Succulent, herb-infused turkey. Melt-in-your-mouth sweet potatoes. Fresh, crisp greens. Gooey homemade mac-n-cheese. Warm apple pie and delicious pumpkin whoopie pies. Washed down with a pint of homebrewed imperial blonde ale.
Now that you’re drooling, you might be wondering what’s so different about this Thanksgiving menu.
Yes, most of the dishes use the same recipes and kitchen gadgetry as you’ll be using this week. However, the main ingredients of each dish were grown, raised, and prepared within 100 miles of our Thanksgiving table.
Each year, the University of Virginia Department of Urban and Environmental Planning comes together to celebrate local food and those who provide it. Students, professors, local farmers and producers, each bring a potluck dish to our using as many local ingredients as possible.
We prepared delicious turkeys raised at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms, a foodie mecca highlighted in Food, Inc. and The Omnivore’s Dillemna for its sustainable farming practices. We used cheese from our favorite local cheese shop and apples from our favorite local orchard. We brought wine from our favorite local vineyards and even brewed our own beer for the occasion.
You may be thinking that you could make the same delicious food using items from the Giant Eagle, Kroger, or Safeway down the street. You may be thinking that prepackaged food items are totally easier to work with. (Who doesn’t love the shape of canned cranberry sauce?) And, you may be thinking that buying these items directly from the farmer, farmer’s market, or local CSA (community supported agriculture) is more expensive.
You may be right, but knowing where my food is coming from, supporting the local economy, expanding my recipe book, and eating fresher, healthier food is worth the extra creativity, time, and money needed to prepare a 100-mile Thanksgiving dish.
Here’s some food for thought (pun intended):
- Locally grown produce is fresher. Instead of being picked before ripe and cold-stored for days (or even weeks), local produce is often picked within 24 hours of purchase. You’ll not only taste the freshness, but derive greater nutritional value (more so than the tomato paste on your pizza, now considered a part of a healthy diet).
- Eating local supports the local economy. Economists determined that one dollar spent locally generates at least twice as much income for the local economy.
- Buying local offsets your carbon footprint. Local food is thousands of miles fresher. A typical carrot travels 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table. The energy used and emissions produced to harvest, package, and transport “fresh” food to your table is staggering.
- Using local food adds variety to your Thanksgiving table. My favorite example from our 100-Mile Thanksgiving celebration involved a friend asking, “Is this a science fair project gone wrong?” The steamed Romanesco broccoli, also known as fractal broccoli, was as delicious as it was interesting-looking.
- Preparing locally grown food is bound to create conversation. Whether talking with farmers about their successful harvests or swapping recipes and epic cooking stories with a friend, local foods spark conversation. You can also stifle those awkward family conversations by sharing the story of your locally-sourced dish and the benefits of being a locavore (which may be still be awkward for some, but at least in my case, it diverts the attention away from my vegetarian sister).Thanksgiving is a time for celebrate family, friends, and food. This Thanksgiving, celebrate your local farmers as well, by sourcing the ingredients for your main dish from within 100 miles of your dinner table.