This Thanksgiving week, the more fortunate of us will be thinking a lot about food as we plan and eat feasts that represent the bounty of the harvest.
I was reflecting on how the first European colonists on this continent nearly starved because they were unfamiliar with the local foods of North America. Thanks to the generosity of the Wampanoag people, who shared their food knowledge with the pilgrims almost 400 years ago, their corn and squash harvests flourished. The two peoples sat down together for an autumn harvest feast in October of 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. (For more information on the “first Thanksgiving,” visit the Plimoth Plantation website.)
Today, in our convenience-food society, a lot of Americans are unfamiliar with local foods, but we’re not starving. In fact, the opposite is true—we’re inundated by food, much of which has been shipped across the globe. We can eat strawberries in January; we can have chocolate grown in Africa and processed in Belgium.
I admit I love these treats as much as the next person, but I try to make an effort to look for local at the grocery store and when I’m selecting a restaurant.
For years, I’ve been a fan of the Chef’s Collaborative, a national organization that works with chefs and the food-producing community to celebrate local foods and foster a more sustainable food supply.
Whenever I’m going to eat out—especially when I’m traveling—I check the roster of Chef's Collaborative members to help me select a restaurant that I know will serve me great-tasting food that’s locally sourced and organic whenever possible.
Why eat fresh and local? Chefs Collaborative has a whole menu of reasons:
—The taste is great.
—You get acquainted with foods from the area and enjoy them at their freshest.
—Eating locally helps the environment by drastically cutting fossil fuel use. Local food doesn’t have to be shipped thousands of miles.
—It supports your local economy and small farmers.
—You get to celebrate food in relation to the earth. (I just think it’s easier to imagine that apple coming off the tree or that potato being dug from the ground when it’s local.)
—You can visit a farm to see for yourself how the animals are treated and whether their living conditions are humane.
—It’s healthy and nutritious.
—You get to celebrate the differences of food. It’s not all a monoculture out there. A cheese made in your vicinity isn’t going to taste the same as cheese somewhere else.
—Local food isn’t usually mass-produced. Sometimes it’s made on a small scale by people who believe preparing food is an art.
—It may be easier to find out if the farm workers get fair wages and safe working conditions.
Months ago I attended a Colorado Chef’s Collaborative event where I rubbed elbows with food growers, producers and restaurateurs. It was thrilling to meet cheesemakers, orchardists, vintners, bison ranchers and herbalists—all from within a couple of hundred miles from my Boulder house—most even closer.
This Thanksgiving, I’m going to incorporate a few more of these regionally produced foods into our family feast: a green salad with spinach, carrots, radishes and apples from Cure Organic Farm, sprinkled with chunks of my favorite feta from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy.
And I was surprised to find out that there’s also organically grown wine made in Colorado. Jack Rabbit Hill winery’s Lone Eagle Estate Riesling should do the trick this year. And we can all finish off with Peak Spirits’ Organic Estate Grappa and pumpkin pie (recycled from our Halloween décor) from the local pumpkin patch.
Not everything on the table will be completely local, but I’m thankful that I have such a bounty of Colorado-created food for our feast.