Foods in season – the dos and don’ts

By Josephine Agbonkhese & Chris Onuoha

MORE than anything else, one of the biggest challenges homemakers face on a daily basis is deciding a meal for their families. Doing this day after day can seem beyond daunting – so much that many pray this routine could be wished away.  From having to contend with the different preferences of family members to working with a budget, this task can be almost quite depressing, especially since family meals are more than simply sustenance.

But the simple truth is: meal planning doesn’t have to be a struggle. At least not with the plethora of farm produce available in abundance at different times all-year round.

The in-season strategy

Like one Biblical passage subtly reminds, for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter including meal preferences, we beg to add. The seasonal availability of different farm produce including fruits and vegetables, is nature’s way of telling what to eat and when. Rather unfortunately, not many consider that when making meal choices for their families.

“I simply just rack my head without any guide. Most times, I end up settling for food items that are expensive, like yam right now. I notice that I am always settling for yam without giving its cost a second thought,” Morin Imohe, a Lagos-based mum told Woman’s Own.

Another, Sophia, a live-alone spinster working with one of the old generation banks, said she eats whatever catches her fancy, even if it means going on Indomie and egg, bread and tea, jollof rice or beans, week-to-week. In simpler terms, food in season or in-season foods, refers to foods that are at their peak at a particular time of the year or being grown and harvested at the time of the year when you buy and cook them.

…enters technology

Until quite recently, seasonal eating was universal – without modern technology or transport, everyone had no choice but simply to eat what the trees and plants produced. As a matter of fact, back then in Nigeria, very rarely would you see a fruit out of season on display in the markets, because it simply was unavailable. So you’d never see a mango in dry season months or an orange in wet season.

These days, with mechanised farming, genetic modification, storage technology and the globalised food market, there is that “convenience” of being able to buy any food at any time of the year.

Reliance on nature:  According to an agriculturist, Pelumi Aribisala, CEO, Ogunmod Farms & Farmers’ Academy cum-Co-Founder, Cato Foods and Agroallied Global Concepts, basically, food-in-season occurs because of our reliance on nature for practising agriculture.

“In developed countries, you have different types of foods all year-round. But in this part of the world, we basically rely on the rain to do our cultivation. And the raining season in Nigeria, normally, is between April and October. That is the period where we have different kinds of foods in the market, such as maize, yam, mango, etc. But when it comes to dry season, you rarely find foods like maize, fresh yam, etc.,” he said.

 Benefits of in-season foods

Aribisala stressed that reliance on nature for farming confers a lot of advantages on consumers, particularly as in-season foods are fresher, healthier and more affordable.  “This is good for households because they are able to use these foods as their main course. As a result of that, you notice people consume more of maize and maize products at this time of the year,” he said.

According to a nutritionist and Belgium-trained food scientist/technologist, Mrs. Ijeoma Ugwu, eating foods when they are in season is an integral part of health. She said: “Eating according to the seasons is an important part of a healthy and sustainable diet. Furthermore, eating according to a given season has a host of benefits for your health, your wallet, the environment, and local business.” And true to Ugwu’s submission, food experts say an in-season produce possesses great benefits.

Tastes better:  In-season produce is fresher and tastes better, sweeter and perfectly ripe. When fruits and vegetables that have naturally ripened on the vine or the tree are harvested at the right time, it will have much more flavour and nutrition.

Cheaper: When farmers are harvesting a large abundance of produce due to the crop being in season, the cost of the produce will go down. When the produce is locally sourced because it’s in season in your area, then travelling expenses and storage are not required, thereby reducing the production costs that are then passed onto the consumer.

Fresher with a higher nutritional value: Produce that is purchased in season is more likely to be fresher, consumed closer to harvesting and higher in nutritional value. Some anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C, folate and carotenes will rapidly decline when stored for periods of time.

When fruits and vegetables are sourced overseas you can’t be sure what their regulations for pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are, as there are different acceptable levels for different regions based on weather. Many countries across the globe have very relaxed laws about chemicals being sprayed on fruits and vegetables that other countries have banned due to their known harmful effects.

More environment-friendly: Eating seasonally reduces the demand for out of season produce which further supports more local produce and supports local farming. This means less transportation, less refrigeration, less hot houses, and less irradiation of produce.

Food abundance, malnutrition in Nigeria

Nigerian farmers work very hard to ensure steady food supply in the country, but yet, food shortage, just like malnutrition, constantly reoccurs in the country.

Asserting therefore, that farmers in the country have the capacity to ensure food availability all-year round, Aribisala said: “I wish government would swiftly intervene in the agricultural sector, 60 percent of whose produce goes to waste annually.

“They can help work on our harvest, post-harvest, preservation and transportation method. Do you know that the over 60 percent of our farm produce that goes to waste will need not go to waste? Nigeria today produces enough food that we can all eat but yet, it has about 13 million people under the extreme hunger line.

“As if that is not enough, 500,000 children have been estimated to die of malnutrition by the end of this year by UNICEF. This is basically because of our post-harvest culture which results in the 60 percent wastage, resulting in food shortage and price hike,” he elucidated.

What then are in season?

If you’re not familiar with what’s in-season where you live, it’s not too difficult to find out. Take a quick glance around the market for an abundance of specific foods, and also pay attention to the way prices are trending. For instance, at this time of the year, you’ll notice maize, groundnut, pear, garden egg, almond fruit, coconut, orange, avocado, pepper fruit, watermelon, and more all around you. Take advantage of their availability.