can be tough to know what’s in season and what isn’t, but for a lot of food items, we can follow our instincts fairly safely: there’s a good reason you associate pumpkins with Halloween and brussel sprouts with Christmas, and when in doubt, head to your local farmers’ market and pick up only the produce you know was grown nearby, for a healthier more sustainable lifestyle.