Does local and seasonal produce always taste better?

Farmer's market

The mantra of eating local and seasonal has reached a fever pitch. But The Guardian’s Amy Fleming wonders if the product lives up to the hype. Does a locally grown strawberry really taste much better than one that’s been shipped from many miles away? The conventional wisdom is that the local product will be better because it is grown under optimal conditions and reaches you right after harvest. However, says greengrocer Andres Georghiou, “it’s such an ambiguous argument. You can have an English strawberry that tastes like water because it’s not a particularly good one, and then you get a French gariguette strawberry that is consistent and amazingly sweet. So it’s not just about provenance, it’s about the specific product.” While some products do suffer from a lengthy transport time (asparagus), the article notes that many vegetables actually improve with age, like russets, peppers, and aubergines (eggplants).

The article notes that Observer food critic Jay Rayner concluded that choosing local and seasonal produce is not a sustainable food-chain solution, but is instead a middle-class lifestyle choice, and also points out the hypocrisy that exists among many vocal locavores: they are not going to give up their lemons, coffee, or figs any time soon, even though these products must come from far away.

Returning to the initial question of whether farmers market foods do more than give us the warm fuzzies and in fact possess superior taste, Fleming notes that an “interesting study was published in the journal Appetite in 2012, which saw farmers’-market shoppers asked about how the food tasted. None of them could confidently assert that, or describe how the food tasted better.”

What’s your take on the trend of eating local and seasonal foods?

Photo courtesy The Guardian (Nick Turner / Alamy/Alamy)

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  • ellabee  on  April 22, 2014

    It's a keep-the-money-in-the-local-economy solution, at the absolute minimum. It's also keeping food-producing skills alive, and keeping farmland in the hands of growers. I would resist the jaded viewpoint that it's just another food "trend". The locally grown produce stays fresh longer, and does taste better to me. Our strawberries (which won't be in for another month) are plenty sweet, all the more so for only being available fresh then. [The rest of the year, it's preserves if strawberries are needed.] There's no hypocrisy in supplementing a basically local diet with foods that are never going to be "in season" here.

  • Rinshin  on  April 22, 2014

    When in season and have the time, I like to go straight to the source where items are grown. They certainly taste better. Sometimes, I choose to pick my own and they taste amazing.

  • fitzie  on  April 23, 2014

    Local always tastes better to me, especially when it comes to asparagus. Should be ready this weekend and even though the price is dear, it's so much better than the asparagus grown only God knows where and shipped across oceans and deserts to my local grocer, Same applies to strawberries and blueberries. And what comes out of my backyard is sublime.

  • boardingace  on  April 25, 2014

    I've been curious about this myself, and the closest answers I could find were from a cooking website (serious eats, I think) doing taste tests on eggs (organic, free range, etc). Their original taste test showed strong preferences for the organic/free-range, but it turned out that they were being influenced by the bright color of the yolk…when they repeated the tests blindfolded, I believe they could not taste any difference.

    I do feel that it's unfair to call anyone or group of people "hypocrites" because they either don't follow a belief system 100% of the time, don't follow it in every applicable situation, or don't follow it perfectly. That is not the definition of hypocrisy to me. [I thought that it was when you expect others to do something you don't do yourself, and generally, don't admit that you're not doing it.] It is such a negative downer view to expect people to carry out every belief they have to the nth degree.

  • sir_ken_g  on  April 26, 2014

    I depends on the vegi I think.
    There is NO Comparison between farmers market corn and tomatoes and the pathetic grocery store kind.

  • FuzzyChef  on  April 26, 2014

    Well, the produce from our local Farmers' Markets is definitely better … at least, the stuff we buy is better. But then we live in Northern California, which makes a big difference. Also, we pretty much buy two kinds of produce at farmers' markets; really high-quality stuff, and exotic/unusual stuff. Is there produce being sold at the farmers' market which is no better, and in some cases, worse than that at our grocery store? Why, yes there is. We just don't buy that. One place where I do notice that the farmers' markets have an edge is anything green and leafy; the extra day or two that stuff takes to get to a grocery store has a substantial impact on the quality of fresh herbs, leafy greens and berries. For example, basil from a farmers' market stall is almost always substantially better and cheaper than what we can buy at our greengrocer or Whole Paycheck.

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