What was on your family Thanksgiving table as a kid? We always had turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans with bacon, biscuits and pumpkin pie. It's fair to say this is pretty standard grub around the country, give or take a sweet potato, and folks it's time to change that.
First off, many of us stick to the basics on Thanksgiving because we have some idea that these foods are "traditional" turkey day bites. Did you know that the original pilgrims probably actually ate duck, goose, seafood, and foraged nuts? That's a long way off from what we eat today, turkey's not even on that list, although it may have played a supporting role. Cranberries, potatoes, and sweet potatoes hadn't even been introduced to North American yet. So how did we get here from there? It's widely accepted that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of a good harvest in a harsh new land. The settlers were stoked to have enough food to last them through the winter. I think that message certainly can translate to today, a celebration of the bounty of locally grown and made products in your area.
While not everyone is interested in imitating some of the first European settlers on American soil, most of us do carry family recipes and traditions from table to table, and it's hard to give those up. Traditions are important, so don't quit on grandma's pecan jello or uncle's smoked turkey recipe. But do consider trading in a few "traditional" Thanksgiving foods for local options.
Consider this, it doesn't strike me as a celebration of bounty to ship in cans of pumpkin puree or jars of slimy mystery liquid some call "gravy." Nor does it feel like instant potatoes, packaged stuffing, cranberry jelly, or pop and bake biscuits fit the "good harvest" description. I think we can keep to tradition and celebrate sustainability at the same time by tweaking our food choices. Start small: maybe this year you'll make a side using local ingredients, and next year you'll forgo the frozen turkey for a fresh main course option, maybe even seafood as the pilgrims would have done.
The good news is, no matter where you live, there certainly is bounty to be celebrated. Every region has their specialties, so why not celebrate those? What I wouldn't give for some crunchy Washington apples, a bunch of leeks from the mid-west or fresh persimmons from the south. Click here to find what's freshest in your area. Here in Hawaii we have beautiful kabocha squash to replace canned pumpkin, tasty breadfruit instead of potatoes, and world-class fish far better than processed turkey. Won't you join me in celebrating our true harvest, fresh food that can be sourced locally this year?