As we all make plans for Thanksgiving, I want to put some food for thought on your table. As you probably know, what we consider to be the first Thanksgiving occurred round about 1621 as the newly arrived pilgrims sat down with some Wampanoag Indians for a feast to celebrate a plentiful harvest. For the record, this harvest celebration was not new but has equivalents in cultures around the world stretching back to the limits of recorded time, but, at any rate, the menu on that festive New England day likely included, cod, eel, swan, partridge, eagles, seal, flour, Indian corn, chestnuts, acorns, radishes, plums, dried currants, parsnips and of course, wild turkey. Notably, that menu did not include such thanksgiving staples as: ham, sweet potatoes - or not sweet potatoes - pumpkin pie, milk, eggs, and, believe it or not, cranberry sauce. They had cranberries, but no sugar.
Interesting as that was, my point is, they had what was local. They celebrated what was produced in their neck of the woods so to speak. In fact all the harvest festivals of all the people going back to the beginning of time did the same thing. Because that is all there was.
Now, in modern times a number of technological advancements help us, not just by adding sugar to the cranberries - and thank God for that - but by making it possible for us to have anything, from anywhere on our tables, and not just after the harvest but anytime. Fertilizers and irrigation make bad soil farmable, pesticides and herbicides increase yields, and preservatives and refrigeration make food last forever - think frozen peas and spam. And while I'm not knocking having it all, all the time, the fact of the matter is, if we keep doing what we are doing, the harvest festival is an endangered species - and so are we.
There is a cost to planting miles of the same crop year after year (coughing: corn). It destroys the soil. All of the chemicals used in pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers soak into the foods we eat, or run-off and pollute waterways, and there are real costs in terms of the nutritional value of food that is shipped from afar - not to mention the huge carbon footprint of it all. Bottom line: it isn't sustainable.
Look - I know there are a lot of different opinions about this stuff and the science isn't conclusive, different sides of this debate feel passionately, and I'm not just talking about the epic Thanksgiving battle between tofurkey and turducken - if you don't know, don't ask. But surely we can agree that buying local, sustainable food is a good thing - whether you do it to increase freshness, reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, or just support your local farmers. So this year, if you really want to celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to challenge you to enjoy feasting on what is fresh and local.
AND it has never been easier. There is a sweet website called sustainabletable.org that is your one-stop-shop for sustainable eats. There you can learn about what foods are in season at what times of year in your area and they even have a zip code search so you can find places to buy sustainable food to cook, and even restaurants that serve local, sustainable food. That website again is sustainabletable.org and I know you are online right now so I'm going to sign off so you can check it out.