“Food is something we all share. We’ve got to get away from these shortcuts and the convenience factor and get back to buying food that is in season. It’s critical to do what’s best – not what’s easiest.”
Chris Hastings is passionate about seasonal cooking and eating. But as the owner and executive chef of Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama, and the 2012 James Beard award winner for the Best Chef in the South, it’s not just his dedication to the practice that is inspiring, but his credentials for showing us how well it can be done.
“We just have to get back to seasonal eating,” he says. “Just take a trip to a farmers market where you can access what is grown locally. We have to explain to people what happened and what’s the solution.”
What happened was we were once an agricultural community and lived more regionally minded. Farmers would supply local grocery stores, and in the summer you would get the beautiful, tasty produce. Then post-World War II we took a more industrial approach, creating huge production farms and shipping produce all around the country. In the process, there were unintended consequences.
But Chris says there is good news: we live in the South – a region that, because of climate and land, provides a long growing season and allows us to harvest a diverse assortment of crops. Here are five reasons why the award-winning chef says we should care and change how we eat:
“We have to move away from eating what we want, whenever we want it. This convenience mentality has brought some ugly produce into our environment and into our bodies. We’ve harmed the nutritional value of some crops.”
“Because we said, ‘I’m an American so I should have a tomato any time I want,’ we ruined tomatoes. In order to ship a tomato that could travel without being bruised, we had to develop tomatoes that would ripen differently, be more uniform in shape and transport better. We made them good for shipping but horrible for flavor – to the point that most don’t taste like a proper tomato. But when you eat food that is in season and locally sourced, it’s at the height of its deliciousness. It wasn’t frozen and it didn’t sit on a ship or a truck for thousands of miles to get to you.”
“When I go to a farmers market, a farmer can easily show up with what is fresh that day and often sell it cheaper than someone who had to import the item from far away. It’s right there in the back of his truck, and it only took a small amount of fuel to bring it to the buying community.”
“Seasonal eating helps treat our local land better, but it’s better for all of us in the end. We are investing in our rich, local soil and because we aren’t shipping food long distances, we also reduce our carbon footprint.”
“We need to be willing to give up a little bit of convenience for quality of life. When you do, you’re helping to re-establish an infrastructure where communities feed themselves regionally. You’re supporting local farmers and small family farms. As a consumer, you can simply choose to support local farms. Then we will have healthier food, animals will be raised in a more humane way and we will treat our local land better. Our dollars make it happen.”
To get us started in the right direction, here are some common fruits and vegetables in season during June, July and August:
Note: The seasonality of some items will vary slightly within certain regions of the South.