Sustainability Corner: Seasonal Foods

‘Tis the season to eat the best food. As students with complex schedules, we find our diets become simpler, or quite literally boiled down (think top ramen) to nothing. Our priorities are with classes, staying afloat and using whatever time is left to sleep. However, in order to bring our bodies to their fullest potential while also sustaining the environment, it is necessary to look at our food culture, what we eat and where our food comes from.

Eating well is a privilege, and I understand that writing an article about eating automatically assumes my audience is in a position to consistently afford healthy food. What I want to stress isn’t a burdensome system where one buys large amounts of expensive food, but rather this is a compilation of tips for eating great on a very strict budget, or rather a hearty lesson on the importance of eating quality food when one has little time and less money.

If you Google “ways to save at the grocery store,” one of the first tips listed is to buy produce in season. Fruits and vegetables cultivated in season are cheaper to produce and therefore sells cheaper in stores. Also, when there is an abundant harvest it will drive the prices down even further. Farmers get to sell their produce in bulk and grocery stores get to purchase it at a more discounted price as well. All of this trickles down to the consumer and results in less expensive produce that is more nutrient-rich. As students at UC Irvine, we have one of the best farmer’s markets in Southern California across the street. It is a majestic atmosphere of sitar music and multi variants of produce, breads, meats and specialty items  just trudge out of bed and set a spending limit.

In the documentary “Food Matters,” by directors James Colquhoun and Carlo Ledesma, the topic of nutrition is discussed in its relevance to human health and medical conditions. Doctors based in the study of homeopathy, the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself, discussed the body as an incredibly powerful entity that has the ability to recover naturally from many different ailments,  provided it is being given the correct circumstances.

What the doctors stressed, though, was giving the body adequate nutrition, essentially ammo for your body’s immune arsenal. We are what we eat  there should be no secret about that. However, nutrition is a relatively new science and rather undisclosed to the general public so consequentially we don’t understand everything we eat and therefore don’t fully know the make-up of our body and what is affecting us, either negatively or positively. Eating in college is a tricky situation, and there is very little one can do to increase the nutrition in their diet without increasing their grocery bill. It is then imperative that we spend our money most efficiently and on the foods that are going to hand over their nutritional goodies promptly, with no strings attached.

The emphasis here is on eating in season.

Eating in season assures that the produce you are consuming was grown according to the plant’s natural life cycle and when this product does grow naturally, the consumer is getting the most nutrients per bite.

Produce that is cultivated outside its natural growing season has often been genetically altered or their environment has been manipulated to mimic a certain season. The produce may look normal compared to its genuine counterpart but the nutrition facts are in question. To date, there has been minimal research conducted on the health benefits or risks of genetically modified (GM) food because mass production of GM products is relatively new. Although there are no studies that claim genetically modified foods are inherently bad for the consumer, they can be harmful to the environment. GM foods may unintentionally harm other organisms like pollinating insects, and also may result in accidental crossbreeding of other plant species. Each of these issues with genetically modified foods has multiple counter arguments, but for the purpose of this article it is important to note the potential harm genetically modified farming could have.

If the produce you are purchasing out of season hasn’t been modified, it has been shipped from places around the world that have opposite growing seasons. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average meal in America has ingredients from at least five different countries outside of the United States. All this importation of food from other countries to our tables releases thousands of tons of carbon-dioxide gas, the number one greenhouse gas affecting global climate change. In 2005, a study of food being imported into California by airplane emitted 70,000 tons of carbon-dioxide which is the equivalent of 12,000 cars, and importation by airplane is only one method of food transportation. The NRDC explains that major ports, terminals and railways have higher levels of air pollutants, toxins and soot which affect local and global climate, but also the health of those who live and work around these transportation conjunctions.

My hometown of Bakersfield, California, in the southern central valley, is known for its agricultural and exporting almost all of its produce by looking at the meak Saturdays of our farmer’s markets and clustered train tracks. Bakersfield is also the most polluted city in the United States based on CNN Money’s 2013 survey the top 10 polluted citites. The geographical location of Bakersfield, being that it is a valley, holds the pollution in its bowl-like structure. But it could be argued that the heavy transporting to and from Bakersfield does nothing to help the city’s polluted lungs.

Help my suffocating hometown and the many others that carry the burden of transportation and help your balding wallet by buying in season.