Why we should eat more seasonal food
I’ve just returned from a fantastic few days in Venice, where we spent time wandering the streets, trawling local food markets and seeking the best local restaurants. We chuckled at some menus and their English translations (‘porky mushrooms’ aka porcini was a firm favourite) but overall we were amazed at the quality of the menus, particularly those away from the main tourist drag – tucked down a little back street, behind an unassuming wooden door, with just a few tables. Local food markets and restaurants both highlighted how important seasonal eating is.
I make my apologies right here – this blog is clearly straying into foodie rather than nutritional territory, but I hope you’ll pick up on my passion for the food, and if you’re going away this summer, that it will inspire you to seek out some local food markets. Or at the very least that it will get you along to some of the UK farmers markets and start to think about how to eat more seasonal British food.
Food is a bit of an obsession for me, wherever we go – thankfully my husband also enjoys tracking down the best local food so it’s not just me eschewing the more conventional tourist attractions. I’m fascinated how in many western countries, we’ve simply lost our interest and passion for local food. We do have some amazing local food festivals and farmers markets around the country, but these are often only once a month rather than weekly and with a twenty minute drive involved. As for local, daily markets, stuffed with local, fresh produce – they’re few and far between.
For much of Europe however, in villages and cities alike, daily markets are prominent. What to cook tonight is based on what’s fresh and looks good at the market that morning and not by what’s left over from the Ocado delivery five days earlier.
Venice is a touristy, expensive city and yet the Rialto food market has fabulous, reasonably priced fresh fruit, veggies and seafood exquisitely presented. And the food isn’t ‘uniform’ or conforming to size restrictions and polished and waxed to look good. It’s simply whatever is available to harvest: small punnets of wild strawberries that wouldn’t get a look in on a supermarket shelf at home, large trays of snipped seasonal salad leaves so you can pick exactly the right amount you need, and sumptuous flat peaches. Then there are the trays of sundried tomatoes and peppers – no need to buy a whole jar when you need just a couple to flavour a dish.
And the fish: what more can I say? By going to the morning market we could see what fish was good that day and aim for that in the restaurant in the evening. Cuttlefish, sardines, octopus, squid, scallops in their shells – and many fish we were unfamiliar with. The simple fresh fish stock from the bones and heads of the fish enhanced many of the dishes beyond belief.
One of our evening meals was taken at a small, inexpensive Osteria, with the date at the top of the menu. Clearly, the restaurant made only a few portions of each dish from scratch – when the dish had gone, it was pencilled through on the menu. Cuttlefish (ticks the sustainable box) cooked with its black ink (reported to have anti-tumour properties) was delicious, fresh, and local. This is a great example of how we should be eating – pumpkins in spring and asparagus in winter shouldn’t be on any UK menu. Yet the minority of UK restaurants that do specialise in seasonal food charge a premium – giving the impression that eating seasonally is much more expensive. This is wrong. Eating seasonally should be a less expensive and more nutritious (fruits and vegetables lose nutrients from the time of picking) way of eating. It also reduces the air-miles of the food we’re eating so you can feel good about it at the same time.
It can be hard to understand just what foods are in season when, but taking a look around a local fresh food market can certainly help. So although we may not have the Italian sun here, make the most of what’s on offer now – our strawberries are later than usual this year due to the weather but now’s the time to buy; skip the Peruvian asparagus and eat British for the last few weeks of our asparagus season. Seasonal food simply tastes better and is better for you (and your wallet).
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