The best right now

The post has originally been published in Kesko Group’s Responsibility blog.

An ad on the front page of a newspaper touts easy seasonal treats, strawberries and blueberries. In May. The soft spot of Finns is exploited early. Who doesn’t have a flutter in their heart, looking forward to the first new potato with butter and dill, and a sweet feast with strawberries? But wait just a little longer. That’s how you minimize the carbon footprint and maximize the taste.

Year by year, our craving for summer is met by imported products earlier in the spring. On average, only about one tenth of the carbon footprint of food comes from transportation, but with delicate special products, such as easily perishable berries, transportation increases the carbon footprint considerably. A portion of the carbon footprint more significant than transportation comes from primary production. Even in the Netherlands, strawberries don’t ripen outdoors under the sun in the early spring. They are grown in heated and lighted greenhouses. It takes energy to produce summer.

But even if you don’t care about the carbon footprint, consider what good haste will bring you. What are Dutch strawberries compared with the plump goodies filled with sugar by the white nights of Suonenjoki, or new potatoes from Majorca compared with Finnish Timo potatoes, harvested just in time for the midsummer dinner? Watery substitutes.

In addition to a big carbon footprint and bland flavour, too much haste has the downside that we forget what are the best things right now. This is the season of the beautiful and fascinatingly tangy rhubarb. Rhubarb lends itself to lots of experimentation. Seethe it for 10 minutes with ginger, and you get compote for your porridge, or add chilli to make chutney to accompany a main dish. Steep overnight without boiling to get pink squash, and you can use the squash for incredible mojitos (you’ll also need lime, cane sugar, mint leaves, light rum and mineral water). Enjoying such mojitos, there is no problem in waiting until July when the true season of strawberries and blueberries begins.

Outi Kuittinen is a researcher specialized in low-carbon lifestyle and business in the think tank Demos Helsinki. Together with three other food enthusiasts, she wrote “Kausiruokaa herkuttelijoille ja ilmastonystäville” (Teos 2011), a cook book packed with delicious seasonal recipes and information on climate change.