Embracing Seasonal Living – Eating and Flowing with the Seasons
What I know:
I grew up in a pretty traditional Chinese family. I’m not sure that I fully understood that as a child. Now as an adult, I realise this and that I do think about certain things differently from Western norms- in terms of food and living.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that eating in accordance with the seasons is the pathway for optimal health. They believe the food that we ingest contributes to our body’s balance of Yin (coolness) and Yang (heat). Eating too much of either Yin or Yang type of foods, in given seasons, can quickly lead to imbalances within the balance.
When I was growing up, I heard countless old Chinese adages about heating and cooling foods and why it was good or bad to eat certain foods at certain times. For example, my mom made lots of ginger-y dishes and soups after I had given birth to both of my kids to keep my body “warm”. In contrast, summer is the most Yang of all of the seasons, so the best foods are cooling, sweet, hydrating and neutral.
Laid out like this, it all sounds pretty logical right?
How I apply it in everyday life:
Living in Australia and away from my family, I no longer have regular exposure to TCM life lessons. It is easy to be respectful of the seasons nevertheless.
We are relatively lucky here in Australia because we have a fairly outdoor lifestyle and our seasons are not too extreme. This allows us to flow a little easier between them.
Each season brings gifts and opportunities. The Earth uses her seasons to model when to rest and reflect, when to cleanse and activate, when to shine bright and create and when to return back to self.
Here are a few seasonal tips to consider as we move through our annual seasons:
It’s colder. The days are shorter and the nights longer. It’s time to slow down, rest and truly restore. Use this down time to set and plan intentions, so you can see them blossom in seasons to come. The plants have died back and their energy has descended into their roots. Eat earth vegetables and soups. Root vegetables will have taken on a new note of sweetness at this time. Medicinal roots like ginger, horseradish and echinacea are also powerful foods to incorporate as they keep your blood warm and immune system strong.
This is a time for growth. It’s time to shake off stillness and stretch. Nature is eager to bloom and so is your mind and body. Support your body with leafy greens and the fresh new green vegetables on the market, such as asparagus and sprouts.
The long summer days offer us the fuel to put in longer hours of work and play. It’s the season of networking, collaboration and celebration. With such high energy in the air, it’s important to remember not to burn out. Eat foods that keep you cool, like cucumbers and watermelons. Stay hydrated, drink fresh juices and enjoy more raw cooling foods.
This is a magical time – the days are still long but the light is more muted. It’s time to start slowing down. This is a great time to appreciate the abundance that summer has brought by pickling or making jams out of all the excess summer harvests. Roasted vegetables become more appealing as your food choices become a little heavier again – think capsicums, carrots or pumpkin.
Today’s transportation systems make food so easily available. Many of us are oblivious to the actual seasonality of food. We take it for granted that we can eat fresh berries anytime we want – or have avocado on toast every morning.
This wasn’t always the case. As little as a century ago, most people knew the best time to go foraging for berries or mushrooms. They were in tune with when vegetables would grow best in their area. Our modern lifestyle of convenience has caused us to lose touch with these basic concepts.
Even if you don’t grow your food, knowing what is in season and eating accordingly is so important. Here are a few reasons why:
Health benefits: Seasonal foods are the ripest and at thier peak nutritional value. When foods are grown out of season, they aren’t able to follow their natural growing and ripening rhythms. For certain fruits and vegetables to be available all year round, some growers will use post-harvest ripening agents such as chemicals, gasses and heat processes. While these processes ensure that farmers can meet consumer demand all year round, studies have suggested that artificially ripened produce is often not as nutritious or tasty as naturally ripened produce.
It’s better for the environment: Many of us give little thought to how far produce had to travel before it arrives at our local grocery store. Consider buying locally grown produce. This is a great way to eat with the seasons. Plus, these foods don’t have to travel nearly as far, so the associated fuel emissions and transportation costs are minimal. Added bonus: Buying local helps support your local farmers.
It’s cheaper: When produce is abundant, it’s going to be cheaper. Eat fruit and vegetables that are being grown and harvested plentifully and save your wallet.
Eating locally and seasonally empowers you to connect with your body and be respectful of the environment. Try exploring seasonal foods in your area by being mindful of the small-print – check out where produce has been grown and be aware of the prices that you are paying. Visit the local farmers markets to see what is being harvested and sold at that time of year or join your local food co-op to see what is in season. Or perhaps the best of all, try growing your own food to see what grows the best at different times of year.
May the food you prepare bring joy.