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, look 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 turkeyWhen 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. 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
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 foodServing 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.
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.
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. 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 foodOrganic 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.
Related health issuesSome 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. 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.
- 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.
- Sustainable Table - Featured article: Talking turkey
- Sustainable Table - The Issues: Fossil Fuel and Energy Use
- Grist - Ag Reflex: Factory farms let off the hook for water pollution, activists say
- Environmental Defense - McDonald's Says No More Playing Chicken with Antibiotics
- The New Farm - Organic farming combats global warming big time
- Pesticide Action Network North America - "Nowhere to Hide" media release
- Environmental Defense - Challenge: Ensuring Public Health by Protecting Food and Drinking Water Supplies