Eating Seasonally, Eating Locally
February 7, 2010

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Hey guys!

Happy Superbowl Sunday. I’m sure that many of you have plans for entertaining, which means that you’re cooking up game grub right now. Me? I’m not a football follower, and I’m a deadline this weekend, which means that I’ll probably have my nose in the books as the game is on. (Yes, I know. I never cease to amaze you all with my out-of-control social life. You don’t need to tell me.)

Deadlines or no, I did want to share a very excellent comment I got from reader Katie the other day. In response to my zucchini wraps, Katie wrote:

Gena – you’re always reminding us about the ethical dimension of veganism, and the value of a simple vegetable-based diet, so I have to ask: how do you feel about many raw foodists’ lack of interest in eating locally and seasonally? Buying coconuts, bananas, or cashews – or zucchini in a New York winter – raises some enivronmental and political issues; carbon footprint aside, these crops aren’t exactly associated with fair labor practices and sustainability. Not meant to criticize or implicate; just wondering if this is something you think about or what your take was.

First of all, I want to thank Katie for phrasing the question in such a respectful way. More importantly, I want to thank her for raising an important issue, which many of you have probably wondered about. Here’s my response to Katie, which I also left below her comment on the post:

Hi Katie,

Great question!

The answer is complex. Yes, I do think that it’s very commendable and indeed optimal to eat locally and seasonally. While you’ll definitely see errant zucchini or avocado on my blog in the winter, I do try to lessen my consumption of those things, and focus on fennel, cabbage, other crucifers, potatoes, beets, squash, and grains in the winter. I’m not typically eating my guac as often as usual, for instance! And since I don’t like fruit, I’ll rarely eat it in winter at all.

I do of course sometimes buy out of season: this zucchini is a good example, and so would be the cherry tomatoes I ate the other day. Avocado is a repeat offender. Again, I try to limit these instances, as I recognize that they’re not ideal. At the same time, I don’t commit to eating 100% locally, because I’m not persuaded that I’d be able to get the kind of dietary variety I believe in that way. If I were to eliminate avocados, the occasional coconut, and all non-seasonal vegetables from my diet, it would be far more narrow than I am comfortable with. I can definitely focus on whole grains and dried legumes and seasonal produce in winter, then, but I can’t focus on them with absolute exclusivity.

This isn’t a perfect ethical position, naturally, but studying food has led me to believe that there’s really no perfect ethical position to be had. There are strange loopholes and quandaries no matter what lifestyle you ultimately try to stick to: veganism, locavorism, omnivorism, all raw. The best one can do is try to adopt a position that feels most ethically sound and most right, which is how I feel about veganism (and just to make my own imperfections clear here, I’m only just now beginning to adopt veganism as a lifestyle as well as a diet, an evolution you can read more about here). That doesn’t mean eating locally is irrelevant to me; it’s not. But if I sometimes need to deviate from it in order to maintain a healthy vegan lifestyle, I probably will, with an intention on doing my best the rest of the time.

Hope this makes sense!

Gena

I should add that veganism (with an emphasis on raw foods) feels like the best ethical choice to me not only because of what I eat or don’t eat (i.e., because I avoid animal products), but also because of how it makes me eat: more consciously, more locally, more gratefully, and with more compassion for mother earth. Again, it’s not a dietary choice without flaws, but it is, for me, the one that feels the best.

How do you all feel about this? What are the values and ethics that inform the way you eat?

Since we’re on the topic, I’d like to share a soup recipe that could have been inspired by this debate. It’s mostly local (local beets, parsley, and carrots), fairly seasonal, and, since it can be served hot or cold, perfect for a New York winter. I’ve dabbled in beet soup before, but I must confess that I think this one bests my last attempt. It’s thick, sweet, comforting, and perfect for shooing away the February doldrums. If you make it with homemade almond milk and fresh juice, it can also be, if not 100% local, 100% homemade and unprocessed. I hope you all try it, and love it!

Hot or Cold Beet Carrot Soup (serves 3-4)

3 heaping cups beets, chopped
3 medium sized carrots, also chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup red onion (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp celery seed
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 dates, pitted
2 1/2 cups almond milk
1 cup fresh carrot juice

Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender, starting on low speed and gradually increasing (the beets will be tough on the machine, but they’ll break down fast). Check seasonings, and add more salt or pepper to taste. If the mix is too thick for your taste, add more almond milk (I’ve made this with anywhere from 2-4 cups of almond milk, and the texture varies).

If you’re not using a high speed blender, try either grating all the beets and carrots before you start, or simply steaming them till fork tender. It’ll work fine that way!

You can serve this soup cold, or you can warm it up to taste, either by using your blender or by stirring it over a gentle heat. Garnish the soup with shredded veggies of choice, herbs, or whole grain bread/crackers. Enjoy!

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The soup, if left on the thick side, also makes a wonderful dip, dressing, or sauce (and it’s such a pretty color, too!).

050-500x375Today, as a mid-morning snack, I used it in a not so local, seasonal fashion. I topped two puffed rice cakes with a few spoonfuls of the sauce, and some sliced avocado. If I could revise the meal according to “perfect world” ideals, I’d probably go for homemade raw bread or sprouted bread, and I’d select a local veggie in lieu of the avocado, which was in danger of over-ripening on top of my fridge. But I was in a time pinch, and this is what resulted.

Is there a perfect way to eat? I don’t think so — certainly, doctors and nutritionists and food coaches and naturopaths can argue over what’s nutritionally ideal, while the rest of us can debate what’s ethically ideal. In the end, I suspect we all have to find ways of existing within the food chain and the global economy without feeling as though we’re compromising our ideals too much. It’s not always an easy or perfect process, but it’s certainly an enlightening one, and I think it makes us all better people to do our very best!

xo

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    44 Comments
  1. I just started following your blog and love it! In fact, I posted all of your juicing recipes (top ten) yesterday and starting making them today!

    The first thing I would make with the Tribec would be flours…almond, cashew, etc. I could save so much money!

    Thanks so much for all of your info! You are an inspiration

  2. That soup looks really fantastic. Again, *wish* I had a vitamix. My blender falls asleep after it makes my smoothie.

    I am very much enjoying your blog, Gena. You are thoughtful, kind, and provide great insight. Thank you!

  3. Looks like I need to step up my soup game before entertaining you chez moi! 😉 That reminds me: mental note to make more crackers.

    There is definitely something to the saying “ignorance is bliss.” Before I went and got all edumacated on the nutrition front (even if informally), you can bet I wasn’t especially uncomfortable with my food choices! Now that I feel relatively informed, however, I can’t escape some of the ephemeral guilt that comes with buying say, a packaged food or even imported produce (…or perhaps impulsively adding a little goat cheese to a vegan recipe…). Usually, however, I am comforted by asking myself what xyz-choice is worth to me, and if the answer is “a lot,” for whatever reason, then typically it doesn’t continue to bother me.

    And at the end of the day, my eating/buying habits these days are a hell of a lot better than they were a year ago, and they may yet get better than they are today. After all, there was a time when I couldn’t imagine not drinking Diet Coke (or at least not WANTING it), but I’ll be darned if I ever crave it now. It’s ok to be a work in progress–it’s the ignorance that wasn’t doing me any favors.

  4. Do you not eat fruit because of personal taste preferences, or is there something I don’t know about fruit? I am just wondering because I enjoy a lot of fruit and I thought it was a clean, healthy food. (Obviously, all things in moderation, of course.) I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks for another enlightening, thoughtful post, Gena! 🙂

  5. I thought of more. Look what a can of worms you opened!

    I’m sure you’ve heard of the 100th monkey theory. There are lots of 99th monkeys blogging, writing books, working it out earnestly and thoughtfully, being examples. We’ve all been the guinea pigs of agribusiness for so long that it took our near loss of our connection with food, the loss of local farms and the loss of food growing and food gathering knowledge, for us to begin questioning what is the right way to eat, for our health and for the future of our planet.

    I think raw foodists are the bravest of all the 99th monkeys, and perhaps the smartest. I just imagine what would happen to dirty coal barons if everybody stopped cooking. I picture the rows upon rows of houses, spreading out over cities linked to other cities and other countries by highways, and in every house that old oven removed, hauled away by salvage recyclers, or just standing there, converted to storage space for fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, etc.

    This is the time, while we still have choices, to discover the nature of perfection. By the time the 100th monkey steps into perfection, it may be just in the nick of time.

    Thanks for being such a creative and inspiring monkey.

  6. Thanks for the response! My issue with relying on non-local superfoods is really less about environmental impact (other commenters have pointed out that plant foods are all relatively earth-friendly) than about the disconnect it can lead to; a lot of people mindlessly swallow foods full of “antioxidants” like pills, expecting to magically feel better, without knowing or caring what they’ve taken into their bodies and where it came from.

    So I love how you describe your own veganism not as what you do or don’t eat, but how you eat: in a word, consciously. It seems to me the best way to heal your own body and mind is by living better in the world, not by agonizing over every avocado, but by adopting a diet and mindset that makes it only natural to choose local and seasonal options when available. As a culture we’ve come to expect that what’s good for us shouldn’t taste good, or should be too expensive, or should be at odds with our ideals or our schedules, but you always do such a great job of showing that a healthy diet can (and should!) be delicious, affordable, convenient, and ethically-informed. The raw/vegan world could use more mouthpieces like you!

  7. Great question and answer! This is something that always bothers me, and I always come to the conclusion that (like you said) you do what you can.
    There’s absolutely nothing in season in MN right now, but to make up for that I do most of my shopping at the co-op so it’s at least in season somewhere, and more likely to be free-trade, organic, and local-er.

    And I am totally making that soup 🙂

  8. I’ve been enjoying your blog the last few months. I’m glad you took on this question.

    I would only point out that many of the tomatoes on the market are hot house, grown domestically year round. Also there are many varieties of winter harvest avocadoes. Having tomatoes and avocadoes in winter doesn’t always mean having them trucked in from Chile.

    I don’t eat bananas any more at all due to the political issues around what is basically a slave crop throughout the world.

  9. Gena! I’m so glad to see you address this on your blog as it has come across my mind when researching raw foods/diets. I love your response and it was pretty much how I figured you thought about the subject. It’s what works best for the individual, right?

  10. I think it’s worth noting that by eating raw, you’re minimizing the fossil fuels/energy spent on food prep/cooking, which, over time, might cancel out the fossil fuels spent on transporting avocados to NY from Cali 🙂

  11. While I understand the benefits of eating locally, I also feel it is not always feasible for a variety of reasons. I prefer local produce for instance because the taste is amazing and I know it’s nutritionally superior but I don’t have enough money to always do so. I think people of any diet type should strive to eat local but we need to give ourselves a break – sometimes the nature of the world we live in can make it difficult. Great post Gina!

  12. Great post.

    I live in an area where organic produce is not readily available. Also, I live in a cold climate so nothing’s in season now. You mentioned squash, cabbage, etc but they’re not local because the ground is covered in snow unless they were picked in the fall and kept in storage so then they’re not fresh.

    Thinking about doing what’s right can hurt my brain. I think the best way to eat is to what’s best for your body with little impact on the earth.

  13. Thanks for addressing this issue, Gena, and that soup looks amazing. I’ve been trying to come up with a raw beet soup but so far my own attempts have been less-than-inspiring.

    May I suggest, for those of us who (like myself) can’t get local celery this time of year – try “celeriac” AKA celery root. It gives that celery flavour but it’s available during our Nova Scotia winters and (bonus!) it’s non-stringy so it’s easier to blend.

    Awesome work on this blog, by the way. it’s the only one that this one-time blog addict still reads on a daily basis.

  14. Great post! It’s so difficult to get the balance right isn’t it and I agree that in the end we have to weight it all up and do what our conscience dictates. Thanks Gena for your balanced and thoughtful approach. x

  15. Wonderful post, I have been pondering this very issue myself, as well.

    I have recently started following food combining by your specifications, which has been far more beneficial than I could have guessed. Wouldn’t rice puffs and almond milk be an example of mis-combining, or am I misunderstanding your post?

    Thank you for all your guidance through this blog.

    • Hey Mara! Sorry it took so long to respond. Almond milk typically combines neutrally, unless you’re VERY sensitive, so this should be OK. It’s also worth noting that very small amounts (ie, the tbsp or two of sauce I used on the rice puff) don’t usually upset one’s system, even if poorly combined (so even if almond milk does tend to combine as a nut for you, a tiny bit of almond milk is way less problematic than eating rice puffs with a handful of nuts). Good luck!

  16. What a great question brought up! And lots of interesting points in your answers as well. I think what drives my vegetarianism is basically the same reason why you choose to be vegan. I also love how much more creative I have become. I don’t find my dietary choice to be limiting–in fact I have tried many more things I probably never would’ve ventured to if I hadn’t become a more conscious eater. I think it’s also interesting to see how the body seems to need heartier foods that are available in the winter to deal with those conditions. Then when the weather gets warmer, the seasonal produce is lighter and coincides with the way our moods flourish as well.

    Also, thank you for stopping by my blog! I really respect what you do and the information you share with us on here. Part of life is constantly learning and you really grasp that idea. Oh! And definitely let me know when you’ve come up with a rawified buffalo wing–what an interesting challenge!

  17. This topic has been a huge struggle for me. I want to eat locally and 100% organic, but like others, cost is an issue for me. I also LOVE bananas, but other than them I can go without most fruit in the winter. In fact, I tend to crave fruit in the summer now when it’s warm which I think is the way it’s supposed to be. I do buy frozen fruit for my smoothies. I also LOVE avocados. I realize that neither bananas or avocados will EVER grow where I am. I also know the crazy process that it takes to get those two products to me is not carbon footprint friendly. Luckly for me, I will have the opportunity to grow a huge garden this year. We have a greenhouse and I plan to grow a winter garden as well. Once this happens I will feel that my carbon footprint is small enough to splurge on avocados and bananas without feeling guilty. I also know with a garden, that I can make a point to freeze fruit and veggies during the summer (I also plan to do some lacto-fermentation!) and that will help get me through the winter months keeping everything local.
    My husband and I searched for place where we could grow our own food and live as sustainable as possible for not only our sanity and healthy, but for the planet. We are lucky to have found the place that we have and to have the opportunity to do this.
    I agree with Maria-I need to make myself healthy and doing that gives back to humanity in it’s own way.
    Ultimately, I think being conscious of your eating and by being aware of where your food comes is HUGE in itself for the planet.

  18. I would love to eat organic 100% of the time but it isn’t always possible due to availability and cost. Hopefully one of these days it will be!

    Great post!

  19. “If I were to eliminate avocados, the occasional coconut, and all non-seasonal vegetables from my diet, it would be far more narrow than I am comfortable with.”–
    Amen. I totally agree.

    It’s so ironic b/c about an hour before I read this, I just posted re Michael Pollan and Alicia S.’s Kind Diet. Nothing too “deep” but I made reference to my own thoughts about eating local. For me, local and seasonal actually trumps organic. Dare I say, I don’t care nearly as much about organic and I do local or seasonal. However, landlocked in the desert in the winter…there is nothing local or seasonal that really floats my veggie boat…so yes, I stray far from local or seasonal in the winter. In San Diego, this was muchhhh easier to do than probably 95% of other climates in the world, so I got very spoiled living there for 6 yrs, too (and trying to get back there too:))

    Anyway, excellent post. And this is a new word for me, off to google it: locavorism

    have a great week, Gena!

  20. Great question! I am raw vegan, but I focus my energy on the optimal nutrition for my healing self. If that means I don’t eat locally, I don’t. I need to heal myself before I can put all my energy to healing humanity. That is what I feel intuitively and morally correct for me.

  21. What a well stated and eloquent response Gena! I try to eat as locally as possible too, but I just love my bananas so much I dont know if I could give them up for the winter.

  22. Really interesting topic and comments… I value foods that fall in to any of the above-mentioned categories- and the more, the better. When I shop I am usually trying to maximize inclusion in these categories- not as a science, but trying to keep each in mind. I never try to fit all those categories at once (although the farmers market provides some great options for doing so!). We are part of a global economy of eaters, and I think it’s pretty amazing what our collective impact can be. If everyone started eating the way most of us on this blog eat, even half the time, the economy would shift and more foods would be vegan, local, organic, and seasonal. I hope that our choices are magnified and will continue to expand our future choices… food karma!

  23. An excellent topic and an excellent post! I completely agree that it is all about being informed and striving to do what is best, whether that means best for you, best for that moment, best for the environment, etc. All we can really hope for is to be as best informed as we can be on any topic and make decisions based on that information. I live in the desert, so is eating locally better than organic, given the incredible water shortage? How do you decide whether it is better to tax the water supply, the environment (non-organic), or the air (carbon output of shipping)? I just try to eat as best as I can. And, I also agree about the limitations nutritionally of a local diet, depending on your location. Sure, the earliest settlers lived off the land (as local as you can get!), but the life expectancy was also much shorter then. Is that related to the food they ate? How can it not be?

  24. Hey Gena! The soup looks and sounds delicious, as almost all of your soups do! But for some reason I’ve never tried any of your soups. Cold, room temperature, or lukewarm soups don’t bother me.
    I think a while ago you mentioned that you’re very open to the idea of your readers suggesting some recipes for you to come up with. So here’s one: I think the reason I haven’t tried any of your soups is because I’m not really a fan of totally smooth soups. I much prefer them with some texture. So I’d absolutely love a raw recipe for a soup with some texture. Maybe with some avocado chunks? I can’t really think of many soft raw veggies to put in soups. But maybe you can come up with some.
    Thanks a bunch!

  25. Such a well written thoughtful response. Great answer. And that soup looks and sounds great, I will have to get out of my laziness funk one of these days and try it.

  26. Depends on where you live for the seasonal thing. I’m in So. Cal, and avos are right in season right now. My boss brings in a tub of about 50-60 every other week from his orchard. Has been for a couple of months.

    Now, it wouldn’t be local to a New Yorker, but it’s easier to be local in some areas compared to others.

  27. Great response! I’d like to add that eating vegan for 1 meal has much more environmental impact than eating locally all week long in terms of carbon emissions + water use!

  28. The “what is good food question” is a complicated one, and unfortunately, “vegan” and “local” aren’t easy answers to it. Pringles are vegan, less than healthy dairy products are often local. Prior ethical commitments (to a vegan lifestyle, to minimizing one’s carbon footprint) can guide our decisions, but there will always be trade offs. I think as long as we’re aware of the trade offs, we can negotiate them.

    In my case, the trade off is often between my own health and the health of the planet. Sometimes I’ll put the planet first (you will never see me drinking bottled water or eating fruit from south of the equator that I’ll be able to get locally in just six months) but sometimes, I will put myself first, knowing that I’m doing the best I can in other areas of my life (biking everywhere, flying minimally, etc.). I’m allergic to ALL grains, so a grain-based diet, were I to adopt it, would be tantamount to slow suicide. I could eat local animal products, but 1. they don’t appeal to me, 2. I have very low digestive fire, so even though they don’t make me sick like grains do, I don’t digest them well, 3. when ethically sourced, they are prohibitively expensive, as they should be. So even though I’m committed to regional food sovereignty, that commitment more often than I’d like, gives way to a commitment to my own health. I eat a lot of citrus and a lot of avocados. I buy as many of my vegetables as I can locally – easy between May and October, harder come winter. If I (occasionally) buy bananas, chocolate, or coffee, I make sure they are fair or direct trade (I won’t buy them otherwise).

    I’m also not a pure “localvore.” I don’t have a problem with importing food, whether it’s grapefruit from Florida or tropical fruit from South America. I’d rather see Ecuador exporting bananas than T-shirts. The problem is not with trade in indigenous food products, which can be a source of livelihood for a region. The problem is with loss of regional food sovereignty – to say nothing of biodiversity (Mexico importing US corn!), loss of regional autonomy (when it’s US corporations that profit not local economies), etc.

    Here’s an interview I did last year where I discuss the carbon footprint of my green juice: http://www.bu.edu/today/2009/05/06/voting-with-forks

  29. i’m so glad that you brought this up. there really is no perfect ethical position. while i try to eat locally most of the time, it can be quite difficult in new england. near impossible if you wanted to keep a very high raw diet. so i feed my body with high quality organic foods that are sourced as locally as possible, but still splurge on some tropical fruits. i stay vegan for health reasons, as well as ethical and environmental reasons. but my bananas probably have a larger carbon footprint, than a local, humanely raised chicken or egg. we all just need to move to the equator! 🙂

    • 99.5% of the time plant foods have a MUCH lower carbon footprint than ANY animal food, and in fact grass-fed or pasture-raised animal foods have a larger carbon footprint than conventional ones. Shipping costs only contribute about 4-8% of food’s carbon footprint, so vegan is pretty much the best choice for the environment! (I’m studying energy engineering and food politics at university right now :)).

      • It’s true carbon footprint isn’t always obvious. Wine from France has a lower carbon footprint than wine from California, because it’s shipped not trucked, and you’re right about plant foods versus animal foods. But when we decide what to eat, we don’t base our decision on the carbon footprint alone. Regional food sovereignty is hugely important, and oftentimes animal products will be a vital component regional food systems, at least here in New England. There are aesthetic reasons keeping goats and chickens is not allowed in our pristine suburbs, but if you go to Haiti or Jamaica (or Cuba today for that matter) you’ll see how important animals are in the sovereignty equation. A lot of that’s being lost as shelves in the tiniest villages around the world get filled with Nabisco products, but that’s sad. Fewer people keep chickens and goats. But it’s sad if you ask me. In fact, I think the best thing we can all do, whether we’re vegans or conscientious omnivores, is to say a big no to corporate food.

  30. Amazing post as always! I try to buy organic and local whenever possible, but it just not always possible especially this time of year.

    Thanks for the great recipe, I’ve been wanting to try a beet soup, but most of the recipes call for beet juice which takes a lot of beets and time to make.

  31. Wonderful response!!! I have thought about this issue myself, and it’s so great to read such a well-phrased, thoughtful response to the issue in question. Thanks for your input (and recipe!), as always, lovely lady!

  32. Excellent information here, Gena. In a perfect world, I’d eat 100% organic and raw but it is so hard for me to get there. Cost is a (huge) factor for me (except during my local gardening season) and something at the farmers market may be locally grown – but not organic. Like you said, there’s always something that interferes with a “perfect” diet. *sigh*

    But, as long as we get on a path that we feel comfortable with and our body responds well to, that’s all we can really do…

    I am (mostly) vegan but just as sure as I call myself a vegan, I have an overwhelming desire for butter or an egg or something – even honey. Most of the time I don’t cave, but sometimes I do – it’s craziness! LOL

    I’ve decided to just stick with not labeling myself – I seem to eat a much better diet that way, and don’t feel so stressed out about trying to maintain a label or appearance, or worry about what people think.

    Hugs,
    Michele

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