Feeding Your Family: Living Large

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 This article is featured in the October '07 Feeding Your Family Newsletter
Recipes: Baked Veggie Tempura | What's in Season? Squash | Living Large | Things We Love! Cloth Bags |  Health Check: Diet Sodas

By Larissa Phillips

I am going macrobiotic.

Not in the traditional sense of the word, of course. The standard macrobiotic diet - with its prescription for brown rice, seaweed and not much else - left me shaky and starving the one time I seriously tried it. But, as it turns out, there is more to macrobiotic than just vegan Japanese food.

The word macrobiotic is based on the Greek words for "large life," and it is much more concerned with planetary health and world peace than it is with supplying Hollywood starlets with a restrictive eating plan. Based essentially on the concepts of yin and yang, macrobiotics is about balance. A primary way to achieve nutritional balance is to eat locally and seasonally, two words that are all about delicious.

Unfortunately, these concepts have been all but lost to us in our mighty-marketing world of convenience and indulgence. We can have anything we want whenever we want it, and so - despite everything we tell our children - we go ahead and have everything ... right now! Strawberries and asparagus at Christmas; rock-hard apricots in February; and square, mealy tomatoes and limp, watery cucumbers all year round. It doesn't matter that none of these off-season items taste good. They are vague approximations of the real thing. Is it any wonder children - and many adults, for that matter - don't want to eat fruits and vegetables?

But things are changing. Perhaps our culture of food has plunged so low that there was literally nowhere left to go but back up. In response, the last year has offered a small explosion of memoirs by writers who took the so-called local challenge - inventing the word "locavore" for one thing - and then lived by it. In books like Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon's The 100 Mile Diet (Vintage Canada, 2007) and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Harper-Collins, 2007), authors have vowed to eat only foods grown within a certain radius of their homes.

Of course, eating locally automatically means eating seasonally, since you can't exactly truck in peaches and pineapples from Chile just because you want something sweet and juicy. No, you have to stick with what's actually growing in your neck of the woods at that moment.

This naturally saves vast amounts of transportation fuel and contributes to a feeling of eco-well-being, but it also limits dining options. Mackinnon and Smith took the challenge seriously, at one point spending hours picking mouse droppings from a sack of flour they'd happened to find in a farmer's barn, after seven months without wheat. Kingsolver was a bit more lax, accepting dinner party invitations (but gently turning down a houseguest's request for bananas).

Personally, I'm not going this far, no matter what the spiritual and eco rewards. I live in New York City, for one thing, so right away it's clear that my options are limited. And, there are some things I'm having a hard time giving up. Mangoes, for example. And I simply can't imagine a world without avocados or lemons.

But there are many sacrifices I'm willing to make, for my own health, and for the health of the planet: Out-of-season cherries, watermelon, corn, apricots, nectarines, green beans, asparagus and snap peas, to name just a few. In their ripe, freshly harvested glory, these things are truly sublime. I'm willing to wait for them, and focus on what is in season at the moment. To aide my search for seasonal sublimity, I have taken to shopping for produce at farmers' markets, choosing what's ... there. Guess what? Everything I get is local, and in season!

Even taking on the locavore challenge in this luke-warm, feel-good fashion, I'm finding a balance. I really do believe the body does better with seasonal foods. Springtime is a natural time to detox, and, hey look, bitter young greens and radishes are in season! Summer is hot and a great time for bright, raw fruits and vegetables. And now, as fall sets in, our bodies are happy to make the switch to starches, root vegetables and maybe a little more meat. It is time to take it easy and settle into that comfy chair with a good book.

I might still have to work on cutting back on my avocado intake, but it's getting easier. The ever-changing cornucopia of seasonal foods is actually much easier than sticking to brown rice and seaweed - and far more delicious.