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Serve local and organic food for Thanksgiving dinner

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The pilgrim's may have traveled a great distance to enjoy the first Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean your meal has to. Instead, relive the natural side of the holiday's origin by choosing foods grown the way the Indians taught the settlers: with respect for Mother Earth and without the use of chemical pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Serving local and organic foods reduces pollution and global warming emissions, protects small farms, and keeps chemicals out of the environment.

What to look for when choosing local and organic foods to serve at Thanksgiving dinner

  • Certified Organic: To ensure that the turkey and mashed potatoes at your Thanksgiving feast are 100 percent organic, USDA Organiclook for the USDA Organic Seal or the words "100% organic" on the package. This seal and label guarantee that every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board, which bans the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering.
  • Locally grown: Some larger grocery stores have joined health food-focused chains like Whole Foods in supplying produce and meats from local farms. These items should be labeled as such in the store. If you aren't sure if your local grocer carries local items, just ask. Farmers markets and co-ops are a great place to find locally grown fare for your Thanksgiving feast. You can check out GY's resources to find farmers markets, co-ops, and local farms. You may also find meats labeled as Small-farm-raised.

Let's talk turkey

When it comes to turkey or other meats, look for the following labels, in addition to organic:

  • Pasture-raised: Sometimes listed as pasture-based or pastured, this label ensures that the turkey you buy was raised outdoors, without the use of pesticides, hormones, or other chemicals, and that the animal was not fed unnatural dietary supplements to increase its growth.
  • Free range: This means the turkeys were raised outside of confinement, but may have been kept in barns rather than pastures. They are also fed a natural, usually diverse diet without the use of chemicals or hormones.
  • Heritage: Today, 99 percent of all turkeys raised in the US are one variety, the Broadbreasted White, sometimes called the large white, variety.[1] A movement is growing in the US to reintroduce other varieties of turkey, many of which originated in this country. These are referred to as Heritage Turkeys, and are raised outdoors in open pastures and fed a varied diet. Heritage turkeys may be labeled as such, or by their specific variety, including Beltsville Small White, Black, Jersey Buff, Narragansett, Slate, Standard Bronze, White Holland, and White Midget varieties. Proponents claim that heritage turkeys provide more flavor, and environmentalists agree that diversifying the turkey population is good for the species and the earth.
  • Meatless varieties: To avoid the eco-perils of the livestock industry all together, consider cooking a traditional—or new and creative—Thanksgiving meal sans the big bird.

Find it! Resources to help you find local and organic Thanksgiving foods

  • Eat Well Guide

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    Eat Well GuideThe Eat Well Guide offers a free online directory of almost 9,000 farms, restaurants, stores, bed & breakfasts, and other outlets that offer sustainably farmed meat, poultry, and dairy products as well as flower products in the US and Canada. Enter your zip code or use the advanced search feature to look for antibiotic- and hormone-free animal products, as well as those raised via sustainable production methods, including organic, pasture-raised, and heritage.

  • Eatwild Directory of Farms

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    Eatwild Directory of FarmsEatwild, a site devoted to information about grass-fed meat and dairy products, lists more than 800 grass-based farms and claims to be the most comprehensive directory in the US and Canada. Click on your state or use the alphabetical list of states. Producers listed guarantee they meet Eatwild's stringent standards. If you can't find products in your area or want products shipped, Eatwild also has a Farms that Ship directory.

  • Farmers Market

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    Farmer's MarketSearch for farmer's markets in your area. This site provides state-by-state listings that include address, phone number, and hours of operation. Expanded search feature also allows you to search by city, area code, street names, and many other options. Site has operated since 1995.

  • FoodRoutes.org

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    FoodRoutes.org local foodThe FoodRoutes Network sponsors Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters throughout the country. These chapters find ways to connect consumers to local food vendors via outreach education, community events, festivals, and farmers markets. Check for a BFBL chapter in your area to see where to buy locally grown produce, flowers, meat, and other foods.

  • Local Harvest

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    Local HarvestFind organic, sustainably grown meats, dairy products, and other foods at local farmer's markets, community-supported agriculture co-ops (CSAs), family farms, and restaurants in your area. Local Harvest provides nationwide directories. In addition, the organization offers locally grown meat and animal products from family farms around the country via its online store—everything from bison and emu meat to duck eggs and sheep cheese.

  • Openair Market Network

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    Openair Market NetworkThis site provides a guide to farmer's markets and street markets around the world. Search through listings for dozens of countries (from Australia and China to Thailand and the United Kingdom). Search by country, state, or province. Listings provide only address and city.

  • The New Farm Rodale Institute Farm Locator

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    The New FarmUse the Farm Locator, provided by the Rodale Institute, to locate farms, farmer's markets, restaurants, CSAs, and farm stands in your area that offer everything from meat and dairy to seeds and herbs. The site soon plans to launch a search feature for businesses, such as restaurants, looking to offer locally grown foods. Search by farm name, product type, city, state, or zip code.

  • The Organic Food Database

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    Organic Food DatabaseThis website database lists restaurants, farms, CSAs, and food vendors who sell organic foods in the United States, the United Kingdom, and around the world. The site also includes information about organic health, organic farming and gardening, and other organic practices.

  • US Department of Agriculture Farmer's Market state listings

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    US Department of AgricultureThe US Department of Agriculture offers listings of farmer's markets for each state. Click on your state to find a comprehensive list of markets in your local area, including address, phone number, contact person, and hours of operation. Listings are updated regularly to keep information current. Consumers and others can suggest additional listings or update existing information.

Serving local and organic food for Thanksgiving dinner helps you go green because...

  • The fuel-intensive global food trade, whether by air, land, or sea, adds to mounting levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  • Local, small farm meats reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and other chemicals from polluting waterways.
  • Polluting chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are absent in organic food choices.

The benefits of local food

Serving up local produce and meat lessens the environmental impact associated with food by cutting out polluting, fossil fuel-intensive transportation from farm to table. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture researchers found that conventionally grown US produce travels up to 27 times the distance of its locally grown counterparts.[2]

Gasoline—a petroleum-based, non-sustainable resource whose extraction and production has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems—fuels the trucks that transport food. Petroleum refineries are major contributors to toxic air pollutants, like carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. In addition, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the leading contributor to global warming—are released for every gallon of gasoline burned, making the transportation sector responsible for about a quarter of overall US CO2 emissions.

The support to local, small farms also helps preserve rural open space and conserves water, energy, and other resources. Livestock factory farms—known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—for example, have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and groundwater in 17 states, according to a 1998 report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—feeding algae growth and killing fish and other aquatic life by depleting water oxygen levels.[3]

Large-scale farms also feed healthy animals antibiotics as growth promoters. In fact, nearly 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the US are fed to healthy pigs, poultry, and beef cattle.[4] By introducing a large amount of antibiotics into the food chain, this practice transfers drug-resistant microbes from meat to humans, creating human resistance to the medicines that were developed to treat serious health problems.

The benefits of organic food

Organic food choices, from produce to beverages to meat to chocolate, are free of dangerous pesticides, insecticides, and other chemicals. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers are not only believed to be harmful to human and animal health, but they also pollute ecosystems and waterways.

Additionally, a study of conventional versus organic farming methods by the Rodale Institute discovered that organic farming combats global warming through carbon sequestration. In agricultural applications, the more organic matter that is retained in the soil, the more carbon is sequestered. While conventional farming depletes organic matter through the use of chemical fertilizers, organic farming uses animal manure and cover crops, which actually build soil organic matter. The Rodale Institute estimates that if all 160 million acres of corn and soybean farmland in the US were switched to organic farming methods, it would be equivalent to removing 58.7 million cars from the road, and would satisfy 73 percent of the proposed US Kyoto targets for CO2 reduction.[5]

Related health issues

Some of the chemicals released from petroleum refineries are known or suspected carcinogens, and cause developmental and reproductive problems. They are also believed to aggravate childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions.

A report by Pesticide Action Network North America found that American consumers are exposed to toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as many as 70 times a day due to pesticide use.[6] POP exposure has been associated with immune system suppression, nervous and hormonal system disorders, reproductive system damage, and various cancers, including breast cancer.

Children are particularly susceptible to the health effects of pesticide ingestion due to their lower body weights and higher metabolisms. Every day, more than 1 million children between the ages of 1 and 5 eat an estimated 15 pesticides on contaminated fruits and vegetables alone. Six hundred thousand of these children eat dosages of pesticides deemed unsafe by the government.[7]

Glossary

  • carbon sequestration: The process by which carbon is captured (in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere and incorporated into soil, ocean, and plant matter.