This Thanksgiving, Don't Forget to Thank Canada for Your Dinner

This Thanksgiving, Don't Forget to Thank Canada for Your Dinner When it comes to eating locally, it's hard to beat the original Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to today's classic turkey, it featured lobsters, clams, deer, corn, beets, and almost every other animal, fruit and vegetable that the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag guests could hunt or gather.

Today's diners have far more options than the original Pilgrims, and the string beans, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and other foods that show up on the Thanksgiving table are often canned or frozen as they are shipped from state to state or country to country. While all that convenience multiplies our Thanksgiving options, it makes it harder to ensure that the classic all-American dinner is actually coming from the U.S. of A.

Cranberries are a good example: While the original accounts of the first Thanksgiving don't mention the tart berries, it's likely that at least a few of them made it to the table. Cranberries are native to Massachusetts, and are still one of its major crops. In fact, the Bay State is the country's second biggest cranberry producer, coming in right behind Wisconsin.

But, while the U.S. produced 679.6 million pounds -- of cranberries in 2010 (that's 308,261 metric tons) it is still a net importer, bringing in 110,843 metric tons in 2010. Most of these came from Canada, and many were sold by Ocean Spray, the Massachusetts-based cooperative that is synonymous with cranberries in America. Which means the Ocean Spray cranberries or cranberry sauce on your table may well have come from the Great White North.

Ditto for that big bowl of potatoes in the middle of your table. While the U.S. is still a major potato producer, it now ranks fourth among potato growers, and eighth among importers. In fact, according to some experts, almost 10% of the potatoes that show up on U.S. tables were grown outside the country -- and most of them came from Canada, too.

Your sweet potatoes may have traveled from the other direction. The U.S. produces 2.4 billion pounds of the orange tubers; almost half are grown in North Carolina. Still, it also imported 22.3 million pounds of fresh and frozen sweet potatoes in 2010; most came from the Dominican Republic, followed by China.

The ever-popular green bean casserole, a staple of the modern Thanksgiving table, was born out of the convenience food trend. Invented in 1955 by the Campbell's soup company, it was designed to use frozen green beans, cream of mushroom soup and fried onions -- ingredients that every housewife would have in her cupboard or freezer. Today, those ingredients come from farms around the world: The U.S. imports almost $112 million worth of mushrooms ever year, mostly from Canada. As for onions, it brings in 885.5 million pounds, mostly from Mexico. But green beans may be the biggest import in the dish: One in six packages of frozen green beans comes from outside the U.S., often from Mexico, China, France and, yes, Canada.

But it's not all bad news for locavores. Chances are good that the Thanksgiving turkey was born and bred on U.S. soil. This year, the country is on track to raise 248 million of the birds, valued at $4.37 billion. By comparison, the country imported just $7.8 million worth of the birds. Then again, it's worth noting that turkey prices are rising faster than any other ingredient on the Thanksgiving table: Over the last year, they've gone up by 4%.

On the bright side, even if your turkey was imported, it probably didn't come too far: 99.7% of U.S. turkey imports come from -- wait for it -- Canada!

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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November 29 2011 at 12:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

tn nike

November 29 2011 at 12:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I check all labels now to make sure I don't buy food from China...I don't trust it. Canada is fine..Chile also..If you read the labels on some organic foods like Cascadian Farms, owned by General Mills, they often say Distributed by California or Oregon...but if you check further, some of them say "Product of China." I couldn't believe it. Now I read all vegetable labels...and if it doesn't specify the country , I call the phone number on the package before I buy it...I just write it down and if it's from China, I also complain to the representative I'm speaking to.

November 28 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

American companies have really sold out our farmers.I don't buy Dole pineapple anymore .Reason..The label said China.Canada is ok with me. I have always enjoyed visiting there. Mrs. GV Curry

November 28 2011 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't mind getting stuff from Canada, anyone know how much we sell them? Getting food from China & Mexico, I don't like that much at all, don't trust them regarding food safety. Water in CA is a big issue with the Feds and Envrios getting their hand in it way too much. Lots of farming going on here in CA. Using midwest corn for ethenol is nuts and made corn prices go nuts (no pun.

November 27 2011 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One footnote: 80% of what Canada sells, they sell to the US -- good thing they have a Thanksgiving too, but on a different day.

November 27 2011 at 4:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's a scary thought that we import so much of our food -- and it's usually not because we can't or don't produce enough in our country -- produce is imported because it's cheaper than homegrown. So why is this a problem for us? First of all, the US was at one time known as the bread basket of the world because we produced so much wheat, we couldn't use it all, so it was sold to other countries (and Russia was a big customer). When we're importing so much of our food, we're putting our own farmers out of business. I live in the San Francisco Bay area, very close to the great Central Valley that has some of the most ideal growing conditions (especially the rich loamy soil) on the planet. The Salinas Valley is known as "the salad bowl of the country" for all the lettuce, spinach, brocoli and brussel sprouts grown there -- yet much of these items in our super markets are imported. Gilroy, CA calls itself the "Garlic Capital" of the world, but the garlic I see at Safeway is from as far away as China when I'm only 100 miles away from Gilroy. Many apricot growers in the Central Valley have been forced out of business because dried apricots from Turkey are cheaper. So what happens when more and more of our own food producers are forced out of buiness and we're forced to import more and more of our food? The prices go up because we'll have no other choice. What happens when our trading partners today become our enemies tomorrow? How long will it take to replant all those apricot trees and for them to bear fruit? When food is grown in our own country, we can control which pesticides are used, but we have no way of knowing or controlling what is sprayed on crops outside our own country. And what of the water used to irrigate the crops? Many crops grown in Mexico are irrigated by contaminated water. Most produce is at least 90% water, so how is that affecting us and our children when they're consuming this produce? England has imported most of their food for a very long long and the country was almost starving during WWII when those imports were cut off by German submarines. Can we allow our country to be in that same position? Farming is the single most important occupation in any country, and we do our farmers and ourselves a real disservice by allowing them to be forced out of business by importing so much of our produce.

November 27 2011 at 4:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jmbkanga2's comment

Most produce isn't imported simply because it's cheaper. Most produce is imported because it is out of season in the US. Of course, I suppose that we could grow it all year in greenhouses, but that would make it much to expensive for most people to buy. If you want grapes in February, you pretty much have to source them in the Southern hemisphere. And if you want green beans in December, you pretty much need to get them from somewhere south of the US. Growing crops is still climate-related.

November 28 2011 at 9:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bradford E. White

Not to quibble on the deets, but Wisconsin, not Washington leads the pack of cranberry producers at roughly 4M barrels. Washington is below 200,000 barrels. Massachusetts runs about half of Wisconsin's total, 1.9 to 2.1M barrels with NJ in third place at about 550,000 barrels. Oregon and Washington are well below those numbers. Nationally we produce about 7M barrels of cranberries per year.

November 26 2011 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bradford E. White's comment
Bruce Watson

Thanks for the heads-up. I've changed the story accordingly.

November 28 2011 at 2:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks Canada, I like people who take pride in their work and Farmer's make the World work, my Great
Grandfather was a Farmer ! My regards to everyone in Toronto, Montreal/Quebec City, and Vancouver.

Work, Freedom and Family............................Politics is for Youngsters !

November 26 2011 at 7:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We all bowed our heads yesterday, and gave thanks to our God, for allowing the ones to work that supplied the money to purchase the food. We also gave thanks for the hands that prepared the wonderful meal, and ask blessings for the ones that grew, and harvested the ingredients for the meal. No one else should get the credit.

November 25 2011 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply