You may not notice the difference immediately when you sat down to your Thanksgiving dinner, but the climate crisis is affecting the foods we purchase and eat on holidays and everyday. Partially, that’s because more and more people are becoming aware of the consequences their eating habits have on the environment. But there’s more to it. The past year has been filled with challenges to farmers and food systems, from drought to wildfires to warmer weather patterns and intensified hurricanes. As the effects of the climate crisis become more profound, so, too, will the likelihood of a Thanksgiving vegan dinner on the family holiday table of the future.
What is a national day of mourning for many Native people may also become a gathering occasion that reflects all our times and transitions. Similar to the false narrative of Pilgrims holding a harvest celebration 400 years ago, the food on our Thanksgiving table is the story of a people who’ve become removed from the natural world that inherently sustains us. Perhaps we can learn to respect and emulate the incredibly sophisticated Native farmers who cultivated the corn once at the center of diets and cultural and spiritual lives.
The Wrong Road Taken — Industrial Agriculture & the Climate Crisis
Wet ground, rising temperatures, and lower grain feed yields make it difficult for traditional farm sites to raise turkeys and for consumers to rationalize higher price per pound. Wheat, which accounts for 20% of all calories consumed by humans, is vulnerable to drought and pounding rains and is forecast to produce lower yields as early as 2022. It’s also losing its nutritional value as a result of climate variability. Cranberries, which respond to temperature variations, bud earlier than ever but are really susceptible to frost damage. Pumpkins are also targets of cold and frost, which can cause them to soften and rot before harvest. Potatoes, green beans, and Brussels sprouts will show reduce yields and quality due to drought. Delicate greens thrive in the cool months prior to Thanksgiving, but what happens if those temps don’t drop?
Moreover, industrial agriculture feeds (pun intended) the climate crisis. Food production is the largest cause of global environmental change, responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use. The meat and dairy industry produces a heavy carbon footprint: 14.5% of the planet’s GHG emissions.
Investors Bill Gates and Richard Branson have been eyeing cell-based alternatives to turkey, as have Tyson and Cargill, which are supporting upstarts such as Upside Foods, Future Meat Technologies, and Aleph Farms. Could lab-grown meat and seafood convert farm-to-table into a cell-to-harvest feast?
Or is cellular food production another manner of subterfuge, of denying the truth of our western food faulty diets? Isn’t it time to shift to primarily plant based menus to move us toward more sustainable, ethical, and climate adaptive diets?
What Foods Could Appear as Part of a Thanksgiving Vegan Spread?
The climate crisis is revising the way we think about eating. As the planet warms and Thanksgiving favorites get more expensive or harder to come by, exchanging longtime menu items for sustainable alternatives may work to satisfy our nostalgia and keep traditions alive while meeting planetary needs. New foods we might not have considered before are becoming intriguing, especially when talented chefs and connoisseurs embrace and celebrate them.
Expansion under low-emission scenarios will stimulate Burgundy truffles to benefit from future warming, according to recent research. Valued for their earthy scent and intense flavor, truffles are a delicacy and feature in the world’s finest dishes. Truffles are beginning to be cultivated in the US.
The way crops are grown may add an entirely new dimension to improving soil. Take, for example, Kernza®, which is the trademark name for the grain of an intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) being developed at The Land Institute. Today, this ecologically beneficial perennial grain has already made its way into the commercial supply chain in small niche markets. If you want to see what it’s like to bake with this perennial grain, check out this Washington Post article.
Kelp, more common to diets from Southeast Asia than to the US, is easing its way onto restaurant menus and grocery store shelves. This salty superfood, which NOAA says can offers an opportunity to diversify a farming operation, helps the climate by gobbling up nitrogen and phosphorus that are the result of stormwater runoff and point-sources behind the dead zones that form in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay. Kelp has lots of culinary possibilities — it can be used like a garnish, rehydrated and added to foods like soup and stews, or ground up with doughs for crackers and other snack foods.
And all hope is not gone for your favorites. Vertical farming systems may be a method to grow existing Thanksgiving vegetables under controlled environments measuring for nutrient delivery, pH, temperature, and oxygen content, and they can often do all of this without pesticides. Vertical farms are able to grow food year-round because they maintain consistent growing conditions regardless of the weather outside and are much less vulnerable to climate changes. This promises a steady flow of products for the consumers and a consistent income for growers. Various advantages of vertical farming over traditional farming, such as reduced farm inputs and crop failures and restored farmland, have enabled scientists to implement vertical farming on a large scale.
Ideas for a Vibrant Thanksgiving Vegan Spread
Need some help working your imagination to create a Thanksgiving vegan or vegetarian spread? Here are some delicious ideas for you.
- Mushroom bread pudding
- Vegetable pot pie
- Pumpkin risotto
- Caramelized leeks
- Vegan jeweled rice with roasted vegetables
- Stuffed butternut squash
- Artichoke Parmesan stuffing
- Cornbread stuffing with apples
- Plantains with beans, scallions, and lemon
- Yuca coated in a warm, garlicky mojo
Ensuring the future of global food security will require changes in the way we produce our food as well as in what we eat. Increased consumption of protein-rich plants, such as soy and legumes, can be part of the solution, and plant-based meat substitutes can fill in the desire for meat without the impact on mammals, land, and atmosphere. It goes without saying that all food production should seek to use the earth’s natural resources as sustainably as possible.
From all of us at CleanTechnica, we hope you and your family enjoyed a healthy, happy, and hope-filled Thanksgiving holiday.
Image courtesy of NOAA/ open source