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3 Reasons to Buy Local for Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Food

There will be no marshmallows atop our sweet potato casserole this Thanksgiving. No cranberry sauce on our table. No French wine in our glasses.

If you’re feeling sorry for us, stop. While we may be taking some liberties with the traditional holiday menu, we won’t be sacrificing any of the delicious decadence of a Thanksgiving meal.

While we may be taking some liberties with the traditional holiday menu, we won’t be sacrificing any of the delicious decadence of a Thanksgiving meal. Photo credit: Emma Huvos

What we will be doing is sharing a meal that is as good for our bodies, our community and our planet as it is delicious.

How? By eating locally.

As an expression of gratitude for the food that nourishes us and the farmers who produce it (and in the spirit of embracing quests), I’m embarking on a quest of my own: Project Local Thanksgiving. This year the ingredients used in our Thanksgiving meal will all have been produced within a 30-mile radius of our home.

Think I’m crazy? Here are three reasons why a local Thanksgiving makes sense:

1. Local Food is Good Food

“Good food depends almost entirely on good ingredients.” — Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse

Eating locally is hands down the easiest way to ensure that your diet is simultaneously delicious, healthy and ethical.

When the majority of your diet is comprised of local food sources, you’re highly unlikely to be consuming many processed foods or chemical additives. What’s more, eating locally is by nature eating seasonally, so what you’re getting is practically guaranteed to be fresh and flavorful (unlike those sad, tasteless grocery store tomatoes).

2. Local Food Supports Local Economies

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” — Anna Lappé, author and educator

When you buy local food, you support local farms and businesses by putting money into the pockets of real, hardworking people instead of faceless corporations. You also have the opportunity to see firsthand where your food is coming from and confirm that the farmer is using practices that align with your ethics — whether that means free-range poultry, grass-fed meat, organic produce or fair wages for farm workers.

3. Local Food is Ecofriendly

“Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by more than 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” — Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

At this point most of us are familiar with the idea that our dietary choices have a profound impact on our carbon footprint. No matter how healthy your diet may be, if you’re relying on food sources shipped in from half a world away, you aren’t doing the environment any favors. Whatever your dietary preferences are, sourcing your food locally and eating with the seasons will help reduce your carbon footprint.

Ready to go local?

Aside from all the logical arguments I can make in favor of local food, there are emotional factors at play as well. Simply put, there is something magical about eating food raised within miles of your home, by people you know, on farms you have visited. It is an experience the feeds both body and soul.

So yeah, I might be a little jealous of all you New Englanders who can rightfully claim cranberry sauce as a local dish. But mostly I’m just excited.

I’m excited to spend the next month on a quest for the most delicious local food I can find. I’m excited to stretch my culinary imagination and learn some new skills (grinding my own cornmeal can’t be that hard, right?). I’m excited to visit local farms and markets and get to know my community and my bioregion, in a more meaningful way. And, when all is said and done, I’m excited to sit down and eat a really damn good meal, surrounded by the people I love.

If any of that sounded exciting to you, too, then I hope you’ll hop on the Project Local Thanksgiving bandwagon. And if you’re not ready to go all in, thats just fine. How about a modified approach. Go for a 50 or 100 mile radius instead of 30. Or ensure that one ingredient in each dish (e.g. the apples in your pie or the rosemary in your stuffing) is sourced locally. However you do it, you’ll be nourishing more than just your body this Thanksgiving.

Emma Moulton Huvos is an educator, permaculture designer and founder of The Riverside Project.

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