Eating with the Harvest

by Michael A. Bedar, Certified Spiritual Nutrition Instructor, M.A. Candidate

Just brushing early autumn, late summer is a most extraordinary of seasons.

On the one hand, it is a most bountiful time of ripening and harvest.   At the least that is what we see on the exterior. Meanwhile, on the inside plants realize that the time of most light and  growth has passed.  Many stalks, while continuing to carry nourishment essential for ripening to the fruit, are also preparing to die.

It is interesting how surprised and just “struck” a farmer can be at the sheer quantity of browning stalks and leaves that remain in the garden after harvest.  It’s simply a matter of attention: All Spring and Summer, the eyes have fallen easily upon the growth of the flower buds, pods, and fruits of the garden.  Once the jewel of the garden, the “apple of the farmer’s eye” is picked, we are left with the reminder that all the fructification in our lives comes with a serious cleanup (or composting) job!

Psychologically and spiritually we “get” what the peak harvest season is about–appreciating the pinnacle of ripeness while recognizing it can and will all fall away and disintegrate.

But how about having a relationship with the harvest season nutritionally?

I’ve always found that living healthy is about momentum.  Harvest time is an incredible time to set our momentum for a year of eating and living, with wellness as a foundation in our lives. We literally have the forces of nature, and gravity itself, thrusting the fruits and vegetables of the earth upon us.  Let us use that thrust to propel us forward!

How do we, in this sacred act we call eating, uptake nature into our body while in relationship with the harvest season?

The harvest order in general goes something like this:

  • the remaining fruits
  • then watery vegetables
  • then the harder root vegetables and squashes
  • and finally legumes, grains, seeds, and nuts

In all simplicity, that is also the map that seasonal eating at harvest time follows.  Seasonal eating at harvest does not mean we follow a prescription telling us exactly what to eat, nor that we only eat  what is ripe naturally at that time.  For even in different local microclimates, different foods are ripe for harvest at different times.

What eating with the harvest means is an awareness and an interest in connecting with the “soul” of each food, and wanting to honor it by understanding its cycle, and when and where it is harvested.  Eating with the harvest is assisted greatly by seeing what is available at the community garden and local farmers’ market, if you are fortunate enough to have one of these two precious things in your community.

There is far more to the whole story of eating with the harvest than going to the farmers market or garden, though.  For one, just know that not everything at the farmers’ market is just harvested–yes, many farmer vendors use refrigerated storage for their produce.  Two, there are many techniques for growing more foods all year long, so not everything at the farmers’ market reflects what is natural in a given season.

Here are some of the things you might map out for your next couple of months starting now. Of course, this will depend on your body’s individual constitution  allergies, budget, and favorite tastes.  [Finding your individual constitution, as an aside, is a fascinating field that spans the East and West, as discussed in detail in Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, M.D.).  The following ideas for mapping out your next few months of eating with the harvest are based on rough estimates. You may find the timing different:

  • In August, obviously, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches are at their height.  Why not make use of these fresh love notes from the earth to celebrate the middle-late summer?
  • Fig trees give their love in late August and especially in September.
  • Meanwhile, it is also a top time of the year when many cucumbers and tomatoes are ripening on the vine.  Do you like large round tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, mini-pear tomatoes, or heirloom tomatoes?   What we also see is the zucchini and bell peppers coming into fullness.
  • A little later, in the late summer or early fall, the tomatillos begin to fill up their onion-peel like sheath and go from unbearably tart to their unique crispy sweetness.
  • Peas and green beans, while possible to be grown any time of year, come in very nicely in the early fall.
  • Anyone who has seen sunflowers know that their seeds like the sunny, dry fall to harden and form into the shape we know as sunflower seeds, right out of that giant flower’s face!
  • Apples and pears delight us with their mid-fall arrival.  For apples, that zone can last good while; they are so hardy to weather.   What’s said about pears–that they have a perfectly ripe moment that lasts five minutes–is somehow true.
  • Lastly, tree nuts–pecans and walnuts especially–ripen right up ’til the trees have no more leaves.  Most healthy diets recommend a moderate amount of nuts, so we can let nature be our guide.  Think of the chipmunk, storing three nuts for every one it eats.

Herbs also each have a remarkable relationship to different seasons.   Yes, you can also relate an herb to the season according to many different systems, from Ayurvedic doshas to shamanic ideas of the four seasons that go with the four directions.

Lastly and just as importantly, there is a way that the geography of where a food is native too, and where it is actually grown in current times, has an effect on our body. For one easy example, if you were cold, would you prefer an apple grown in California or British Columbia?  That is absolutely right, the apple grown in British Columbia.  Why?  Because, ecologically, the more northernly fruit’s job is to help the species around it survive in colder weather.

Here’s another one I like:  If you were feeling dried out, would you prefer a prickly pear fruit or a guava fruit?  The answer is the prickly pear fruit of the cactus, because it’s job is to help people cope with dryness, whereas guava and other tropical fruit actually help dry people and animals out, which serves the function in the tropics of helping purge fluid deposits in the body that could infected.

Seeds and nuts have a definite organization according to latitude.   Sunflower seeds and almonds are from mediterranean climes.  Walnuts and chestnuts are nuts from the more northern areas, and flax seeds and hemp seeds are examples of more northern seeds .  These are just a few examples, and have fun with your nutritional cartography!

There is nothing in activism like putting our principles into action, and there is a great way to live that creed through eating seasonally and consciously.

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