How to serve up a delectable “100 mile” Thanksgiving feast

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Q I’d like to cook a 100-mile Thanksgiving dinner. Help!

A Back in the day, we had no choice but to think regionally and eat locally. Yes, my grandfather sold imported olives and dried figs to homesick immigrants at his Greek grocery store in Montreal, but the family rarely ate greens in the winter, and canned or root vegetables were staples even for a feta importer’s dinner.

Now, no matter how ripe local produce is, supermarkets are stocked with imports right through prime harvest time. Even at Thanksgiving (you know, the day designated to celebrate nature’s bounty), we’re stewing imported cranberries and serving California greens. And all of this racks up the food miles on greenhouse-gas-sputtering, fossil-fuel-sucking truck rides. Hence, the push to eat stuff grown within a 100-mile radius of your home.

Not that local should be our only criterion. Yes, a conventional turkey might be raised in southern Ontario, but under what conditions? Factory farming of overstuffed birds bred to grow so quickly that they can barely stand does not a conscious Thanksgiving make.

If you’re looking for a naturally raised, free-run, locally sourced turkey, head to a natural butcher like Cumbrae on Church or Bayview, the Healthy Butcher on Queen West, Butcher by Nature on Annette or The Butchers on Yonge at Craighurst. They can’t all guarantee that the feed comes from a 100-mile radius (as per a strict 100-mile diet), but Clement Poultry (available at The Butchers and the St. Lawrence north market) raises birds on certified organic feed from Kawartha-based Merryland Organics.

The only officially certified organic turkeys available here actually come from Alberta and are sold by Beretta Farms at the Big Carrot on Danforth ($5.99/lb) and The Butchers ($4.09/lb). All the other naturally raised turkeys go for $3.99/lb at pretty much every place in town, with one shining exception: Fresh from the Farm on Donlands south of O’Connor, a Mennonite-run food retailer that sells turkeys raised the old-fashioned way on Mennonite farms in the Waterloo area for just $2.85/lb. They even grow the feed on their own farms.

Of course, small, sustainable butcher operations don’t have turkeys popping out on conveyor belts, so quantities are finite. Call first to make sure the shop still has some in stock. If you can’t find a turkey anywhere, note that all these butchers sell certified organic beef, ham and the like as well as naturally raised, free-run game.

Not that Thanksgiving is all about meat. Tofu heads can get actually get certified organic, GMO-free soy products made with soybeans grown near Brant, Ontario. Ying Ying Soy Food sells its inspiring line of tofu treats (including stuffed roasts, steaks and more) in the basement of the St. Lawrence Market and at pretty much every health food store in town (see vegetarian alt-turkey feature, page 46). Tofurky, by the way, comes from Oregon.

As for your veggies, hunt for deliciously local Ontario-grown sweet potatoes, beets, Brussels sprouts, leeks, parsnips and classic Yukon Golds, all at their prime right now. There’s a decent sprinkle of local in most grocery stores, but produce that’s both local and organic is plentiful at places like 4 Life Natural Foods on Augusta and Organics on Bloor (near Bathurst).

If the timing’s right, pop into your local organic farmers market. You may only have a few days till the big feast, but organic markets like Dufferin Grove on Thursdays are brimming with baskets full of ripe, pesticide-free produce picked fresh in Ontario. You’ll even find exciting exotic foods like oyster and shiitake mushrooms as well as heirloom veggies, heritage meats, locally jarred preserves and pestos. FYI, if you’re baking a dessert, local fillers are a cinch (think apple, pumpkin or pear), but getting 100-mile flours is trickier since most of our grain comes from the Prairies. The Big Carrot, Strictly Bulk and Noah’s locations carry soft white and soft whole wheat organic flour made from Ontario-grown wheat. Rather than using tropically sourced sugar, sweeten with local maple syrup or honey. Or order deep-dish pear pies (yum) from 4 Life Natural Foods, made with entirely southern-Ontario-grown flax, spelt, oats and, yes, pears. It may be close to impossible to go 100 per cent local with three days’ notice (a 100-mile diet takes serious planning and foresight), but challenge yourself by getting as close as you can. And while you’re at it, start pressing your grocer for more stuff grown and processed with love a little closer to home.

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