Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Regenerative Agriculture campaign banner

Four Reasons—and Nine Items—to Cook Organic this Thanksgiving

In two weeks, families, friends and communities will gather around dinner tables to celebrate Thanksgiving. Leaving aside for now the nuanced political, historical and cultural complications that underlie the holiday, and taking into consideration the different meanings individuals assign to Thanksgiving, there will be one universal thread running through everyone’s celebration on Thursday, November 27: Food.

For millions of Americans, unfortunately, the food on their tables will take the form of a turkey raised in filthy, crowded conditions on a diet of antibiotics and genetically engineered corn and soy, with side dishes made from potatoes and beans and other produce heavily contaminated with pesticides, accompanied by highly processed white-bread dinner rolls slathered with butter made from milk produced by cows pumped full of growth hormones and raised in conditions no animal should be forced to endure.

Thankfully, as the market for organic food grows, consumers have greater access to organic alternatives, whether they plan a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or opt for something other than turkey, potatoes and pumpkin pie.

They also have plenty of motivation: better health and nutrition; a cleaner environment; more humane treatment of animals; and a cooler planet.

Consumers are well aware by now that most forms of organic produce not only taste better than their non-organic alternatives, but they’re also more nutrient-dense. They also get that all those toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers are not only unhealthy when consumed as residue on food products, but they’re increasingly poisoning our water and soil. As for the humane treatment of animals, that’s a no-brainer.

But there’s another huge bonus to choosing organic food—organic, regenerative farming can not only prevent global warming, it can reverse it.

According to reports by the Rodale Institute, the United Nations and the Soil Association, modern, chemical-intensive industrial farming has stripped the soil’s natural ability to take carbon back out of the atmosphere, through photosynthesis, and store it where nature intended—in the soil. By returning to small-scale organic farming, say researchers at the Rodale Institute, more than 40 percent of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be captured in the soil.  And if the world’s pasture and rangelands were managed using regenerative techniques, an additional 71 percent of GHG emissions could be sequestered.

This Thanksgiving, we ask you to give thanks to organic farmers, to the dedicated people who run CSAs, farmers markets, and food co-ops in your community, and to the natural health and food retailers who have committed to providing organic, non-GMO alternatives in a world dominated by pesticide-contaminated produce and highly processed junk foods.

We also ask you to pledge to Cook Organic, not the Planet not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. Because as consumers, we have the power to shift the market—and save the planet.

Here’s a traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu and reasons to make yours organic.

Turkey

Last year, Americans consumed more than 45 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day alone. With so much poultry gracing tables this November 27, it may come as a surprise that the mainstream options for humanely treated, pasture-raised, antibiotic-free birds are, well, paltry. (Read the Organic Consumers Association’s recommendations for how to buy a turkey).

There are plenty of reasons reject the typical white turkey, raised on a factory farm. Animal welfare is right up there. The cruel treatment of turkeys is neither justifiable nor healthy from a consumer standpoint. A 2011 exposé by the Mercy For Animals welfare group reveals the shocking abuse of birds at a Butterball plant, one of the most popular frozen turkey brands.

And then, of course, there’s your own health. Turkeys raised on factory farms are fattened on GMO grain and weight-gain promoting antibiotics. This abuse of antibiotics is translated to the food we eat, and promotes the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria in both the poultry and human health sectors.

As if there weren’t enough reasons to avoid factory farmed turkey, the environmental cost (as with all factory farms) is huge. The U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that waste from factory farming has contributed to the pollution of more than 35,000 miles of rivers, and is the single largest cause of water contamination in the U.S.

One has only to look at birds raised on factory farms compared to pasture-raised birds to see the stark difference in the animals’ health, not to mention their environments. While organic birds may come at a higher price, voting with your dollars both supports small local farmers and sends a message to the perpetrators of inhumane, antibiotic-rich and environmentally poor farming practices.

Here are some tips for cooking a moist, tasty (non-factory farm) turkey.

Wheat bread (stuffing, dinner rolls)

What’s a Thanksgiving turkey without stuffing? Or a Thanksgiving dinner without warm dinner rolls?

Treacherous—unless you use organic bread.

Most conventional breads barely contain any nutrition at all. Even those referred to as “natural” contain only 24 percent whole food ingredients.

Conventional breads are also laden with preservatives. Sure, Wonder Bread will stay fresh a lot longer than organic. But the chemicals required to maintain “freshness” are downright stale. The most commonly used preservative in most commercial breads is calcium propionate, used to inhibit the growth of molds and other microorganisms. Unfortunately, it’s also been linked to autistic-type behavior in rats. Propionic acid may appear as cultured wheat starch or cultured whey on a food label.

The scariest part of conventional breads? Glyphosate. (Studies show that increasing exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, may be at least partially to blame for rising rates of numerous chronic diseases).

The wheat grain that goes into commercial brand breads is most likely laced with glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Keith Lewis, a wheat farmer with 50 years’ experience, says it’s common for farmers to apply Roundup just prior harvest. Roundup kills the wheat plant which allows for an earlier harvest. According to Lewis:

"A wheat field often ripens unevenly, thus applying Roundup pre-harvest evens up the greener parts of the field with the more mature. The result is on the less mature areas Roundup is translocated into the kernels and eventually harvested as such."


A quick online search produces many sites with instructions on pre-harvest use of Roundup.

Here’s a recipe for organic stuffing, using organic bread and other organic ingredients.

White potatoes

Nothing says Thanksgiving like a heaping bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes. But if you’re not buying organic potatoes, you should serve your mashed potatoes in a bowl painted with skull and crossbones.

Conventionally-grown white potatoes have one of the highest pesticide contents among fruits and veggies. The USDA’s Pesticide Data Program reports 35 different pesticides have been found on conventional potatoes. Among those 35 pesticides, six are known or probable carcinogens, 12 are suspected hormone disruptors, seven are neurotoxins, and six are developmental or reproductive toxins.

As a root vegetable, potatoes absorb all of the pesticides, herbicides and insecticides sprayed on the plant as well as those that migrate through the soil.

But the treatments don’t stop at the plant. Potatoes get fungicides during growth, herbicides before harvesting, and then are sprayed again with herbicides after harvesting to prevent sprouting. The Environmental Working Group reports that the average potato had more pesticides per weight than any other food.

Jeff Moyer, former chair of the National Organic Standards Board, had this to say about potatoes: "I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."

A simple price check reveals that organic potatoes aren’t much more expensive then conventionally grown potatoes. And they’re definitely worth the investment.

Here’s a recipe for organic roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

Dairy (milk, butter, whipped cream)

You can’t have rolls without butter. Pumpkin pie without whipped cream. Or mashed potatoes without milk and butter.

And you can’t have a healthy, sustainable, climate-friendly Thanksgiving dinner unless all of those dairy ingredients are organic.

The industrial, factory-farm dairy industry looks nothing like the bucolic images of cows grazing on green grass in front of red barns frequently used on milk cartons. It is one of the dirtiest, most cruel, least climate-friendly member of the factory farm family. And the products it turns out are among the least healthy.

We could write a book. Instead, we recommend you use only organic milk, butter and whipped cream this Thanksgiving.

Buying organic milk is the only way to be sure that you’re not ingesting the genetically engineered hormone, rBGH, also known as rbST, designed to increase production of milk. By purchasing organic dairy products, you also avoid product made by animals fed an unhealthy diet of GMO feed, including corn, soy, alfalfa, and cotton seed.

Aside from avoiding the bad stuff, the best reason to choose organic milk (and other dairy products) is for your own health. Organic milk contains more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than the nonorganic milk. On the flip side, nonorganic milk, according to some studies, contains higher levels of inflammation- and disease-promoting omega-6 fats.

According to Prevention magazine:

“Eating too many omega-6s and not balancing them with omega-3s creates the unhealthy consequence that they then interfere with proper blood clotting, deregulate blood pressure, disrupt reproductive functions, and cause widespread inflammation. The imbalance also interferes with the body's already limited ability to convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to the more potent DHA and EPA polyunsaturated fatty acids that our brains need. Too many omega-6s can even interfere with our cells' ability to function normally.”


More on why you should boycott milk from factory farms here.

Sweet potatoes

Whether baked in pies or casseroles, fried, mashed into baby food, or topped with marshmallows, sweet potatoes are some of the most popular and versatile of all root vegetables, and valued for being high in fiber and nutrients such as Vitamin B6, magnesium, and carotenoids.

But unless you choose organic, these crowd-pleasing tubers can leave a bitter taste when you consider the chemicals used to keep them looking fresh for longer.

Chlorpropham is a chemical sprayed on conventional sweet potatoes to keep them from sprouting on supermarket shelves. It received significant attention at the beginning of the year when this fourth grader’s science project went viral.

In addition to chlorpropham, waxes and dyes are often applied to sweet potato skins to extend their shelf life. You could peel the potato to avoid direct contact with the waxes and dyes—but then you’d lose out on the valuable antioxidants contained in the potato’s skin and underlying cortex tissue.

Here are 16 recipes for sweet potatoes—just be sure to use organic!

Green beans

For many, the combination of green beans and cold weather evokes that classic image of a steaming casserole generously garnished with French fried onions. For a few brief months, green beans take their place in the spotlight, when in fact their high nutrition profile and soil-revitalizing properties should have us seeing green well beyond the holiday season.

As vegetables go, green beans pack a nutritious punch for very few calories – only about 40 in a whole cup. They are rich in vitamin K (essential to blood and bone health) and manganese (promotes good skin health), and contain high levels of other nutrients like vitamin C and folate.

Unfortunately, conventional farming methods mean that many consumers are denied the full benefits of these verdant legumes. Like most other produce, green beans’ nutrient content is directly determined by the quality of the soil they are grown in. Practices like pesticide use and monocropping deplete soil. A 2007 study showed that produce grown with conventional methods had up to 40 percent fewer nutrients than its organic counterparts.

Conventionally grown green beans, and the soil they’re grown in, are rife with chemicals. The USDA Pesticide Data Program reports no fewer that 44 different pesticide residues present at varying levels in conventional compared to organic green beans. In years past, green beans found in samples of baby food have even exceeded the legal limit for pesticide residues.

Organic green beans are not only spared the use of chemicals but are more likely to be grown in rotation with other produce, resulting in more nutritious vegetables as well as healthier soil. A Cornell University study showed that snap beans, when planted after a corn harvest, yielded twice as many beans compared to non-rotated bean crops. Choosing organic is not only a way to feel better about what you put into your body, but it helps to maintain fertile soil for meals—and generations—to come.

If you want an alternative to the traditional green bean casserole, here’s a recipe for organic, garlicky green beans.

Cranberries

Always a Thanksgiving staple, cranberries have recently been gaining traction as a star ingredient in juices and entrees thanks to their health benefits, including their antioxidant properties—second only to blueberries.

For over a century, cranberries have been recognized for their role in promoting good urinary health. Chemicals called proanthocyanidins (PACs), which occur naturally in cranberries, prevent the build-up of bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections. Increasing your intake of cranberries is a natural way to reduce your risk of developing a UTI (urinary tract infection). Cranberries also contain high levels of the antioxidant phenol, which fights harmful free radicals.

Unfortunately, the drawbacks of commercial cranberry production tend to outweigh the health benefits. Often, berries are overloaded with sugar (as in many popular juice brands), or packaged in an unrecognizable format (don’t even mention those jellied cylinders so popular on Thanksgiving platters).

Even worse, cranberries grown by conventional methods are usually loaded up with insecticides, such as the endocrine disruptor chlorpyrifos. The “wet-picking” method by which most cranberries are harvested facilitates the entry of these chemicals into nearby water sources. In Wisconsin, the top cranberry-producing state in the U.S., a long history of exemptions for cranberry growers has helped sustain the use of pesticides that accumulate on berries, in water and in local wildlife.

Organic cranberry production, while not without its challenges, is a viable alternative. Farms like Starvation Alley in Seattle, Wash., are setting a new precedent for growing chemical-free, sustainable berries.

Just in case you needed one more reason to go organic for your cranberry sauce this year, the antioxidant composition of organic cranberries may be up to 30 percent higher than in conventionally grown berries.

For the perfect complement to a slice of organic turkey, why not cook up some organic cranberry sauce this year?

Wine

If you’re planning to hoist your wine glass and give a toast for all that you are thankful for, you better make it organic.

Why? One word: Pesticides.

Grapes are listed as number three on the Environmental Working Group’s list of 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue data—surpassed only by the infamous apple and strawberry duo.

The good news is that as more consumers demand organic wines the selections are increasing.

There’s not enough time to make organic wine for this year’s thanksgiving feast, but in case you want to go that route next year, here’s a recipe to get ready for the next one.

In the meantime, you can try this recipe for organic mulled wine, the perfect accompaniment to grandma’s organic pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin pie—it’s the sweetest and most traditional ending to a Thanksgiving meal is. The aroma of warm spices, the tempting dollop of whipped cream. Nothing should make you think twice about diving into a generous slice at the end of a hearty meal.

And if you purchase organic pumpkin, nothing will.

Like sweet potatoes, pumpkins are often coated with waxes and fungicides to keep them looking fresh on the shelf. These chemicals can be absorbed into the pumpkin. In fact, pumpkins are so absorbent that a 2004 study proposed using them as a sink to remove DDT and other pollutants from contaminated soil.

The absorbent properties of pumpkin, a member of the winter squash family, help make it number 25 (right below green beans!) on the Environmental Working Group’s list of top pesticide-containing produce purchases.

Fortunately, you don’t have to make your pie from a toxic pumpkin. Organic pumpkin is grown without chemicals, and doesn’t come in contact with other chemically treated produce.

Pumpkin puree used for pies has many nutritional benefits, including high fiber content, iron and vitamin A. It is reasonably priced and readily available at most grocery stores. Trader Joes’ offers organic canned pumpkin, sold in a BPA-free can. (Exposure to BPA has long been linked to insulin resistance, damaged DNA, miscarriage, decreased testosterone levels, early puberty, and the production of breast cancer and prostate cancer precursor cells).

Here’s a recipe for organic pumpkin pie. Too busy, try this organic pumpkin pie mix.

Hannah Bewsey is a researcher and writer for the Organic Consumers Association.

Charlotte Warren is a media and political consultant for the Organic Consumers Association.