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The season of pumpkin

Do you miss having seasons? It’s a question I get fairly often when people ask me about the move from New Jersey to California. While I do miss certain aspects of winter and think that a 75-degree and sunny Christmas is criminal, when it comes down to it, I would trade a few snow days for a year of perpetually pleasant weather on the West Coast. But there is a kind of season I do feel nostalgic about, one that even New Jersey residents are no longer privy to.

The seasonality of produce is a fundamental law of nature which has become all but obsolete thanks to technological advances in transportation capabilities and the global economy. Almost anywhere in the United States, one can visit any standard grocery store and buy a strawberry in January, an apple in July, and mangos all year round. More than that, seasons are not only unacknowledged, but when it comes to the availability of fruits and vegetables, a commitment to seasonality would likely incite outrage. If we were all to eat solely what is locally in season, the Northeast would be without almost all fruit for six months out of the year and the entire country would essentially be without coffee, which many would consider a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions.

The thing is, we do appreciate the seasonality of certain foods, especially at this time of year. Pumpkin flavoring is more profoundly intertwined with autumn than construction is with the Stanford campus. Every coffee shop has some form of a pumpkin beverage and Trader Joe’s has proven that there is almost no food that pumpkin can’t be incorporated into. No one expects these items to be available all year round, and I would go so far as to say people wouldn’t want that. While pumpkin is delicious in its own right, an essential aspect of its allure lies precisely in its novelty. Even in places where the leaves don’t change colors and the temperature doesn’t begin to plummet, the fall season is adopted in order to partake in this tradition of pumpkin flavored foods. And so in today’s day and age, the most seasonal food item in America is pumpkin flavoring.

I am not suggesting we deprive the Northeast of fresh fruit for half the year or that we all stop drinking coffee. But there is something to be said for appreciating and focusing on the food that is in season, especially because the perpetual availability of all fruits and vegetables, which we are currently able to take for granted, is already starting to deteriorate. A fungus is threatening to internationally devastate the monoculture banana crop and the avocado crisis is already rearing its ugly head. The other night at Treehouse there was not a modicum of guacamole in sight.

If we highlighted and celebrated locally available fruits and vegetables, it would do that much more to raise awareness about where our food comes from and the growing practices entailed, and it might even encourage people to consider what processes are sustainable and which ones are not. If we applied the pumpkin marketing model to other fruits and vegetables, we could have seasonal produce revelry all year long.

Contact Michaela Elias at melias23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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