Thanksgiving is the easiest time of year to “eat local and organic,” for the simple reason that nearly everything that appears on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner table has its roots in local, seasonal, organic foods. And that’s because Native Americans, and the Pilgrims they shared their food with, ate organic food long before it was called organic.
Our modern Thanksgiving started way back in the fall of 1621. After nearly starving the year before, the Pilgrims had a good harvest thanks to the Wampanoag people who shared their seeds and know-how with the foreigners who had shown up on their shores. So Captain Miles Standish invited Squanto and Samoset, as well as Wampanoag chief Massasoit, to join them for a three-day harvest celebration.
When the invited guests appeared with about 90 of their friends and family, the Pilgrims didn’t quite know what to do. But Massasoit wasn’t chief of the Wampanoag for nothing. He immediately gave orders for the men to go back and bring more food.
And so it happened that the “guests” became the hosts and benefactors, supplying most of the food for the first Thanksgiving. Records show that about 150 people feasted on deer, turkey, duck, fish, beans, squash, corn soup, corn bread, and berries. The entire meal was a locavore’s delight, 100% organic and local, except for some Holland cheese and a few spices that the Pilgrims had brought with them from the “old world.”
And you can bet it was an excellent feast. So Thanksgiving is the perfect time to return to the local and organic origins of Thanksgiving, and to give thanks for the bounty of the land, and to the people who bring us that bounty.
There’s no better place to start than by thanking the people of the First Nations, the original inhabitants of the continent, who gave the world countless varieties of corn, beans, squash, and who lived “the land ethic” popularized by Aldo Leopold. (A concrete thank you might involve returning the 400-year-old favor by sending food and winter clothing to the Native Americans at Standing Rock and the Camp of the Sacred Stones.)
And it’s a great time to thank organic farmers who grow healthy foods without synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, or hormones. Those practices enhance the lives of plants and animals, and ultimately enhance our personal health, the health of our farmers, their farms, and our communities. And the virtuous circle expands as local organic foods benefit the soil, air, and water upon which all life depends.
Shopping Wisely and Well
As you shop for your Thanksgiving celebration, seek out the best local organic ingredients you can find for your feast. The land that provided such wholesome bounty at the first Thanksgiving celebration still provides bountiful foodstuffs today–and “certified organic” guarantees the “wholesome” part of the deal. Start your search at the organic stands at your local farmers markets, or in the organic section of your grocery store. Or you can go online to find great sources of organic meat and produce.
Of course there will be plenty of “naturally-raised” chickens, turkeys, and other meat available, but don’t be fooled by the labelling. Only “certified organic” guarantees that the animals providing your meat and dairy products have been raised without antibiotics, and without genetically modified grain.
True Thanksgiving Tradition
Many family traditions now feature overly processed ingredients. Mine included marshmallows atop the sweet potatoes, and canned mushroom soup and canned fried onion rings in the green bean casserole. There’s nothing wrong with family traditions of course, but it’s easy and fun to give old favorites new life with autumn’s bountiful cornucopia of local, organic foods. And it’s easy — just tweak your favorite family recipes to create locally produced variations on Thanksgiving classics. Here are a few ideas:
- Carrot and celery sticks can become a classy celery root remoulade
- Cole slaw can be replaced with a shaved Brussels sprouts salad
- Mashed potatoes get glamorous with leeks, parsnips, or rutabagas
- Sweet potatoes can be eaten as-is, or with an organic orange glaze
- Dinner rolls from a can become fresh-baked sage biscuits made with organic whole wheat flour, butter, and cream
- Pecan pie can be made with local hickory nuts–or try a black walnut pound cake
- And pumpkin pie is always better with local organic pumpkins or winter squash
There is just no better way to express gratitude for good food, local farmers, and their active stewardship of the land than to buy one or more local, organic items for the big meal on the day we join together and give thanks. And while you’re eating, use the Earth Dinner cards to prompt fun conversations about food and family traditions. You’ll have the tastiest Thanksgiving ever, and you’ll help keep local, sustainable farms thriving now, and for many Thanksgivings to come!