Spring prompts urge for seasonal eating and 5+ a day

Dunedin is humming, spring is here and Pink has set the season off with some chutzpah! Despite the poor business confidence statistics rolling out from the national surveys, things feel pretty good around Dunedin-town.

I've been speaking with people wanting to move here, the start-up business scene is humming and with news of big items like hospital builds, the ripple through to trade businesses has to be positive.

In past centuries, spring would be the sign of new growth and a greater diversity of diet. At this time of year, the pantry would have been looking pretty thin and pretty brown.

The concept of what seasonal eating really means struck me when I travelled in Northern China. I was sometimes there in the depths of winter where temperatures would get as low as -30degC. In rural areas lifestyles were often semi-nomadic, herders moving livestock across extensive grasslands and sleeping in yurts. We talked to them about lamb which they always referred to as a ''warm food'', food used to warm their blood, generate energy and eaten only in winter time.

There is logic behind this; there is not much fresh food available at -30degC. You're left with fermented cabbage and whatever else has survived storage during the long winter months. Eating lamb, with its high nutritional value and energy-rich fats, must have been both a treat and a necessity.

Nowadays, we take for granted that we can get pretty much anything we want to eat at any time. I was struck when I was in the UK earlier this year and fresh, fat blueberries from Greece were available at the end of a long winter.

The cost of importing blueberries from Greece would be exorbitant here. Instead I have taken to blitzing frozen blueberries for my spring breakfast smoothies, in a bid to get myself ''summer-ready'' - read into that as wanting to shed a few winter kilos, but I promise, definitely no bikinis!

Now that we have all this fabulous food available to us, eating our required 5+ a day should be easy. Worldwide, that is not the case.

According to recent European Union statistics, less than 15% of the total population aged over 15 consume at least five servings a day, while one in three do not eat any fruit and vegetables every day. And the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (Pure) study of more than 140,000 participants from 18 countries globally found that mean fruit and vegetable intake was 3.76 servings per day.

In New Zealand, Ministry of Health figures show that consumption of 5+ A Day is about 40%. That means 60% of us are not eating our 5+ A day - probably on a regular basis.

Is the answer to that to slow down and get back in cycle with the seasons, have a vege garden and only shop locally? Probably, and it certainly sounds romantic, but not entirely realistic.

I like having my winter blueberries and I also like having access to fruits like avocados, melons, kiwifruit and bananas, none of which would be available if I limited myself to eating what is only grown locally. As a country, we would also be a lot poorer. Some industries, such as dairy and red meat, export more than 95% of what they produce, profits from that coming back into our economy.

Global food chains are complex and governed by significant players. Trying to unravel that and take things back to what they used to be might happen on a minor scale, but if it means missing out on avocados . . . you choose.

Last week I was lucky enough to have a coffee with a food entrepreneur, Michael Mayell, the founder of Cookie Time. He is one of those people who sets your brain into a whirr of activity, an absolute delight to be around, yet challenging at the same time.

He has founded a new company, ''Nutrient Rescue'', making red and green vegetable shots from powdered whole-foods. It's an interesting concept and I can absolutely picture throwing back a red shot in the middle of Beijing - New Zealand wellness on the run.

But what about underprivileged children in our primary schools? Packaged sugary food is cheap and convenient - nutrient shots are likely to beyond their budget.

I love spring, the signs of new life and the thought of a golden summer ahead. I love the idea of doing more to be in synch with the seasons and how we might tap into a global need for wellness.

People like Michael Mayell are an inspiration. Imagine what we might do if people like him - and he is the sort to have a go - turned their energies to taking 5+ A day beyond the socio-economic, convenience and global food barriers which exist.

In the words of Robin Williams: ''No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.''

-Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio Ltd, a Dunedin-based agri-technology company.


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