Controversial opinion: eating seasonally isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Is the obsession with eating only what’s produced locally, in season, coherent or consistent? Writer Andy Lynes says spare him the seasonality snobs, and raises a rebel glass to Peruvian asparagus.
Back in the dark days of winter, an online acquaintance from the food world was bemoaning the fact that English asparagus season was still some way off. I replied that I wasn’t waiting for it to start – I’d cooked some Peruvian asparagus from the supermarket that week. His response was a withering ‘oh dear’. The implication was that I was a crass oink for not following the holy rules of seasonal eating.
I’d be treated the same if I bought some tomatoes, ripened under glass in Spain perhaps – ‘sooo artificial and no taste’ – instead of waiting for summer. But what exactly are these food rules? And are they consistent?
There are certain items some food lovers use as the equivalent of a Masonic handshake to indicate they’re on the culinary square: asparagus, native lobster, oysters, gull’s eggs, wild mushrooms – and, erm, forced rhubarb (grown out of the plant’s natural season in heated sheds – yet, unlike the tomatoes, lauded for its subtle taste and unnaturally pale pink hue).
In theory, cooking this seasonal produce should work out relatively cheap because you’re eating what’s abundant. In reality its often eye-wateringly expensive because there’s limited supply and the foods are highly sought after, making them the preserve of the well off.
But aside from the disregard, in a cost of living crisis, of the price of clinging to seasonal-eating values, I wonder how deep the seasonal snobbery actually runs in your average virtue-signalling food lover… Were the people pining for English asparagus also looking forward as keenly to the first of the purple sprouting broccoli in March, or refusing to touch plaice until June when they’re at their best, spear-caught off England’s south coast?
Is seasonality at the forefront of these people’s minds when dining out on non-European cuisines? At their local Vietnamese restaurant, do they know if the water spinach is in season, or if it’s even a seasonal veg in southeast Asia where it came from? How would they behave at one of my favourite restaurants, The China Garden in Brighton, where (as far as I know) they haven’t changed their dim sum menu, complete with ‘Chinese greens in oyster sauce’, for 30 years. Would they say ‘oh dear’ to the waiter – or gobble it up like everyone else?
This elitist foodie affectation of selectively eating seasonal foods is, in any case, being eroded by modern farming methods. This year, Waitrose was offering British asparagus as early as 21 February – it’s grown in recycled strawberry coir, which heats up quicker than normal soil. The use of polytunnels has also extended the traditional season of many vegetables at both ends.
My Peruvian supermarket asparagus made for a great midweek dinner, roasted in olive oil and served with homemade fishcakes. Why splash out on wild mushrooms when bog standard buttons, fried in butter, garlic and thyme, make the perfect base for a risotto? There’s no reason to dismiss these, or other affordable out-of-season food items. Feel free to eat seasonally if you can, but remember you’re no less a true food lover if you choose not to.
What do you think? Do you meticulously observe seasonal eating – or should we relax a little? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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