Thanksgiving is about family, friends, and ridiculous amounts of food. But the food we buy can have a big impact on the environment, and a lot more people are starting to look for local ingredients to put in their meals. One movement encourages people to get all their food from within 100 miles of their home. Dustin Dwyer tried to find out how practical that could be for his Thanksgiving feast:
Thanksgiving is about family, friends, and ridiculous amounts of food. But the food we buy can have a big impact on the environment. And a lot more people are starting to look for local ingredients to put in their meals. One movement encourages people to get all their food from within 100 miles of their home. Dustin Dwyer tried to find out how practical that could be for his Thanksgiving feast:
I like to look at labels on my food. I don’t care so much about the nutritional info, I just want to know where it came from.
But there’s a problem with that. Even if I know where something is packaged, I still have no idea where the actual ingredients come from. I mean, where the heck do they make partially hydrogenated soybean oil?
I have no idea. And so, for one meal, for the most important meal of the year, I decided to try to get all my food, and all the ingredients in my food, from within 100 miles of my apartment in Southeast Michigan.
If you’re impressed by my ingenious and creative idea, don’t be. I stole it from someone else. Alisa Smith and her partner James MacKinnon were on a 100 mile diet for a year, and they’re writing a book about it. I called up Alisa for some help.
Dwyer: “So my wife and I are going to do the 100 mile Thanksgiving, and I want to ask some advice.”
Smith: “Oh, great! For doing a single meal you picked a very good time to do it because it’s the harvest bounty, so that makes life a lot easier.”
I’m thinking, excellent, this could be a piece of cake. But I’m worried about a few tough ingredients, such as salt. Alisa says salt is a problem for a lot of people.
“I think in the end, you probably will find that salt isn’t available. And not being able t o make it yourself you might just say ‘okay salt is going to be an exception for us.'”
Ok, fine, but I still wanted to make as few exceptions as possible. I’ve got to have a challenge here, somehow.
That said, our menu would be simple: just turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Turkey turned out to be easy.
“Roperti’s Turkey Farm.”
Christine Roperti has been living on her family’s turkey farm in suburban Detroit all her life. Farms like this one are getting crowded out more and more by suburban sprawl. There’s even a brand new subdivision next door to Christine’s place. There have been offers for her land too.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to go anywhere. I like the farm, and like raising my turkeys.”
I liked knowing that Christine actually enjoys this, and cares about it. It made me feel good. And that’s important, because I was also paying a lot more for her turkey than the store-bought stuff.
Anyway, I was flying high, and things were going really well. My list of exceptions was firming up, and it was mostly spices: salt plus all the spices for the pumpkin pie.
Then, while I was bragging at work about how I’d be able to get almost everything but salt for my local dinner, someone reminded me that there are actually salt mines under the city of Detroit.
Like a good journalist I looked into it, and ended up on the most absurd shopping trip of my life.
“Okay I’m headed over the Ambassador Bridge, going from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. They do have salt mines in Detroit, but they don’t sell that salt as food salt in the US, they only sell road salt. So in order to get food salt that’s made within a hundred miles of my house, I have to go to Canada.”
Because of some trade regulation I don’t understand, table salt from this mine can’t be commercially shipped into the US. So I ended up in a city I barely know, looking for a grocery store. I went into the first, and then the second without finding the right brand of salt. Then an hour or so later, in the third store…
“Finally! Windsor salt.”
So, I wasted a lot of fuel putting this dinner together. It’s probably still an improvement over what the Sierra Club says is an average two thousand miles of driving that goes into each ingredient for my usual dinner.
But here’s the thing: if all this local stuff is available, I think I should be able to get it at the grocery store down the street. I should probably let them know that, and let them know I’m willing to pay more for it. I mean, that’s better than driving to Canada for salt, anyway.
But making that happen would take a lot more effort, a lot more voting with my pocketbook, and a lot more than just checking labels.
For the Environment Report, I’m Dustin Dwyer.