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Why you should shop for the season

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Why you should shop for the season

With winter just around the corner, you may have noticed a change in the fresh produce spilling into our supermarket shelves. Berries, peaches and plums have largely disappeared, replaced by reserves of mandarins and kiwifruit. The piles of fresh sweetcorn have started to dwindle and New Zealand asparagus has nearly disappeared altogether. You may still find summer fruits and vegetables throughout the winter, but their country of origin is unlikely to be New Zealand. This is because when the season changes, so does the availability of certain foods.

In this blog, we explore the benefits of shopping seasonally and take a look at pantry staples that are perfect for your kitchen all year round.

What do we mean by 'seasonal' produce?

Various fruits and vegetables are grown and harvested in different seasons. Kiwifruit are generally pollinated in the spring, grown in the summer and harvested at the start of winter. Whereas strawberries are harvested in the spring and available in masses throughout summer. When we refer to a food’s ‘season’, we’re talking about the seasons in which they’re locally harvested and readily available in markets and grocery stores.

You may also notice fresh produce being sold out of season in your local supermarket. These may be fruits and vegetables that have been imported from another country, or have been stored in carefully controlled conditions. As these have not been harvested recently or locally, we refer to them as ‘out of season’, even though they’re available to purchase.

Seasonal vegetables.

Benefits of shopping for the season

So, we know what shopping for the season means. But why is it so important to shop seasonally if produce is available year round? We take a look at six key benefits.

1. Eating food in season is cheaper

First and foremost, purchasing fruits and vegetables during the season in which they were harvested can make a huge impact on your grocery bill. Winter vegetables, such as cabbages, leeks and silverbeet, are generally readily available and a lot cheaper during the colder months. Whereas asparagus in July can cost an arm and a leg.

Why? When fruit and vegetables are transported from the opposite side of the world, they undergo costly processes. The expense of making this produce available to consumers is generally passed onto consumers. Whereas it’s a lot easier and more affordable to transport seasonal produce that has been grown locally.

In New Zealand, we’re lucky to be a world leader in agricultural production. Kiwi farmers and food producers have highly advanced technology and processes. This means that some of the fruits and vegetables which were once limited to a single season, can now be grown year round. However, produce that has been grown in managed conditions can also cost more to farm and more to buy.

2. Seasonal food tastes better

This is one you’ll have to test for yourself. If you’ve ever gone berry picking, grown your own vegetables or visited a local farmers market, you’ll know that the taste of fresh fruit and veges is incomparable.

Seasonal produce is harvested at the best time for the specific fruit or vegetable. They’re more likely to be naturally ripened at time of purchase, and we think you can tell from the taste. Because seasonal produce only needs to travel a short distance to its point of sale, it’s also less likely to spoil on the way. If you’re still not sure, we recommend heading to your local farmers market and testing it out for yourself!

3. Buying seasonally supports Kiwi farmers and food producers

Now, more than ever, we’ve collectively realised the importance of supporting our local communities. Across the country, initiatives are being started to shine a light on the incredible achievements of New Zealanders. Food production is no different.

Buying food that is produced locally and in season ensures that profits are being fed back into your own community. It supports local farms, maintains farmland, and can help to stimulate local economies. An incredible amount of work goes into growing and harvesting food every year, and it takes a lot of manpower to do this. Purchasing local produce can help to increase demand and generate jobs.

It might not feel like such a big decision when you’re standing in the supermarket aisle and choosing what to put in your basket. But your choices as a consumer make a huge impact on New Zealand’s agriculture industry. If we all choose to start shopping seasonally and supporting our local farmers, we can make a massive difference.

Fresh tomatoes.

4. It's better for the environment

Have you seen those little labels in the fresh produce section that tell you where the fruit and vegetables are from? Next time you go to the supermarket, have a think about it. If you’re purchasing oranges from California, how do they get to New Zealand? Did it arrive by aeroplane? What effect does that have on the environment?

Shopping locally is a great way to cut down on long-distance transport and associated fuel emissions.

5. Seasonal produce can be more nutritious

A 2008 study monitored the vitamin C content of broccoli. Researchers found that broccoli had a higher vitamin C content when grown during its peak season. In fact, there was almost twice as much vitamin C in broccoli grown in autumn as there was in spring.

A reason for this could be the processes required to grow broccoli and other vegetables out of season. Post-harvest treatments can protect food from bacteria and make it last longer, but they can also affect nutrient density, which is certainly something worth thinking about.

6. Help to stop food waste

Every year, New Zealand households collectively throw away 157,398 tonnes of food. But that’s not all. Food is wasted at each and every stage of the supply chain. In fact, a significant portion of food waste occurs along the supply chain, before it even gets to your local grocery shop. Buying locally and in season can minimise the risk of food waste before it makes it to the supermarket shelves.

Shopping for the season in New Zealand

In New Zealand, fruit is much more seasonally impacted by vegetables. This is thanks to fertile soil and a world class agricultural industry. Still, it’s a good idea to do some research on Kiwi fruit and vegetable seasons before you next go to the supermarket.

Here are a few more tips to help you shop for the season:

  • Stick a seasonality chart to your fridge and refer to this when you’re planning your meals for the week.
  • Look up recipes for the season.
  • Check what country the fruit and veggies are from before you add them to your basket.
  • Keep an eye out for what's on special – this usually indicates what is in season.
  • Swap out your supermarket shop for a visit to your local farmers market.

Shopping seasonally can be a fun opportunity for you and your family to learn how to cook using the ingredients on special, and broaden your cooking repertoire. If you’ve been watching Eat Well For Less NZ, you would have already seen a bunch of great recipes that are suited to specific seasons. Ganesh’s Minestrone ‘Not’ Soup is an awesome dish that makes the most of winter favourites like potatoes and silverbeet. Switching out your meals based on the season is a great way to keep dinnertime interesting.

Spaghetti in a bowl with fresh produce.

Meal bases for every season

These budget friendly pantry staples work well for every season. Stock up on these basics and then swap out the fresh fruit and veggies depending on the time of the year.

  • Rolled oats. These are the perfect pantry staple! They can be used to make hot porridge in the winter, and cold muesli in the summer. They’re also a great ingredient to have on hand for baking.
  • Rice. Whether it’s long-grain white, jasmine, or brown rice, it’s a fantastic addition to your pantry. Rice can be used as a base for a range of different meals - hot or cold. Not a rice fan? Try another grain like quinoa, buckwheat or couscous.
  • Pasta. Staples like noodles, spaghetti and penne pasta are easy to cook and can be easily interchanged. Just swap out your sauces and accompaniments based on the season!
  • Tinned tomatoes. Tinned tomatoes are a fantastic base for sauces and warm winter dishes. They’re affordable, long lasting and a must-have for any kitchen pantry.
  • Broth or stock. Stock can be used for a number of different dishes. You can choose vegetable, beef or chicken and is especially handy for soups and stews.
  • Onions and garlic. Onions and garlic instantly add a punch of flavour to any dish. They are in season 365 days a year and can lend their flavours to a number of different cuisines.

Shopping for the season can be better for your wallet, the environment, our local farmers, your health, and the local economy. It’s a win-win and an easy decision. Next time you plan to head to the supermarket, take a minute to check what’s in season and plan meals accordingly. For more great grocery tips, check out the next episode of Eat Well For Less NZ.

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