What’s With Alkaline Water?

caps of many water bottles in a case

You’ve made your grocery selections, the cart is full, and you’re walking the final stretch to the cash register. Small impulse purchases begin taunting you! Single serving beverage products line the long refrigerator, which probably looks something like this…

Should it really be this hard to decide on a water purchase? On a recent trip to the grocery store, I was astounded by the variety of claims being made by seemingly identical water products.

Marketing claims like artesian, distilled, electrolyte-enhanced, and vitamin-enhanced lead you to believe that some water is healthier than others? The newcomer, alkaline water, promises to balance out the acidity in your body, help neutralize free radicals, and protect against osteoporosis. But is there any science that backs up these claims?

Water is essential— but does the type of water you drink matter?

The human body can only survive 3 days without water, but new scientific studies have shown that the traditional recommendation of “8 servings of 8 ounces of water per day” is actually unsubstantiated.

Some nutritionists advise that you should aim to consume roughly half an ounce to one ounce of water per pound of body weight— but this can vary depending on the individual and lifestyle choices.

Acidity versus Alkaline

Whether a substance is considered alkaline or acidic is determined by the pH, or potential Hydrogen, level. The pH scale ranges from 0-14, with 1.0 being the highest level of acidity and 14.0 being the highest level of alkalinity.

Water typically has a pH of around 7 (neutral). Anything below 7 has more hydrogen ions than hydroxide ions and therefore is categorized as acidic. Anything above 7 has a higher concentration of hydroxide ions and is considered alkaline.

Acidic environments in the human body are frequently labeled pressure-cookers for cancer. It is believed that acidity can encourage the growth and spreading of cancerous cells. Alternatively, it is believed that alkaline environments are able to neutralize free radicals.

How does water become alkaline?

Alkaline water is water that contains alkalizing compounds. These compounds include calcium, potassium, magnesium, and bicarbonate that help neutralize acidic environments.

To combat the alleged threats for acidic environments, companies like Essentia market their drinking water with an alkaline pH of 9.5, maintaining this can help to balance out the acidity in your body and help keep you healthy. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it works…

We do not know if alkaline water neutralizes free radicals

The premise behind alkaline water health claims is that it acts as a free radical scavenger and absorbs free radicals that damage DNA. The scavenger is the enemy of free radicals.

Free radical scavengers function by using two different methods: enzymatic reactions, which work by breaking down and removing free radical compounds, and non-enzymatic reactions, which work by interfering with the free radical chain reaction. Unfortunately, there is no scientific research that indicates components of alkaline water are capable of neutralizing free radicals.

Alkaline Water versus Your Body’s pH Levels

The pH of your blood is 7.4, the pH of your stomach is 2.0-3.5, and the pH of your body’s urine varies.

Many alkaline water and diet devotees maintain an alkaline body by measuring the pH of their urine. But this can change rather frequently and depends on the supplements you take, the food you eat, and the beverages you drink.

If you are dehydrated your urine will have a more acidic pH, typically between 6.0-7.0. But as you drink water and other liquids through the day, your urine tends to become more alkaline, usually between 7.0-8.0 pH. So while drinking alkaline water might make a marginal difference on the pH of your urine, there are a lot of different influencers at play.

Unlike your urine, however, stomach and blood must maintain their pH levels in order for you to stay alive! Your stomach may fluctuate slightly depending on the foods you eat but will always remain more acidic than alkaline and your blood must remain at 7.4 pH.

Urine is not believed to be a good indicator of your body’s pH because your urine actually eliminates waste to maintain your body’s homeostasis.

Your body is already equipped with detoxification mechanisms

As we discussed in “Nix the Toxins,” your liver and kidneys function to detoxify your body if you are maintaining a balanced diet and have a fairly active lifestyle. If you are debating over a “healthier” water choice, we are willing to bet you are a healthy person already.

So, while it is reasonable to be concerned about what is in your water— don’t stress the pH level. Your body is fully equipped to deal with any acidity potentially created by your diet.

“Because blood circulates throughout the body constantly, it can compensate for any changes in pH in any of our organs. Carbon dioxide (CO2), a product of the cellular activity, is the most prevalent acid in our body. The blood carries CO2 away and eliminates it in the lungs. The lungs are actually the body’s major acid eliminator while our kidneys provide secondary pH protection eliminating acid in the urine albeit more slowly than the lungs.”
(Source: Science-based Pharmacy)

The Osteoporosis Argument

In addition to the misunderstood “cancer-fighting qualities” of alkaline water, there is also the belief that drinking alkaline water helps prevent osteoporosis.

When your body needs to neutralize acidity, your bones release calcium in order to create a neutral environment. In this case, it is argued that over a long period of time, if your bones are continuously excreting calcium, they will inevitably be weakened resulting in osteoporosis.

While this very basic premise does have some truth to it, scientific research indicates that although your bones typically release calcium in order to protect itself, your bones will replenish the calcium if you are supporting them through a healthy diet. Your diet should include high vegetable content, healthy sources of protein, and calcium in order to protect bone health.

Filtered water is more important than alkaline water

Filtered water helps remove any contaminants that may be present in tap water and ultimately wearing on your body. Remember, you don’t always know where your water is coming from. Water filters will filter any elements that may be present in tap water. These can include iron, zinc, lead, chloride, and more.

Such a Waste!

wasted food in a landfill

Though the FAO estimates that 33% of our food goes to waste, other organizations like the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) puts the total at closer to 40%. That incorporates food lost or wasted in the field, in handling and processing, in retailing, in the home, and in all steps along that long chain. Whichever stat you choose, the information is still hard to ignore – we must curb our own food waste if we want to be more sustainable and mindful of a growing population.

“Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted each year [globally] could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.” 

– UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Food loss and waste is a worldwide problem. According to the FAO, the amount lost is roughly $680 billion annually in industrialized countries and $310 billion annually in the developing world.

While exact figures and statistics on food loss and waste can be debated, we can agree on the enormity of the problem.  With an annual estimated price tag of food waste and food loss approaching $1 trillion and a world in which the UN estimates one in seven people goes hungry, the issue has emerged as a high-priority action item. It has now become the intense focus of a coalition of global initiatives, led by diverse government and international agencies, dedicated charitable and religious organizations, the commercial food sector, and concerned individuals across the public and private sectors.

The prevailing government agencies involved include the FAO, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the European Commission, the Japanese Environment Ministry, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Commercial companies include Walmart, Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, General Mills, PepsiCo, ConAgra, and Cargill. The challenge is immense, but so are the stakes…

Where do food waste and loss occur?

On the farm and in the field.
Food production poses a variety of challenges and the FAO estimates that about one-quarter of global food waste and food loss (24%) occurs here. At this stage of the food chain, the problem is largest among fruits and vegetables. Commodities may spill from equipment onto the ground or simply rot in the field. These losses are greatly affected by weather problems and labor or equipment shortages. Some products may simply not be harvested, due to cosmetic or quality issues, or even simple market considerations. Seafood is also a source of waste. You may recall in “What’s the Catch,” the D2D team reviewed the issue of bycatch waste in aquaculture.

Post-harvest handling and storage.
Similarly, practical matters involving equipment, labor, and technology often contribute to the problem.  Lack of effective refrigeration and shortages of available storage are examples.  If not managed with food safety in mind, pests and diseases can also attack food supplies.  FAO estimates total food waste and food loss at this stage of the chain at about the same level as production— approximately 24%.

Processing, packaging, distribution.
Technical problems often contribute to food waste and food losses at this stage of the chain. As with post-harvest storage, lack of refrigeration, mechanical and other environmental malfunctions, and a host of other complications may contribute to the problem.

Food manufacturers acknowledge that a good deal of the waste associated with their work comes from a byproduct that is technically edible yet hugely unpopular – fat and skins (primarily pork and chicken) in animal processing, for example, or peels, crusts, and husks in fruits and vegetables.  However, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, as much as three-fourths of the more than 44 billion pounds of such waste created annually are reintroduced into the food stream— not for human consumption, but as animal feeds and feed ingredients.

Retail and consumer.
FAO estimates that the largest portion of food waste and loss occurs at this stage— roughly 35%. At the retail level, this waste can be contributed to the overstocking of product or rejection by customers on the basis of appearance.  Perishable items, such as bakery goods, fruits, and vegetables, fish, meat and dairy, are notable examples of the problem retailers – and often restaurants – face on a continuous basis.  At the consumer level, buyers also often fail to plan consumption needs, properly store or protect food products, or simply forget that the food is in their refrigerator.  Confusion over packaging terminology (“use by” or “best by” or “sell by”, for example) also is cited as an issue.

Which countries have the biggest problem with food waste and loss?

The problem is acknowledged as a global issue, rather than the sole problem of any country, region or group.

Analysis of FAO data suggests that about 56 percent of total food waste and food loss occurs in the developed world – meaning North America, Oceania, Europe and the industrialized Asian nations (China, Japan, South Korea).  The other 44 percent occurs in what is commonly called the ‘developing’ world.  On a per capita basis, food waste and food loss seem to be more pronounced in the developed.

In the developed (or industrialized) world, an estimated 40 percent of food waste and food loss occurs at the retail and consumer segments of the food chain.  Here, the problems seem to center more on behaviors – the decisions made and actions taken by individuals acting within the food chain, and especially at the consumer level. For instance, have you heard of the expression, “never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach?” Well, when it comes to food waste, there’s the truth here when you don’t consume what once looked so good on the shelf.

In the developing world, 40% of the food waste and food loss occurs at the early stages of the food chain – in the field and in post-harvest handling, especially.  Here, the problem is tied most closely to practical matters– the availability of equipment and related resources, often linked to necessary investment and adequate financing, as well as shortages in the best technology and lack of established technical or managerial expertise. For example, if a tractor breaks down at the end of the growing season, the parts might not be available in time to harvest the crop! Additionally, there might not be enough labor available to pick the crop at peak ripeness.

What other problems do food waste and food loss create?

Many environmental groups point to the enormous resource implications hidden within food waste and food loss.  The amount of energy, water, fertilizers, and other crop inputs lost through wasted or lost food is a serious concern— not to mention the financial costs that must be absorbed.  NRDC often cites a Scientific American report that estimates that as much as 10% of the total U.S. energy budget is related to farming.

Beyond the obvious links to food security and hunger, food loss and waste also raise significant issues about the potential waste of valuable natural resources. Lost and wasted food also wastes water, energy, money, and time – and creates a myriad of associated problems in how unused food is handled or otherwise dealt with.

Practical-minded local officials join environmentalists in another often overlooked issue: how they dispose of wasted or unwanted food.  The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently noted that food waste is the largest single component going into municipal landfills – by some government estimates, more than 20 percent.  Environmental groups point to what they contend is a significant contribution to total methane emissions resulting from food waste in landfills.

FAO estimates the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten at 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases, making food wastage the third top GHG emitter after the U.S. and China.  The same study concluded that food loss and food waste may account for as much as 30 percent of the world’s land in agricultural production. The significance of the link between food waste and the environment is becoming increasingly clear.  The Ogallala aquifer, for just one example, provides critical irrigation for as much as $20 billion in U.S. food and fiber production annually.  With aquifer levels showing a steady decline across major U.S. crop production areas, efforts to avoid food waste and food loss have taken on an increasingly prominent and important place in efforts to sustain our natural resource base.  Food waste and food loss are inextricably linked to water waste. Wasted food is also wasted water.

What is happening to deal with the problem of food waste and food loss?

Response to the challenge of food waste and food loss has been gaining momentum through the efforts of a diverse set of members of the public and private sectors.

Much of the drive to address the issue comes from grassroots efforts.  Churches, charitable groups, food banks, and concerned individuals have been at the forefront of various efforts to reduce waste and loss, often through better coordination and communication among those who have food and those who need it.  Collection of food that would otherwise go to waste from wholesalers, supermarkets, and restaurants is a high priority for these groups.

The roster of organizations devoted to dealing with some aspect of food waste and food loss now numbers well over 50 worldwide.

USDA and EPA recently joined forces to create the U.S. Food Waste Challenge – a united effort to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste.  Among its various activities, the initiative provides a platform for collecting and sharing information, especially on best practices in waste and loss reduction.  In its initial year of existence, the Challenge surpassed expectations in attracting almost 4,000 participants from across the entire food chain and appears well on its way to meeting an ambitious target of reducing food waste and food loss by half by 2030.

What are some of the proposed solutions to food waste and loss?

Efforts to reduce food waste and food loss address a wide range of issues.  Some relate to the nature of the food system and its activities. Others focus on behavioral changes based on greater recognition of and attention to the causes of food waste and food loss.

The Food Waste Challenge, for example, points to three major areas for attention.

Reduction of food waste and food loss, through such things as improved food product development, enhanced storage mechanisms, cooking and preservation techniques, smarter shopping and ordering, and better labeling.

Recovery of food waste and food loss, by connecting organizations committed to alleviating hunger (such as food banks and pantries) with food products that otherwise would go unconsumed.

Take a look at the below table for additional proposed actions to curb food waste:

Trading Beef

close up of beef cattle grazing

President Trump has said he is in favor of Free Trade. A good thing, specifically for agriculture. However, when the Dirt-to-Dinner team caught wind of his plan to eliminate U.S. involvement in the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), which facilitates trade between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, and his intent to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, we were immediately curious as to how this would affect some of the world’s most shared commodities: Specifically trade in beef which is important to our global economy.

President Trump has determined that the U.S. will not participate in “unfair trade” – and will only negotiate what has been deemed “fair trade” – with bi-lateral agreements as deemed more effective than multilateral agreements.

WTO, NAFTA, TPP, and Free Trade

The World Trade Organization (WTO) plays a critical role in enforcing the rules of global trade. It is through the WTO that governments work together to better facilitate international trade and resolve trade disputes. Most Favored Nation status means that member countries all have a ‘WTO Standard’ agreement with each other and all countries are treated equally. However, some countries choose to negotiate separate bi-lateral and multilateral agreements. NAFTA and TPP are examples. In addition, not all products from all industries are treated equally. For instance, there can be a tariff on car parts but none on oil. Free Trade, in its purest form, means that there are no tariffs or taxes on products going across borders.

Free Trade is Important

To illustrate the importance of free trade, think of how well America’s States work together. Let’s take a favorite dessert of ours: ice cream. For this example, Ben and Jerry’s, made in Vermont before they were acquired by Unilever, Haagen Dazs, from New York, and Talenti, from Minnesota. Suppose Vermont put a $1.00 tax on any ice cream coming into Vermont to protect Ben & Jerry’s? Then New York would respond by putting a tax on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream coming into New York to protect Haagen Dazs.

Free Trade across state borders keeps some of our favorite treats, like ice cream, free of onerous border taxes.

Minnesota would get into the action and put a tax on Ben & Jerry’s as well as Haagen Dazs. The ‘free trade’ across the state borders would be eliminated and ice cream lovers would pay more for their favorite treat. Now imagine that multiplied for every single consumer product made in every single state. Our grocery bill would be extraordinary!

And while the D2D team will not speculate on what the future holds, we wanted to examine the beef industry as a way to illustrate how trade agreements can affect important U.S. agricultural products. After all, global trade is an integral part of the agricultural industry.

Can trade legislation affect what ends up on your dinner plate?

Source: https://www.fas.usda.gov/

Every country on earth imports and/or exports commodities such as grains, oilseeds, meat, or fruits/vegetables. Global trade is extremely important for the agricultural industry because of the fluctuations in supply and demand within countries and across borders.

There is not one country in the world that is completely self-sufficient with their food consumption

Weather variations, soil conditions, crop size, crop storage, and currency valuations are just a few factors that determine whether a country imports or exports any of its food or agriculture.

We highlight these statistics because it helps demonstrate the expansiveness of this industry and its importance to the American economy. The total retail value of the U.S. beef industry sales totaled $198 billion in 2015. Just for fun, we compare this to the U.S. retail value of total car sales which was $239 billion!

As the largest producer of beef in the world, the U.S. produces roughly 11.5 million metric tons of beef, 19% of global production. Yet, at the same time, the U.S. is also the largest beef importer in the world. The U.S. imported 18% of global beef with China coming in second at 11%.  On average, Americans consume 79 pounds of beef a year, per person. And while that number is impressive, we are not the largest consumer, Uruguay and Argentina eat over 120 pounds per capita!

Why can’t each country grow its own beef?

Each country does not necessarily have the land to grow corn and soybeans for animal feed or enough acreage to provide for animal grazing, concentrated feedlots, or space for various processing facilities. Nor may they be able to provide the transportation infrastructure to bring the beef to market. It is also important to be an efficient, environmentally sustainable and low-cost producer. The U.S, Brazil, the EU, and China are the largest producers. Yet while China is a big beef producer, they have to import their soybeans for feed.

For leaner ground beef, the U.S. must import frozen or chilled muscle cuts from other countries. We mix these lean trimmings into the beef to give the American consumer lean choices with hamburger. Many times, when eating a hamburger, a percentage of that burger is from across the border. The least expensive meat is ground beef and trade allows many people in the United States to afford this delicious American tradition of protein. Therefore, in order to put all of these popular items on one menu – we must import!

Because of NAFTA, the U.S. does not pay a tax from parts coming in from Canada and Mexico.  For the other meat producing countries’ such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Argentina, the United States is part of WTO where we incorporated a two-tiered system tariff (TRQs). The first tier, we pay 4.4 cents/kg and after that quota is met, there is a 26.4% tax.

Consumer preferences for beef parts impact trade

At D2D, we have stressed the health benefits of protein. Beef fits the bill. However, steaks and hamburgers are not the only tasty good-for-you meats. Tongue, intestines, the heart, liver, and other internal organs are considered delicacies for many nationalities. While they are not big sale items in the United States, other countries pay more for these ‘variety meats’ than they would for the basic muscle cuts.  Put simply, the export market for the ‘offal’ and other such small delicacies help offset the cost of the cuts of muscle such as the chuck, ribs, briskets, chuck, tenderloin, and round steak.

Beef trade around the world is complicated!

Trade Agreements

Each year the U.S. beef industry exports about 10% of its overall production. In 2016, this equaled about $6.1 billion. Roughly, 80% of US exports are to Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Canada. Since Japan is the leading importer of U.S. and Australian beef, we decided to look at the beef relationship between the United States, Australia, and Japan.

Now let’s focus on the beef tongue for a moment. Beef tongue is a delicacy in Japan. You can have it mashed, fried, roasted, smoked, salted, or barbecued. Want it with eggs? No problem. Because it sells for about $6.00 a pound, it is an important cow part!  In addition, the Japanese like the marbled meat from the U.S. for their ‘fast food’ beef bowl over rice. However, they prefer Australian grass-fed beef for their ground beef. The U.S. and Australia compete for Japan’s beef market, each providing roughly 40% and 50%, respectively. Japan is a particularly strong export market for the United States – which is why we need to have a competitive trade agreement.

Why does Australia export more beef than the United States? Australia is part of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) effective January 2015. As a result of this trade agreement, on muscle cuts, the Japanese pay 11% less on taxes for Australian beef than what they pay in U.S. muscle cuts. But on the beef tongue, the difference is 3%, in favor of the U.S. The U.S., on the other hand, just has a basic WTO agreement with Japan that does not differentiate itself from other countries.

According to a USDA analysis, the U.S. exports to Japan would lose significant market share to Australia unless similar trade agreements are formed. The analysis estimated that imports of Australian beef would rise by about $100 million and conversely, the imports of U.S. beef would fall by $100 million. Since the U.S. has decided not to participate in TPP, a ‘fair-trade’ bi-lateral agreement with Japan, or a ‘tri-lateral’ trade agreement with Japan and Australia, it could increase U.S. exports to Japan significantly and put us on par with Australia and other countries.

Trade is not all about taxes and tariffs

The important and interesting thing about trade is that it is not just about tariffs. Like any commodity, there are supply and demand fluctuations that change depending on the weather, crop prices, labor availability, the herd size, and supply/demand. Because of their drought, Australia had a smaller cattle herd – subsequently, it now costs more to process the cow. The United States, on the other hand, had a larger herd and could be more competitive on pricing. At times there can be as much as over a $600 a head difference! And as we look ahead, based on meat industry supply and demand history, the herd size is anticipated to shrink in the U.S. and grow in Australia – having the reverse effect.

The China Influence

Another important trade partner for beef will be China. Because of the growing middle class – who are eating more beef each year –, it is the world’s fastest-growing beef import market with a value of $2.39 billion in 2015. In 2016, the per capita beef consumption was 12.2 pounds. It is expected to continue to grow substantially as the middle class grows and the appetite for beef increases. Rising feed costs and limited land makes it easier and cost effective for China to import rather than grow all its own beef. Just think of the impact on the export industry if 1.3 billion people ate just one more pound a year! In 2003, because of BSE (Mad Cow disease), China restricted imports from the United States and has received their beef from Brazil, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2002, the United States supplied roughly 70% of China’s beef. A trade agreement between China and the United States will be interesting to watch as there will certainly have to be variations between industries – however, the US has not successfully concluded an agreement with China, yet. Market access is dependent up such items as to whether cattle have antibiotics, steroids, and whether they can be fully traced from birth.


Let’s not forget Canada and Mexico who are important trade partners for the U.S. as well. One would think that Canadians would be self-sufficient in their beef supply. Because their summer is so short, they are outside barbequing so they use up their meat supply and have to import their beef! Mexico and the U.S. export beef to each other. Because of the negotiated ‘no tariffs’ with NAFTA, trade is seamless and easy between these three countries.

Think about trade when eating your beef

In summary, beef travels around the world. How much you pay and the type of meat you eat at your dinner table depends on government access as well as government trade agreements.

Each country has its own supply and demand stresses with some years better than others. Many countries depend on exports. In 2015, for instance, Australia exported 74% of their beef, worth $9.3 billion – 32% to the U.S. and 22% Japan.

Adding government interference just adds more stress on employment, pricing, and trade flows around the world.

Seasons Change…Your Produce Should Too!

fresh asparagus

“What fruits and vegetables should I buy as winter becomes spring?”

This is a great question. As the season changes, our produce options change as well. This also happens to be optimal for your body. Many dietitians recommend that we diversify the nutrients we consume by eating different fruits and vegetables each season. It is recommended that roughly 50% of your plate be comprised of fruits and vegetables— roughly 20% fruits and 30% vegetables.

It is recommended that 50% of your plate be comprised of fruits and vegetables— roughly 20% fruits and 30% vegetables.

So, what constitutes as “seasonal fruits and vegetables”?

May is Strawberry month! Image source: Pixabay

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, we certainly have a lot of options—but in order to maximize the flavor, quality, and freshness of fruits and veggies, you should try to buy what is in season.

Visit: Sustainable Table for a great seasonal produce guide.

With spring just around the corner, it is good to know what produce to start looking out for— think: green veggies. 

By late April, artichokes, asparagus, various mushrooms, spinach, arugula, lettuces, swiss chard, radish, fiddleheads, and ramps will be displayed more prominently on the market shelves, and can take a place on your dinner plate!

Even in California, which grows almost everything, fruits and vegetables have seasons. You may be able to buy avocados all year long; but apricots are only available in May, June, and July!

Take notice at what is prominently displayed at your local market and you will quickly understand what is in season. Blueberries are plentiful in the summer months, but at any other time of year, they are often imported from Mexico or South America. And if you are buying fruit that is out of season and being imported you may be spending more for that item. So strategic fruit and vegetable purchases are the smart move!

Have you ever wondered where our produce is coming from if it is not grown locally? Chances are it is being shipped from California or imported from South American countries. Don’t worry, we got you covered there too! Give “Where Do Our Fruits and Vegetables Come From?” a read.

Going Local

Let’s take your seasonal shopping a step further and “go local” for the just picked flavor and nutrition.

If you are looking to buy crops that are grown locally, you are relying on the farming conditions of your state. Your local farmer’s market is a great indicator of crops grown in season. What is in season at a farmer’s market depends on your local climate, or that farmer’s ability to extend his season with greenhouses or grow tunnels. Remember, produce can vary significantly by state, even between neighboring small states. Climate affects the soil, water, and growth rate. Additionally, when produce is harvested can affect its nutritional value.

Many state agriculture departments produce harvest calendars.

As we mentioned in “Going, Going, Local”, fresh produce can lose the majority of its nutritional value in just three days! Buying ripe produce in season is important in order to maximize the nutritional benefits. If you want to discover what fruits and veggies are in season in your home state and when, we recommend Sustainable Table, or state-by-state listings provided by Field to Plate and Pick Your Own

There are two different ways to approach your produce purchases:

  • You can determine produce seasonality by its availability in the United States.
  • You can determine what is in season locally.

If you live in Florida, for example, buying apples is best in the fall as they are a fall seasonal crop in the northeast and northwest; but they will not be local to your area as Florida does not produce apples! Conversely, those in the northeast will enjoy the Florida or Texas grapefruit crop in the winter months but will never be able to grow a grapefruit tree!

Nutrition Through the Seasons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes the importance of varying nutrition, and the USDA seasonal produce guide shows what fruits and veggies are in season in the United States depending on the time of year. So, before identifying what produce is being grown in your state, you can also determine fresh produce based on seasonality on a larger scale. Additionally, the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) provides excellent seasonality charts based on farming in Northern California. California leads the country when it comes to fruit and vegetable production. Therefore, a large quantity of “seasonal produce” that is featured in your local grocery store will have come from the farms in California.

Ripeness Through the Senses

So, now that we have determined what is available based on the season, how can you tell which produce is the ripest?

While we don’t expect you to harvest all your fruit yourself, here are some helpful tips to use when visiting your local farmers market or produce aisle. It all comes down to the 5 senses. First, you want to identify if the fruit as any visible flaws, i.e. bruising, mold, discoloration, etc. Then, you may want to handle the fruit or vegetable to test the firmness.

If the fruit is too soft to the touch, it is most likely on it’s way to expiration and will have a poor shelf life. However, take note that most fruits and vegetables are picked before optimal ripeness so you will (more likely than not) have to let it ripen at home. Smell is also an important—if not the most important—thing to test. Aside from any obvious physical issues, if your fruit smells like it should taste, it is ripe. The sweeter and stronger the smell, the riper it is. For vegetables, the smell is not going to be as important. Typically, you are looking for firm veggies that are pump and rich in color. For more information on what to look for in specific produce items, visit the Farmer’s Almanac. And, for the most part, you have to trust your farmer. Farmers know when the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked.