Farms Finest: Shopping for a healthy and local Thanksgiving | AspenTimes.com

Farms Finest: Shopping for a healthy and local Thanksgiving

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

Niemann's Gardens in New Castle is one example of a regional spot where local produce is harvested.

Football and sharing chips, chili, chicken wings, beer and other fattening foods seem to go together. It would be illogical to yell "Touchdown!" and crack open another bottle of Chardonnay or ask your friend to pass the carrot sticks. Food goes with social events, but during the holidays all bets come off when considering calories.

A typical grocery list for a Thanksgiving dinner consists of stuffing, turkey, cranberry jelly, rolls, gravy and vegetables, including winter squash and mashed potatoes. The pre-dinner warm up offers diet-crushing appetizers and a dessert finale with delicious pies. This is a dream in the making for the soon-to-come advertisers of weight-loss products.

Today there are endless numbers of industries that have been created around every facet of food. From making it to growing it, enjoying it and the after-effects of it, this world has gone into a stratosphere of its own, leaving behind many consumers with no connection to where food comes from or understanding what they are eating.

What is surprising, more often than not, is that the very best food is uncomplicated in the presentation and simple to create.

Julia Childs said, "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients." Nearly anyone can become a food rock star if healthy, fresh ingredients are used and the recipes remain simple.

Television commercials, cooking shows and food magazines add to the froth of what some consider food perfection. Magazines open to glamorous photos showing perfectly set tables with professionally prepared dishes, all of which can continue to flatten our culinary confidence.

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How could a simple farm kitchen ever have managed to put a Thanksgiving dinner on the table? The fact is that for generations, they have done this without fancy recipes, television or packaged foods. What the farm kitchen did have was scratch cooking methods and the many fresh ingredients that were available. A simple stove, a heavy iron skillet and a well-stocked pantry were combined with fresh food, creating healthy meals daily.

To cook and eat well, we have to return to a few of these basic principles and be more concerned about the quality of ingredients. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner consists of simple dishes that even a novice can prepare, so forget those culinary showcases.

Success begins by building the menu around what is seasonally available in the region. Talk with local food artisans, and buy your honey, cheese, fruits and breads from them. Find fresh turkeys, vegetables and various greens and include table decorations with gourds and pumpkins bought from the farm down the road.

The best cooks I have known did not use recipe books or need expensive equipment. Instead, they knew how to create everything starting from a pantry stocked with basic supplies and adding fresh seasonal products. Food preparation done this way is not nearly as expensive as buying prepared food.

ABC News reporter Maggy Patrick, on Nov. 10, reported that the American Farm Bureau's survey shows the cost for a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner, including turkey, rolls and a pumpkin pie, will be $49.20 (total) this year.

This seems like a low number but does not include beverages, appetizers or any frills. Could this really be done today, or have we helped to blow the food industry out of proportion ourselves?

Consider our choices as we shop for groceries. Do we reach for prepared food like pricy packaged stuffing, pie mixes, frozen rolls and cans of whipped cream? Or could it be true that eating healthy and cooking from scratch do have the added bonus of saving food dollars? When shopping this season, try to include all of those local organic foods that are available. It is another way to give thanks to our neighboring farmers who work hard to offer us this healthy difference. Creating a meal using quality ingredients will always receive a five-star rating.

Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is Farmsfinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at joni@farmsfinest.com.