On Thursday (11/23) millions of Americans will gather around dinner tables for the big Thanksgiving meal. The giant festive feast is the centerpiece of this holiday, so let’s take a look Thanksgiving foods through the lens of science. Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.
Apples, potatoes, turkey, cranberries, peanuts, and many other ingredients are needed for this annual celebration. Millions of people celebrating this holiday means millions of people have to somehow get these items from farms to their households. A typical American meal contains ingredients that have traveled from at least five different countries and often over 1,500 miles just to get to our tables.
These food miles raise concerns among scientists because of the amount of heat trapping gases that are emitted when transporting these items from the farm to packaging to various distribution centers then to grocery stores and then finally to our dinner tables. In fact preparing and eating your typical holiday meal has the same heat-trapping gas footprint as driving a car for 12 miles.
Luckily, us Virginians have one thing to be very thankful for this year, our state’s awesome agricultural industry. We live in a state that produces oysters, clams, wine, mushrooms, apples, peaches, chestnuts, turkeys, and more. We also have sweet potatoes here, which were first cultivated in Virginia all the way back in 1648!
Sourcing the thanksgiving ingredients from Virginia farmers drastically cuts down on the food miles these items have to travel, thus lowering the amount of heat trapping gasses being put into our atmosphere also.
But wait, there’s more. According to the Virginia Food System Council, if Virginia shoppers were to simply get 15% of their food items directly from local farmers it would generate $2.2 billion in new income for Virginia agriculture.
Every year Virginians spend in the neighborhood of $14.8 billion on food, of which nearly $9 billion leaves the state. Sourcing from our vast and diverse local farmers would help retain more of those dollars for our state's economy. Not only would this would be good for the local economy, but in turn would also increase the amount of jobs being created within our local agricultural economy as well.
Scientists have used decades of data to study consumption rates, food miles, our consumption’s impact on the environment, and the myriad of economic factors involved in our relationship with our food. They agree that sourcing food locally is a great way to become sustainable and more resilient in terms of our economic, environmental, and food needs.
With that said, they’re still working on how we can best handle family during the holidays. One thing at a time, folks!
From all of us to all of you, have a Happy and hopefully locally sourced Thanksgiving!