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

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.