By Marcelene Sutter

Traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner
Traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Credit: Ruocaled/Flickr

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of Thanksgiving turkey came from? Perhaps we owe this delicious custom to the way that we used to eat — seasonally. Before buying locally and eating seasonally became trendy, they were simply a way of life. It makes sense: Greens were popular in the spring, when they began to sprout, and summer vegetables, like corn and tomatoes, were enjoyed in the heat. Turkeys and chickens born in the spring would reach optimal roasting size by autumn, making them ideal for fall feasts.

This era of eating locally was not, relatively speaking, very long ago, but now that we have the ability to transport out-of-season produce to stores on a consistent basis, it’s not difficult to find tomatoes or asparagus on the shelf of your local supermarket in the dead of winter. Convenience aside, is the ability to eat out of season worth it? From an economic, environmental and taste standpoint, the answer might be no.

Fresh tomatoes on display at a Sacramento, CA farmers market.
Fresh tomatoes on display at a Sacramento, CA farmers market. Credit: Robert Course-Baker

The transportation of out-of-season produce not only costs more compared to local produce because of the increased distance from field to table, but also has a much more pronounced environmental impact. When the use of aircraft or a longer journey by truck is required to transport these fruits and vegetables, more fossil fuels are consumed and more emissions released into the atmosphere, contributing to pollution. Increased air pollution can result in acid rain, which contributes significantly to forest soil degradation and can injure or even kill trees. Furthermore, foods that have longer distances to travel are harvested before they fully ripen, which means that the consumer loses out on maximum flavor potential, and is buying a more expensive and harder to digest product.

There are a few simple things that you can do to lessen the environmental impact of your holiday meals. By shopping at farmers markets or buying as locally as possible, you can limit the environmental effects associated with getting food from the earth to the dinner table. Planning dinners while staying conscious of what produce is in season will help you to create tastier dishes that help preserve the environment and support community businesses. No matter what you cook for Thanksgiving dinner, we at American Forests wish you a happy holiday season!