The Future of Thanksgiving
Back to Normal
Last year’s unprecedented times left us celebrating Thanksgiving at a distance. The miles we saved via air, road, or train saw us gathered around the virtual dinner table from our screens. Behind the Zoom calls and Google hangouts, our climate was spared from CO2 emissions that typically impact the environment from our shopping, eating, and traveling, an unexpected silver lining in disguise. During this holiday season, millions of people are expected to rebound on travel in a major way. Whether we’re talking about how far we’ve come in this fight against the pandemic, how long it’s been since being on a plane, or the miles we’ll have to run after eating, it’s clear we’ve traveled a long distance. This year, there’s a new guest in town with a mileage plan, and it’s sitting right in front of us: our food. From our turkey to our pumpkin pies – we must now ask ourselves: how far did our food travel from farm to table?
The topic of global climate is closer to us than ever. It’s no secret that the vast majority of climate impacts are from global corporations, but consumers are more and more conscious of how our individual choices collectively can set a leading example, especially when it comes to growing our food. One need only look down and realize there are more sustainable ways to fill our plates this holiday. The answer? The most local Thanksgiving ever.
Currently, an estimated 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving, with 22% of the turkeys shipped from Minnesota. Our beloved potatoes are primarily produced in Idaho at 12.4 billion pounds per year, followed by Washington state at nearly 10 billion. The vegetable side dishes, including green bean casserole, and Brussels sprouts, hail from Wisconsin and California, respectively. Depending on where you live, most Thanksgiving staples range from all parts of the United States, from sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina, to Washington for apples and sweet corn. Most importantly – the pumpkin pie we all know and love, is almost exclusively sourced from Illinois.
As delicious as this annual feast may be, the environmental foodprint is great. The average Thanksgiving Dinner is equated to about 103 pounds of carbon dioxide. Within this 103 pounds, the most beloved staple of the meal, Turkey, generates 62% of those pounds, which is more than stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pie combined.
In the year 2030…
Picture yourself in 2030 – where are you sitting and who is there? What are you eating? And most importantly, what are you all talking about? This (not too) distant future will probably include more choices, not less. A wider array of fresh, local options is likely: favorites like brighter green beans and perfect squash will benefit from being grown nearby and harvested a few days ago, or maybe even that morning. Advances in farming technologies and indoor growing will introduce new options: bright strawberries that bring summer flavors into November, or fresh herbs that were previously uncommon for meals like this. Your guests may have become increasingly more vegetarian or vegan, in which plant-based mains of tofu and beans have been introduced alongside – or maybe in place of – the traditional options on your table.
Of course, technology advances will make dinner even more social: Augmented reality will allow growers & farmers to provide rich context into where your foods came from, and how they were grown, down to the specific batch of lettuce in the salad. Technologies with wild speculative beginnings have vanished, and have been replaced by tech that instead settled down into a simple and clever way to fuel donations and charities. That digital code that came with your turkey? It (almost literally) generated the seeds for crops of produce that would be on foodbank shelves before Christmas.
And the big discussion topics? The conversation is humming, and surprisingly, the discussion on miles aren’t about post-meal runs, but about how little the food has traveled to get to you. Where did it all come from? Which farms provided which produce? How were they grown, and how did it get here? What’s the total travel distance of our meal this year, compared to last year? And an understanding that it all matters because not only does it taste better, but it’s also vastly better for the planet. It’ll feel then the way talking about classic vintage cars might today: a shared understanding of why things used to be that way, and an agreement that we’re better off now than ever before.
So, what do we do?
Today, choices we make can help make the best parts of this future true, and buying food that’s locally sourced is the easiest habit to start right now. It allows for more delicious and high-quality food that doesn’t travel thousands of miles to reach you. When visiting your local supermarket, look for produce that has labels that are local to your area. Try visiting your local farmers’ markets for everything from leafy greens to eggs to pumpkins. For the centerpiece, your Thanksgiving turkey, try searching on Local Harvest to find pasture-raised turkeys near you. Or, for your vegan or vegetarian guests, try these meatless main courses using local ingredients such as tofu, whole roasted cauliflower. The future isn’t miles away any more; it is here, and it has always been close to home.
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