(You can buy this vegetannual poster here.)
I am currently relishing in reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Today I sat in the park at toddler hour (10 am) without my toddler, drinking my chai, and reading about the mythical, metaphorical plant Kingsolver invented, the vegetannual. She invented this plant to help the horticulturally challenged have a handy dandy way of understanding which produce is in season throughout the year and why.
Somehow I have gained the knowledge that cherries and peaches are summer fruits and cranberries are in season in winter, I think? Winter is definitely squash, or is that fall? and a mango in January isn't normal. But I'm kind of shaky on the whole thing because for as long as I have been in charge of grocery shopping, I have gone to supermarkets that feature all produce almost all year round. I haven't gardened much, but I've tried a couple of times and remember that seed packets have maps and charts on the back telling you where things will grow and when to plant them. I know my old neighbors cucumbers were out last July. But, uh...okay that's about it for me.
Kingsolver reminds us that most of the produce we enjoy are annual crops of flowering plants. All flowering plants share a life cycle abbreviated as: winter seeds lying in ground waiting, spring sprout, shoots, leaves, buds, flowers, pollinate, fruits, store extra energy as tuber, root, or bulb, seeds lie dormant until it starts over again next spring. All of the annual plants are growing roughly across the same growing season between frosts, but since we eat different parts of different plants, different produce items will be in season at different times. So, depending of course on latitude and climate and length of season for the particulars, the basic sequence of produce that is in season in any given place will follow that life cycle. Think about it this way: lettuces are leaves, peaches are fruit, beets are tubers. Meaning, lettuce will be in season first in the spring, peaches next in the summer, and beets toward the very end of the growing season in late fall. Isn't this brilliant?! Something I can understand and easily remember.
Kingsolver's explanation is much more award winning author than mine, so I invite you to read an article adapted from her book called "Stalking the Vegetannual".
Think Globally, Eat Locally
Now all this talk of in season, out of season is related, of course, to the travels of our food. You can't eat an out of season cherry unless it is in season somewhere else in the world at that moment, which means that someone is shipping it across great distances to you.
Some years ago, I became more aware of the distances that foods travel and the ecological impact that has and I began to read the signs and stickers at the grocery store that told me where my grapes and bananas were coming from. A handful of times I even decided not to buy something because it came from too far away and lately I've tried looking for locally produced labels when I have a choice. But most of the time, I just buy what we're in the mood for, the recipe calls for, or what strikes my fancy when I see it. And although I've been to the farmer's market on and off over the years, it has been more of a fun weekend outing than a serious way of providing food for my household. For sure we are snacking on out of season crude oil dependent tropical transports most of the time and giving it no regard.
Kingsolver's book asks the reader to give some regard to this. I will probably look further into the Slow Food Movement and groups like Locavores. I might revisit the idea of joining a local CSA. I've looked into it several times, but never taken the step. I might at the very least try to frequent the farmer's market more often. I might stop buying out of season foods and try to find recipes for the in season ones. But, herein lies the rub for me...
I believe in this issue and agree with it, but being non passionate about gardening, food shopping, meal planning, cooking, and all things related, I'm not finding an inner fire to get me actually making big changes on this one. And I fear that plus becoming used to being able to get all produce all the time is going to make it hard for a lot of us to do the right thing when it comes to sticking with local food.
Change takes time, though. So, at least understanding the vegetannual and thinking about it when I shop is a good first step!
Further Food For Thought
If our historical relationship to food and the ecological impact of agriculture interest you, I also recommend reading anything written by Michael Pollan or Vandana Shiva.