As we head off on Thanksgiving Break, we think about spending time with family and friends, and of course about the food. Turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, green bean casserole–onThursday we are likely to be filled up to the brim with these and many other foods that fit within our own traditional Thanksgiving meals.

But as many of our families rush off to pick up the turkey or other ingredients at the last minute, how much do we think about the ethics of our food choices?

Last Thursday, Mellby residents got together to talk about the ethics connected to our food choices at Thanksgiving. Through sharing our own stories of family traditions and interests in food issues, our discussion moved through many topics. Here are some of the highlights:

Eating Local:We talked about ‘local food’ movements: how buying a local turkey or vegetables supports local farmers, brings money into the local economy, and lowers the ‘food miles’ or shipping from far-away places.

Organic/Free Range: Organic is a good option when it comes to thinking about the pesticides that are used in growing our food or the large amounts of hormones and antibiotics that are often used in conventional turkey raising. Looking at animal rights, free range turkeys allow the animals access outside instead of living solely in cages.

Discussion of Thanksgiving foods: We read “Dinner Dilemmas,” by John Gibbs Millspaugh, a discussion of these various labels and their application to Thanksgiving foods of Turkey, Potatoes, and Cranberries. (You can find the article at:


Some important questions we considered:

1. How have our views of food issues changed after coming to St. Olaf?

2. How do we make sense of food traditions and visiting other peoples’ houses forThanksgiving and our interests in where our food comes from?

3. How do our current Thanksgiving traditions fit into changing food traditions over time (ex. U.S. Presidents’ favorite dishes :

4. How do we balance maintaining our family food traditions and conscious eating habits?

5. Given the importance of eating local, would we want to have our own gardens in the future?

6. Is it important to learn about farms in your area? What could we teach kids through visiting farms?

7. Food in the news: In what ways are our food systems changing? How can we be more involved in understanding the origins of our food? (ex. food structures in Norway, California GMO labeling)

Consider having conversations over Thanksgiving about some of these issues. Which questions are more important for you to focus on? Which ones are harder or easier to talk about with family or friends?

I challenge you to think twice when you choose the ingredients that go into your Thanksgiving meal. Remember that there are many choices out there; we should consider what we value most in our food, especially on this most festive of occasions.


Some other Thanksgiving ethics resources:

“Turkey Talk: Thanksgiving from an English Rabbi’s Perspective”

“Original Thanksgiving Meal: Have an Eco-Conscious Thanksgiving Dinner What To Look Out For”

“10 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving”

“Thanksgiving can reconnect families and revive traditions–like sweet potato rolls”