How is it already the middle of MAY???
It’ll be the solstice before we know it - the longest day of the year, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Talk is turning now to summer plans, trips and travels, camping and climbing and hiking, time floating/swimming/boating down a river, in a lake, or on a unicorn float in pool.
Maybe it’s playing volleyball at the beach, the smell of BBQs to come faintly drifting through the air, the sounds of summer - random music from cars driving by drifting through now-open windows, children laughing, water splashing. Languishing in the warm and dusky nights, everything a little lighter, a little bit brighter.
As the growing season deepens, the variety of fresh produce available for many of us explodes. In the PNW we are heading into peak Market Season, although we are particularly lucky here to have access to fresh foods most of the year. We have some unique topography here in the Puget Sound.
Seattle is surrounded by fresh and salt water, farmland, deciduous forest, mountains, and desert - all separate and distinct climates with their own vegetation. Coupled with longer temperate seasons of spring, summer and fall, and less harsh winters than many other farmland areas, booths here are bursting with beautifully colored fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
Nutrition is one of the five branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but in my medical system it is different than caloric value and counting macros. It is the study of the energetics and properties of the plants and animals we consume, minimizing distraction so that you can focus on the intention of the food, not just the digestion. The idea that each thing that we put in our bodies is either going to move you closer to a healing goal, or further away from it.
This is what “balance” in the diet from a Chinese Medical perspective looks like, and it requires connection to food and food systems, knowledge, and preparation - both for your day/week ahead, and OF your food - cooking food for yourself and your family becomes a means to keep you all healthy and vital.
Balance also extends the idea of nourishment beyond food - how do we take things in from our environment? How do we digest information? Consume content? Do we have active practices to offset our less-than-ideal ones? Or are we doing things the same way
One of the most important elements of Chinese Medical nutrition and theory, is counteracting imbalances within your body (pathogenic, emotional), or acting on your body (situational, environmental), through diet and herbal medicine. So as we enter a season where we get more heat (or yang) and energy (qi) from the sun, we don’t need to consume as much in the way of food to counteract the deficit we face in the cold dark winter.
Shifting our perspective on what and how we are eating during different times of the year is hardly revolutionary. But in the confines of todays food systems, it is almost radical. With modern constraints on our day-to-day, and the ways we spend our time captive to our desks and busy-people schedules, we often get into habits with food that serve us at a point in time, but don’t often go back to revisit those habits as they might apply to the varying times of the year.
So, how COULD we engage with the Spring/Summer in new ways as far as our food and habits go?
This is a wonderful season to engage with simple, fresh, whole foods and to experiment with new ingredients. Stocking up on fruits and vegetables in a wide array of colors and textures provides us with the energy to engage with summer’s fun and sometimes frantic pace - while the days seem longer and somehow time more plentiful, the reality is we are often awake, and active for longer during the summertime.
Smaller meals more frequently during the summer will help to keep you energized and active throughout the day, and pairing quality produce with healthy fat like avocado/nuts/seeds, and lean, and readily digestible proteins like chicken and fish will help prevent that feeling of being overstuffed that can lead to lethargy in the post-lunch lull.
Eating seasonally and locally can help with offsetting the costs associated with buying more organic food. Find local organic produce, or learn about farmers markets in your area. Buying in the bulk aisle and learning about how to store your fresh produce are also some ways to make sure that your work, time, and money aren’t going to waste.
This guide to the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” can help you decode which produce to buy organic - it doesn’t have to be everything! You can also join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for the summer/fall growing and harvest season, and if you’re not set on aesthetics, Imperfect Produce is a great way to get seasonal produce delivered, and cut down on food waste.
If you live in a food desert, access to fresh whole foods can be nearly impossible or prohibitively expensive. Produce that is canned or frozen at the peak of its season often costs less than out-of-season items, has been shown to retain much of its nutrient density, and likely has not been force-ripened or sprayed with preservatives for the long journey from where they grew.
In addition to the food we are losing (and the water, labor, resources, fuel, and packaging that went into delivering these foods to grocery and box stores) we are having to deal with metric tons of non-compostable or non-biodegradable waste that comes along with it.
People are also starting to have the discussion about reducing our dependence on plastics - I loved this guide to storing food without plastic, and my mom got me hooked on ETEE wraps for food storage - things stay fresh and I’ve never looked back! I recycle glass jars and containers, and the Goodwill or other thrift stores in your area usually have a plethora of old Tupperware and mason jars.
In addition to supplementing my seasonal items with plant-based items from the freezer, I batch cook large amounts for our household of two, and divide half of it to freeze. No matter how good that chilled spring pea soup was, I don’t want to eat it every meal for a week, and having healthy food in the freezer that can be thawed on the counter for the day or prepared quickly helps me on those busy nights when we don’t have a plan.
Chances are dehydration may be an issue for you already, and it’s a huge stressor to our bodies. Every singe cell in our bodies need water to perform their function, and it helps to regulate blood pressure, filter toxins from our system, and repair damaged tissues. Summer is a time of dry heat in desert regions, and sweat-producing in the more humid ones, either affects the water balance in our bodies, and both are an issue.
Using fresh herbs like mint and parsley, and citrus fruits or berries, can help with the flat taste of water, and the boredom with it that often keeps people from drinking enough. You also get the added benefits of these plants when you diffuse them in your water. Parsley stimulates the release of gastric juices that help to break down protein and fats, mint is a powerful antioxidant that has a cooling effect, and citrus fruits have electrolytes that also needs to be replaced when we loose them to sweat or heat.
Here are some ways to use these beautiful summer foods:
Lemon Lavender Chia Seed Pudding - for breakfast in place of overnight oats, perhaps? If you need a shake-up in your morning routine this is a yummy one!
Chilled Summer Soups - nice to be able to grab right out of the fridge for lunch
Mushroom and Mango Salad - bring this stunner as a side dish to your next hang!
Kuku Sabzi, a Persian Herb Frittata - making this and then refrigerating the leftovers for breakfast during the week. I ate mine with a simple side salad dressed with oil, balsamic, lemon and pepper and it was fantastic!
Arugula, Watermelon and Feta Salad from the one and only Ina Garten
Whole Grilled Chicken with Peaches and Basil Vinaigrette If you wanna get fancy