It often astounds me how much humans are able to control the world in which we live. We created boats to travel through water, planes to travel through air, and cars to travel around land. We have vaccinations to prevent germs from making us sick, plus medical procedures and prescriptions to alleviate most illnesses. We are able to capture, breed and train animals to do whatever is in our best interest. But as the weather turns cold this time of the year I realize just how much our behavior is influenced by the seasons, and how Mother Nature really runs the show.
I am definitely not a fan of the cold. People always tell me I look cold, probably because I usually am! So I find it strange when people tell me they like having four seasons, including a frigid winter. But whether we like it or not, we don’t just experience the seasons; we change because of the seasons.
My public health classes taught me that incidences of certain diseases and injuries have cyclical fluctuations, and my work in hospitals confirmed these patterns. An important factor is nutrition. No, I am not just saying that because I majored in Nutrition; our diets are very season based. Sure, we are lucky enough to buy strawberries in December in the States, but that was only after we made huge advances in our food system (which some argue is costly and provides inferior produce when we grow it off-season). In less developed countries, a person’s weight typically fluctuates with the season, reflecting when food is available. We think it is natural for women to menstruate every month, but for most of history it was actually the norm for women not to get periods every month, rather only in the harvest months when they had stored enough body fat to use for creating a new life.
However, in more affluent countries people gain weight during the winter months. This is probably less related to diet, and more related to activity. We have winter sports but there are a lot more active things to do when it is warm and sunny. The lethargic mood the coldness induces, and the fewer hours of daylight available to be outside may be reasons for this increase in body weight.
Making sure that people who are food insecure have enough healthy food to eat is more important than ever during the colder months, when germs spread fast and the immune system needs to be strong. And yet this is when fruits and vegetables become more expensive, and less available. While there may not be much fresh produce in your garden right now to donate to food pantries through AmpleHarvest.org, it is still very worthwhile to check out the website and mobile app. Food pantries need a variety of store-bought items all year long, and if you locate your nearest pantry on the AmpleHarvest.org website they will often list these items under ‘additional information’. You can feel good knowing that what you are giving them is exactly what they want. What they need. After all, ‘tis the season to give.