Eating Local Foods During Winter

I often look to traditional Japanese cuisine for diet ideas and recipes. When it comes to food, the Japanese do a lot of things right. Among the Japanese, there are lower levels of chronic illness and higher life-expectancy than among Americans.

There is a kind of food philosophy in Japan called kaiseki. Really, it’s a type of dinner, but the ideas behind it are well-thought and quite brilliant.

Kaiseki emphasizes the use of in-season (as fresh as possible) local foods. With every bit of diet and health research I do, the idea of eating in-season, local food sounds like the way to go.

Eating local is good for the local economy, it can be good for the environment, it’s more sustainable than our current agricultural system, and it’s good for our health!

But I live in Pennsylvania. We have winter here. In this part of the country, most farmers’ markets are closed from November to April, some longer. Yet, in today’s consumer market we can buy just about anything, whether it is in-season locally or not.

I never really thought about this before. I just accepted the fact that I could not eat local foods during winter. Then, I watched a documentary (a horror movie?) called Food, Inc. I learned that non-local tomatoes are picked when they are green (unripe) so they can be shipped successfully across the world to places like Pennsylvania. Then, they are turned red by exposure to gas.

Science could probably argue that the gas can be rinsed off the tomatoes, or is harmless. But my intuition tells me it’s not right. Do tomatoes that are picked when they are green develop into the same nutrient-rich food as ripe tomatoes? Doesn’t picking tomatoes before they’re ripe seem like cheating? In my experience, you cannot cheat nature. It always comes back around.

I always want to be as healthy as possible. I thought, if people could survive the Pennsylvania winter three-hundred years ago (before mass-transportation), there must have been locally-sourced foods available.

I found that even in Pennsylvania, where the winters are long and dead, it is possible to eat local foods all year! The details of my findings are listed below.

 

Local Foods Available All Year

Some plants are tough enough to grow in late autumn and early winter, and some will stay ripe/edible for the entire winter season. These are mostly root vegetables and greens. This group provides a solid variety of nutrients.

– Onions

– Rutabagas

– Apples

– Beets

– Squash

– Parsnips

– Carrots

– Potatoes

– Cabbage

– Kale

2.     Cows, chickens, and other livestock, are kept throughout winter, so many animal products are available.

– Beef

– Chicken

– Turkey

– Eggs

– Milk (and other milk products like cheese)

3.     If you are okay with eating grains and legumes, you may be able to get locally-grown grains. These have always been a popular choice because they have a long shelf-life and will last through the winter.

4.     Nuts are like grains in the sense that they have great shelf-life.

5.     Honey and maple syrup certainly aren’t healthy if they’re the only food you eat, but they can usually be obtained locally year-round.

Useful Websites

Here are a couple websites that will help you track down local food suppliers. I was surprised to find plenty of winter foods available in my locale on these websites:

– http://www.localharvest.org/– This one has been most helpful in my experience.

– https://www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/farmersmarkets– There is an option for winter markets on this one.

I live near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so I found several options for getting my produce locally during the winter. Growing up in a small town, I know these websites can sometimes falter in those areas. However, I did a search for my old hometown, and Local Harvest even came up with several results there! Maybe you are not so fortunate. Don’t worry, there’s still hope.

 

Preservation

We covered foods you are likely to find available at a local market during winter, but there are also foods you can buy at the peak of their growing season and save for winter. Foods can be preserved in a few ways:

– Canning

– Pickling

– Fermenting

– Freezing

Between the local produce available during winter and the methods of preserving, anyone can eat local foods all year. Of course, you won’t be able to buy a fresh tomato in January – you will have to settle for canned, which have a unique goodness of their own – but that will help you appreciate them more when summer comes.

Grow Your Own

There’s one more option for the adventurous: growing yourown microgreens indoors.

Sources:

http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/how-to-eat-local-in-winter-infographic/

–       Good infographic

http://www.organicauthority.com/5-ways-to-eat-local-food-even-during-the-winter/

–       Good info, mentions microgreens

https://eomega.org/article/5-ways-to-eat-local-food-in-winter

http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/how-to-eat-local-during-the-winter-months

–       Mentions not worrying about eating local 100% of the time

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