Celebrating a "100-Mile" Thanksgiving

local foods
You may be surprised at the abundance of local foods that grow close to your home.

This Thanksgiving, some North Americans are showing thankfulness for the bounty of the land in an unconventional way. Embracing the so-called “100-Mile Thanksgiving” challenge, based on a diet of the same name launched in early 2005, families and individuals have committed to generating one dish, or even their whole holiday meal, from sources within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of their homes. By accepting this challenge, participants can gain a better understanding of the first Thanksgiving and its roots in the harvest of the surrounding land, local food advocates say.

In 2005, Vancouver residents Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon committed to one year of making all of their meals from ingredients grown within 100 miles of their apartment. The couple’s online journal was read widely and inspired others to sign on to the challenge, or modified versions of it. This year, the two hope to make Thanksgiving a “flashpoint” for the local food movement, and have launched a campaign to encourage people to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible into their holiday meals. Their 100-Mile Diet website offers advice for getting started and includes an interactive map that shows users their own “100-mile” localities.

There are many benefits to eating locally grown foods, according to Worldwatch Institute senior researcher Brian Halweil. For example, a local meal uses 4 to 17 times less petroleum in transport than would be used to generate the same meal through the conventional food system. Supporting local food also means supporting the local economy. And let’s not forget flavor, says Halweil. “Locally grown food served fresh and in-season has a definite taste advantage. It’s harvested at the peak of ripeness and doesn't have to be fumigated, refrigerated, or packaged for long-distance hauling and long shelf-life.”

Some participants are choosing to spread the 100-Mile Thanksgiving challenge beyond their own family gatherings. Timothy Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, has challenged his nearly 200 current students to commit to a local food Thanksgiving in their homes, and proposed that the annual faculty-student Thanksgiving meal be sourced from within a 100-mile radius. According to Beatley, the event’s planning group has made many discoveries about their local landscape, from tracking down a working 18th-century mill to grind locally grown wheat and corn, to learning that a nearby county is the southernmost maple syrup producer in the United States. Beatley also assigned each of his graduate students the task of researching a 100-mile recipe; all of the results will be combined in a new “100-mile cookbook.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.