Season to Taste
Excerpted from Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner.* Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Kanner. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
You could call the way the riot of fresh greens coincides with Lent divine intervention, a great cosmic meant-to-be. Or you could call it seasonality. This term has gotten a lot of buzz in the past few years, which goes to show you how out of whack we are. Until the last century, seasonal eating was all we did. We would harvest the fruits and vegetables available to us when they were ready, then we’d eat them. This makes sense.
Then came refrigeration and air travel and we could get fresh grapes in December. We could get everything all the time. And we still weren’t happy. Because the grapes didn’t much taste like grapes, as they were grown for sturdiness rather than for that low, slow building of tannic skin and sweet, juicy flesh and hint of soil and rain that’s inherently grapey. Then the grapes were picked underripe so they wouldn’t be dead by the time you got to them, then they were flown or trucked in from another country.
International travel totally rags me out, so how can it not do the same to a grape?
Then there’s the cost for out of season stuff. The earth has limited amounts of oil, limits we’re bumping up against. Depleting our finite reserves for a bunch of grapes because the mood strikes is not, as your accountant will tell you, cost efficient.
The problem is, we’ve gotten out of sync with the rhythms of the earth. Our go-go society makes us feel guilty for being other than 24/7, when really, lovey, no one is 24/7, or if so, it’s because whoever it is has staff. Even the planet doesn’t do 24/7. Twenty-four/seven is a lie — there, I’ve said it.
The earth has its rhythms, times of growth and bounty, of quiescence and regeneration. We call them seasons. Seasons are the way the world speaks to us. It even tells us what to eat, with trees providing juicy fruit to cool and hydrate us when it’s hot, and dense, durable root vegetables grown from deep within the earth to sustain and nourish us when it’s cold.
But do we listen? Not from the looks of things. Eating out of season is like living in a foreign country without understanding the language. You might be able to get by with frantic gesture and shouting, but you miss the nuance, all the lovely ways of this place. You miss what the earth is trying to tell you. It’s saying, pay attention. Live in the moment. Gather ye rosebuds — and broccoli buds and nasturtium buds — while ye may, because they won’t be here tomorrow. Or if they’re still around, they’ll have lost their luster.
Luster is the best reason to eat what’s ripe now. Think of fresh popcorn versus stale, flat champagne versus a bottle that bubbles and sparkles. Food tastes best when it’s fresh. Seasonal eating is nature’s way of directing you to food at its most vibrant, when it’s crazy-mad with chi. It connects you to the earth and its seasons, throws a little meaning in, if you’re looking for it, but mostly it’s about having a good time.
Ellen Kanner is the Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger,the syndicated columnist The Edgy Veggie, and contributor to publications including Culinate, Bon Appetit, and Every Day With Rachael Ray as well as her own blog.
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