Keep it local this Thanksgiving

This year, try adding local foods to your Thanksgiving menu.

by Holly Lahd

I’m not one to rain on anyone’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But, on the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims did not have the much-loved cranberry sauce at the table. Why? Because they didn’t have any sugar to make it with – it wasn’t locally available to them.

Far from the pilgrims’ experience, in our Thanksgiving ceremonies we only have to trek to the nearest grocery store, where everything is presented in colorful cans and cardboard boxes.

The pilgrims had locally-grown foods for Thanksgiving. But sadly, today much of our food for our Thanksgiving feasts will have traveled farther than the individuals who consume it ever have. Instead of celebrating the fruits of our harvests, we’ll make the trip to an overcrowded grocery store for potatoes from Idaho, bananas from Brazil, and pineapples from Hawaii. Perhaps we can take solace in the fact that since Minnesota is the top turkey producing state in the nation, odds are in our favor that the bird sitting on our table grew up not far away. But that doesn’t prevent it from being packed at a totally different location and other processing transactions it undergoes.

While doing some pre-Thanksgiving grocery shopping over at the new Lunds on University and Central Avenues (by the way, it’s about time that neighborhood had a grocery store), I noticed that many items were packaged in far away places like Spain, California, and even exotic New Jersey.

One way to think about the distance our food travels is through the concept of food miles. Food miles simply means the distance food items travel from where they are grown to where they are ultimately purchased or consumed. In a 2003 study, researchers at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University calculated that, on average, local foods traveled 56 miles compared to about 1,500 miles for conventional foods.

This distance between our plates and our foods’ origin may contribute to the disconnected sentiment many urban and suburban consumers have toward their food. Many consumers may shrink in terror at the thought of killing a chicken themselves but have no problem eating a chicken burrito at Chipotle. When people have more knowledge about where their food comes from, perhaps they can make better decisions about their dietary habits, too.

Local foods reduce transportation costs and emissions. This isn’t hard to understand. The farther we have to transport food, the more fossil fuels we consume. In other words, local foods are more efficient and environmentally friendly.

By reducing the number of miles our food must travel, we help secure our food supply and network from logistics problems and natural disasters that may arise. Our current food transportation network uses a “just in time” system to reduce the amount of excess food at one location at a given time. When our food must travel over a thousand miles to get to us, our delivery network could be in jeopardy if an emergency occurs at any one of the points along the system.

Local foods also keep more of our money in the surrounding community. By supporting local farmers and local, independent grocery stores, our food purchases help to create further community pride and investment.

In addition, many local foods programs also have sustainable agriculture certification. You not only support local farmers by buying local foods, but you also support sustainable land practices at the same time.

It’s a challenge to plan out every meal in advance to ensure that all of your food is grown locally. In our college lives, sometimes lunch consists of only a bag of chips because of time constraints. But since many people plan out their Thanksgiving meals in advance, besides determining which recipe of green bean casserole to prepare, let’s add local foods to our shopping lists this year.

This doesn’t have to be difficult. In Minnesota, we have great local food resources and a large network of cooperative grocery stores. In the summer, you can buy local foods right on campus through the weekly farmers market on the East Bank that features crops grown by Cornercopia, the student organic farm on the St. Paul campus. For information on community-supported agriculture, where you can have the opportunity to be a member of a community plot, check out the Land Stewardship Project ( They also have recipes available that can be made from foods found locally in Minnesota at almost every time of the year.

There are over eight cooperative grocery stores in the Twin Cities alone. And North Country Co-op on the West Bank has the highest percentage of local foods of all the metro co-ops.

In celebrating our blessings this Thanksgiving, let’s embrace another resource we are lucky to have – a strong and healthy local foods economy of farmers, cooperatives, and consumers.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and here’s to a great, local Thanksgiving meal.

Holly Lahd welcomes comments at [email protected]