For Thanksgiving, local vs. traditional

All but the hardest-line locavores have to make some accommodations

  • Chris McCollum, who grew up on a factory farm in North Carolina, spent Sunday at the Baltimore FarmersÂ’ Market under the Jones Falls Expressway looking for local food products. He spent about 85 percent of his budget on local food.
Chris McCollum, who grew up on a factory farm in North Carolina,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
November 26, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

Except for the salt and pepper, every ingredient Karen Albright will cook with this Thanksgiving comes from local farms, including her own.

"We're having our turkey," said Albright, 43, who raises pastured birds and beef in Monkton. "Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes - we grew them. Apples from a local orchard. ... I took corn and lima beans and froze them in the summer to have for Thanksgiving dinner."

And then there's the stuffing, the one menu item that lives by the rule "Don't ask, don't tell."

Why would a woman who phoned Reynolds to make sure the foil for her turkey was made in the U.S.A. give the stuffing a pass? Well, her mom's in charge of that one.

"My mom will probably cheat and make stuffing that she will probably purchase," Albright said.

For people swept up in the local foods movement, Thanksgiving is the day when ideals as lofty as a Macy's parade balloon crash into holiday classics that budge for no one.

Ingredients for a whole feast are easily had at area farmers' markets, but no farmers' market stocks Karo syrup, mini-marshmallows, out-of-season green beans or those fake fried onion rings in a can. To the extent that industrial foods have become American holiday standards, and that messing with menu traditions can spark a family feud, the purely locavore Thanksgiving is rarer than a heritage bird.

"I don't want anybody throwing any silverware," said Sandy Sommer, 48, a local foods devotee, father and fitness instructor who normally shuns anything processed - "If it's in a box, we're not eating it" - but turns a blind eye to what guests bring to the holiday potluck at his Towson home.

"We're not food Nazis," he said, "at least not on Thanksgiving."

Not to mention, Miss Manners probably wouldn't endorse quizzing people on the provenance of dishes at the holiday potluck.

"When you're inviting people to bring food to your home, it's difficult to impose really strict standards. So it's a time to be thankful for friends and food and draw the line somewhere," said Joan Plisko, a Catonsville environmental engineer and mother of two who normally sticks to local and organic foods. "I'm not going to tell people, 'You can't bring processed grains to my house.' "

Some people will stick to their locavore guns, even if it means doing without on a day of celebrated excess. Kathleen Lester, of Baltimore's Union Square, expects to pass on the turkey. She's bought grass-fed meats for years, but in the past few months, her free-range preference has become a strict rule observed even when she's not eating at home.

"I've gone full bore. I won't eat anything that's not free-range," she said.

Lester usually hosts Thanksgiving, serving turkey from Nick's Organic Farm in Frederick County. This year, her bachelor brother-in-law is playing host, and she's not sure he followed her advice to buy his bird at Whole Foods.

"I probably won't be eating it," she said.

Locavores who mind their manners but secretly mind eating industrial turkey can take heart: Chances are better than last year that the mystery meat on the table is a local bird. Several area turkey farmers say business is up sharply.

"The demand for local birds just took off," said Steve Weber of Weber's Cider Mill Farm in Parkville. The farm sold about 500 free-range broad-breasted whites this year, twice what they did last Thanksgiving.

Weber had worried that the economy would hurt sales. His birds sell for $2.59 a pound, compared to as little as 47 cents per pound for an ordinary supermarket bird.

"We were concerned about that because we are not competitive on price with these birds," Weber said. "But this isn't every day. ... You know, Thanksgiving is a tradition and a ceremonial meal, and I think it's easier to buy locally for special occasions than it is every day. People come here and spend 20 minutes to pick out eight apples to make the apple pie of the year. They don't want to do it every day, but if they want to do it, they want to do it in grand style."

Chris McCollum set out for the first time this year to put on an all-local Thanksgiving. If it didn't grow just over the river and through the woods from his Fells Point rowhouse, if it couldn't be had around the harbor and under the JFX, it's not on the menu.

Well, except for the cranberries. Nearly everything in his pecan pie. And the puff pastry he'll use in an appetizer.

McCollum, who went to Whole Foods for what he couldn't find at Sunday's Baltimore farmers' market, was bitten by the locavore bug in the past year. He grew up on a factory farm, Massey Creek Farms in Madison, N.C., which went through an abrupt transformation in February.

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