I recently heard a claim that people of my generation (I’m 23-years-old) are so disconnected from the food system that we can’t identify the correct season for our fruits and vegetables. At first, I scoffed at this idea – of course I know when to eat plants, that’s easy!
Turns out, I have no idea. I looked at a list of vegetables and beyond pumpkins, which I know are fall plants because I carve a jack-o-lantern every October, I couldn’t place any of them. Strawberries… maybe early spring? Lettuce… I didn’t think lettuce had a season?
I’ll admit defeat – I’ve been spoiled by supermarkets that show me tomatoes and carrots and lettuce and spinach year round, and I probably can’t identify the season for any of them. During my dieting phase at the end of college, these vegetables were staples of my daily eating whether they were in season or not. I’m so used to seeing them all the time it never occurred to me there was a better or worse time to eat them until I started listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on audio book.
Kingsolver argues it’s good to eat vegetables in season because they taste better and cost less to get from the farm to the table. Eating seasonally also helps us appreciate food when it’s available rather than expecting it to be around for us all the time. But how, I wondered, can someone like me figure out which supermarket veggies are in season and which ones are not?
Luckily for the disconnected foodie, Kingsolver presented a concept of how to think about vegetable seasonality that I’ve found quite helpful – imagining the vegetannual.
All vegetables come from flowering plants, she explains, and all flowering plants have the same life cycle: sprouting, leafing, flowering, fruiting, then hoarding sugars into the roots. All vegetables are part of this cycle and their seasonality follows the pattern. Hence, if you can tell what your vegetable is – sprout or leaf or fruit or root – you can guess when in the season you should eat it.
The picture of the vegetannual, taken from the book’s website at www.animalvegetablemiracle.com, helps illustrate the point further.
As you can see, vegetables have a season based on what part of the plant they are: leafy greens in April and May (depending on latitude), cabbage and broccoli in May and June, peas and cucumbers in June, green beans and peppers in July, tomatoes and eggplants in July and August, then finally pumpkins and winter squash in August and September before the season ends with root crops.
So next time you’re at the store and stumped for what food you might be looking for, think back to the vegetannual – it just might help.
One last note: A simple search on Google for “vegetable seasons” will give you a number of resources, including this page on Local Foods from About.com that can also be helpful when trying to eat seasonally, if you’re as clueless as it turns out I was.