Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Variety and the Seasonal Eater

Every nutritionist will tell you that variety is an important part of a healthy diet. You are born with an urge to try out new tastes. One of the first reflexes you have puts new things strait into your mouth. It seems from the outside that a healthy diet is harder if you are a local/seasonal eater in most places... and to a point, it's true. I don't have a whole lot of fresh fruits and veggies in February when around here, the ground is frozen solid. However, there are a few things I do to counter that February slump that have helped keep our diets optimal and our variety up.

Storage: The trick for me has always been storage. Eating what you have stored, however, is a acquired habit. It doesn't happen overnight. Nor does storing enough food for the entire season. Each part is a process.

This year we actually ran out of a few things! This last summer, the amount of food that we consume jumped much more than I assumed it would. At the start of the summer with my family (my kids then 16 mos, almost 7 yrs, and almost 12 yrs) I was feeding 2 adults, and 2 children. By the end of the summer I was feeding 3 fully adult sized portions, and 2 fully kid sized portions (because, of course, Logan didn't stay a baby forever). So my storage for this winter was off. It isn't an exact science... but if you calculate it out before you look for produce to buy in August or September, it will be much easier to adjust to what your family personally needs.

On page 10 of the Ball Blue Book it has a chart for planning how much food to grow and/or preserve for your family. It lists how many servings you would have per week, and then times that by 52, and you have how many quarts you need for the year. For example, we can peaches each year. This last year we ate 3 quarts of peaches each week until they were gone. (The year before that it was 1 or 2... that is how much it changed this last summer. Teenagers really throw the food prep for a loop!) So for this next year I am planning to can 70 quarts, or 5 boxes of peaches. I do the same calculation for green beans, blueberries, tomato sauce, beets, snow peas, dried herbs, etc.

The Ball Blue Book only lists the things you preserve by canning, but I have modified the planning to everything I need... freezing, drying, and canning. As the time gets closer, I will have more details about the food preservation, low sugar canning, and other tips for keeping your local harvest beautiful and yummy all through the winter. Basically planning ahead allows us to have variety in the winter months so we are not buying blueberries from Chili, or strawberries from Mexico in January.

Variety and how important it is... or not. The truth is, you don't have to eat a thousand different kinds of foods every day to stay healthy. For thousands of years our bodies were adjusted to eating what was around our local area. Our bodies crave things that are in season. When the sun is out, our bodies naturally want lighter, more sweet foods... and when the winter cold closes in, our bodies turn to heavy meals that usually have quite a bit of protein in them to keep us warm. It is important to keep those seasonal feelings alive in our bodies.

Even a hundred years ago, beef was rarely a summertime meal, and chicken was never found in January. Cows were slaughtered in the late fall to boost the winter months with a high protein source, and chickens were culled in the summer when people found out just how many roosters they had. Egg layers took the months of Dec -Feb off and started up again in March and a huge celebration took place to honor them. Cows had babies in the spring and by April had enough milk to feed the neighborhood, but were never over taxed and so therefore, to keep the cow healthy, no one had tons of milk in the winter when the cows were pregnant. Everything has a season. Even meats, milk, and eggs. A letter to Sally Fallon (the author of Nourishing Traditions) says:

"Traditional diets didn't rely on refrigeration or long distance transport. As advocates of Weston Price's work, we need to pay more attention to the seasonality of food; even milk, meat, and eggs.

Left to her own devices, a dairy cow will breed so that she calves in the spring. This way both she and the calf will have plenty of high quality feed to rebuild and grow with so they both will go into the following winter with plenty of vigor and stored nutrients with which to meet its harsh temperature and poorer quality feed. (Similarly, a hen will not lay eggs in the middle of winter unless subjected to artificial lighting.) Our modern eating habits push a farmer to breed her cows so they'll calve in the fall. When children go back to school, we expect milk for our breakfasts and milk sales go up. This is completely backwards!" ---Read the rest of the letter here.---

I am not saying, by any means, to stop eating chicken just because it is winter... but to be conscience of the natural cycles of the plants and animals from which we get our foods. And the cycles in which we have our cravings as well.

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