When I was at the University of Minnesota finishing my undergraduate degree, I found myself in line for the microwave in the student lounge with the Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. He asked what I studied and when I told him I was in the Nutrition Dietetics program, he asked what motivated me to take that direction.
"I'm interested in local food systems," I replied.
In response, he said something to the effect of, "I like the idea of local foods, but I can really only eat so many turnips and rutabagas, so it loses me come wintertime."
At the time, I honestly didn't know how to respond. I probably laughed, blushed, and went back to my lunch, but the conversation stuck with me all these years. At the time, I think turnips and potatoes probably were among the few local foods that we available in the midst of the cold season (you see, edible plants don't grow too well under several feet of snow...). Over the coming years, we strengthened our local economy and farmers followed demand. The MN Department of Agriculture and the USDA both provided grants and loans for building season-extending infrastructure on farms to provide Midwesterners with carrots, beets, onions, garlic, winter squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes and even some cold-hardy greens in the winter. Last year I bought locally-grown carrots at my neighborhood grocery store all the way into the spring! I don't know about you, but that makes my heart warm...and my mouth water - winter carrots are the sweetest!
The global market is an incredible thing (it's also deeply flawed, but that's a conversation for an environmental economist to tackle and for me to sit in the back of the room cheering). The global market brings citrus and avocados to Minnesota, where it's going to take several more decades of global warming before we can grow those on our home turf. This market also puts a huge variety of foods in front of us at every grocery store. And while the variety and creativity that selection offers is exciting and probably nutritionally beneficial, it also disrupts our connection to the physical world we live in.
Here's an example:
In Minnesota, tomatoes, watermelon and cucumbers are ready to harvest in the heat of the summer. These foods are full of water and electrolytes, which help balance the amount of sweat we produce in the humidity and heat. They cool us down while replenishing our body fluids. That's needed at that time of year.
Now we move forward a few months and the temperatures drop. Our bodies are working hard to stay warm. The last thing we need is to eat cold foods like salads, smoothies or ice cream, or cooling foods like raw tomatoes, watermelon and cucumbers when goosebumps are a permanent accessory to our outfits.
So what is a way of eating this time of year that supports balance and restores harmony in our bodies?
If you start feeling the pot roasts and mashed potatoes settle into your middle section, send the extra insulation your gratitude. When we remember that we are part of the animal kingdom, it makes good sense that we'd put on a little extra weight for the cold season. Before you consider skipping lunch or following some fad diet, reassure yourself that spring is coming. And with it comes lighter foods, longer days and restless energy just waiting to take you for a jog. Spring is a season primed for detoxification and lightening up.
You are part of this beautiful planet, remember that. So put on a few pounds and stay in touch. I'll share some tips for losing it when the time comes to do so.
I love food.
I love thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it. I love growing food, cooking and eating food. I use this space to try to convey that. Follow me on social media for more day-to-day inspiration on these topics.