rē•considering How We Eat: Why Eating Local is Always in Season
rē-thinking the politics of your food choices.
There is so much conversation these days about how we eat. Options and opinions on the subject of food can feel endless, which is why it’s all the more important to turn to the experts when making executive decisions regarding our diets. For those in the food world, Chef Carla Contreras is a familiar face and trusted voice — especially when it comes to seasonal eating and local food sourcing. As the founder of the online cooking school, Cook+Chop, and host of the podcast, “Show Up Fully,” Chef Carla understands the connection between nourishment and the body, mind, and earth. She shares her perspectives as a trained chef, food stylist, photographer, and health coach — including her penchant for the seasonal eating of locally-sourced foods.
Her passion for seasonal eating began as a child in Rochester, New York, where, twice per week with her family, she would frequent the longest-standing farmer’s market. Later, while working as a chef at a food pantry in New York City, she discovered her passion for food justice, developing weekly programs to teach members how to cook seasonal produce that was donated through two CSA’s and City Harvest. In truth, her passions were colliding and she felt called to action, infusing advocacy into her food choices.
Why Eat Local?
“Local is how humans have eaten since the beginning of time,” Chef Carla tells rē•spin. “And it’s only in recent history that we have shifted how we feed ourselves and source food.” With the expansion of national and international shipping, all foods are available year-round. It wasn’t so long ago that corn and strawberries were exclusive to the summer months, but we can now get this produce all year long; but everything has its season, including produce, animals, dairy, fish, and shellfish.
Plus, there is an adverse environmental impact when shipping times are distances are increased to make year-round “seasonality” possible. Eating foods when they’re more readily available (AKA in season) in your area means less time in transit and fewer emissions. But from a chef’s perspective, it also means fresher and yummier flavors; tuning-into the seasons is the most delicious and sustainable way to eat. There are health benefits to shopping locally among what is naturally in-season, providing us with fresher, nutrient-rich produce with more vibrant colors — indicating the nutrients, antioxidants, minerals, and more to be found within. Mother Earth is inherently wise; after all, it’s not a coincidence that vitamin-C-rich foods like citrus are in season in the winter, when you’re lacking sunshine and most likely to come down with the flu or a cold.
Chef Carla’s Tips for Seasonal Food Shopping
- Pay attention to what’s on display at the grocery store. Often what is in season will be front and center.
- If you are ordering grocery delivery, check if there is local produce, meat, fish, dairy, or egg section that you can order from.
- Ask around locally or do some research to see if there is a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
- If you don’t have the bandwidth to cook, look into a food delivery service or a local restaurant that uses seasonal produce.
- It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Start with sourcing certain staples locally and see how it goes. She recommends starting with local produce, dairy, eggs, fish, and/or meat.
What are Food Deserts?
Unfortunately, fresh and local foods aren’t available to people living in all geographic regions, and even according to socioeconomic status. These zones with less access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are known as “food deserts.” “Food deserts can be described as geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options — especially fresh fruits and vegetables— is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance. The other defining characteristic of food deserts is socio-economic: that is, they are most commonly found in Black and Brown communities and low-income areas, where many people don’t have cars),” Chef Carla explains using data from the Food Empowerment Project.
There are many social justice organizations working hard to remedy the problem posed by food deserts, as local and national politics play a significant role in food accessibility. So much so that, as Chef Carla explains it, “We vote with our fork with every food purchase we make. By shopping locally you support these important small businesses.” For instance, NYC City Harvest has mobile markets throughout the different boroughs. Rev. Dr. Herbert Brown III, the founder of the Black Church Food Security Network, is another advocate connecting farmers with churches. Local and national politics play a significant role here, as well.
It comes easily to consider our health and nutrition when making our shopping choices, but it’s a little less intuitive to consider the political ramifications of our food-shopping choices. Now that you understand a little bit more about the social justice implications of shopping locally and eating seasonally, here are two of Chef Carla’s favorite autumnal recipes to try out at home.
Roasted Veggie Blender Soup
You can use cooked or frozen veggies like cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, butternut squash, and broccoli.
Pro tip: Roast veggies and store them in one cup portions in the freezer so you can pop them out, mix them with broth, and enjoy a satisfying meal.
Optional add-ins: 1-2 Tbsp. coconut milk for healthy fats and the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime.
Topping ideas: Sliced raw radishes, microgreens, fresh herbs, or the Crunchy Grain-Free Nut & Seed Topping (see recipe below).
2 cups of roasted veggies, like cauliflower or broccoli
2 cups chicken bone broth, veggie broth, or filtered water
1/8 tsp. sea salt
3–5 cranks of freshly ground pepper
1-2 Tbsp. Crunchy Gluten-free Topping (optional)
1 tsp. olive oil, garnish
- Add the roasted veggies and bone broth to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer for 5-7 minutes or until small bubbles form and the veggies and broth are heated through.
- In a high-speed blender or food processor add the veggies and bone broth, make sure the lid is on tight before blending. Blend for 1 minute or until smooth.
- If you like your soup thinner, you can add more broth. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Drizzle with olive oil to garnish and top with toppings of choice.
Crunchy Grain-Free Nut & Seed Topping:
This is a great crouton alternative, perfect for soup and salads. You can also snack on this by itself.
1/2 cup of raw pepitas
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1 Tbsp. black sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. golden flax seeds
- Place in a jar and shake. Store in the fridge or freezer for up to 3 months.