Published: Nov 11, 2015 By: Shona Dubois
There is always a point around early November when I am suddenly not terribly interested in eating salads any more. I am always surprised at how quickly this transformation happens. One day I am enjoying the last of the summer salad crops and thinking of ways to use them up. The next I have an inexplicable desire for something more warming – a good bowl of soup, or a homely one-pot stew. All of a sudden, the remaining salad crops in the veg patch (some rather bedraggled tomatoes and cucumbers in the polytunnel for example) seem to have outstayed their welcome.
Growing your own food and eating seasonally is a way of reconnecting with the nutrition cycle that nature intended for us. When our bodies are leading us towards eating one type of food over another at particular times of the year, we would do well to listen to its wisdom for physiological reasons. In the spring we should consume lots of tender, leafy vegetables that represent the fresh new growth and cleanse and lighten our systems. In the summer, foods that are light and full of water such as tomatoes will help keep the body cool, hydrated and balanced. In the autumn and winter, nature is in transition. The bodies of our ancestors would have faced some very lean months. Perhaps this explains the intuitive need to store nourishment by eating richer, heartier foods.
Even in modern times, the winter body needs food to keep it warm and to help it conserve energy – so we need a different type of fuel. Tomatoes and cucumbers just won’t cut it. In general, foods that take longer to grow are more warming than foods that grow quickly – so think classic stock pot veg like carrots, onions, garlic and potatoes.
In this context, think about how utterly lacking in seasonality the modern food chain really is. Glossy strawberries, plump tomatoes and other out-of-season vegetables grace the shelves of the supermarket throughout the winter. At first this might seem exciting, but just because modern food-chain logistics allows for these marvels, doesn’t mean that our bodies wouldn’t be better off with more seasonal fare. Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests that we should eat different foods for different seasons – and that eating seasonal foods that are similar in nature to the external environment will help us to adapt better to seasonal changes and remain healthy.
The Danes have a word that I really like in the context of the transition to more homely winter meals. That word is hygge – there is no direct English translation, but it hints at a cosy state of wellbeing where one is feeling homely, warm, comforted and in the company of good friends. There is as little as five hours of daylight in the winter there but they fight back with warming food, open fires and good company. Most surveys place Denmark as among the happiest nations on earth, despite their cold and dark winters. Perhaps their embrace of hygge food explains why