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Tips for Thanksgiving Meal Conversations


It is that time of year when families gather around a dinner table for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. In many cases, this involves extended family; and, for many in agriculture, this means people who are not involved in farming.  It might happen during the carving of the turkey or perhaps while the green bean casserole is being passed; someone will raise one of those controversial food issues. Perhaps it is animal rights, GMOs, antibiotics, organic, or local food production. It is likely that this self-appointed food expert will repeat some fact they got from social media that will send your blood pressure skyrocketing.

You could send a hard dinner roll flying across the table or a well-aimed spoon full of  cranberry relish at the offender, but that would not be in the spirit of family togetherness and would not provide any education to those at the table. So here are a few talking points you can deliver with firm authority that will put the social media experts in their place and provide some factual education for all of those at the table. They will also keep your shins from being bruised by your spouse under the table.

“Are these organic?” might be the comment that Aunt Marj makes while passing the carrots.  This will likely spark comments about how much healthier organic is compared to crops sprayed with those Monsanto chemicals.  This would be your opportunity to say that organic farmers use chemicals, in fact they use chemicals produced by Monsanto. They are just different ones than other farmers use.  In the shocked silence that follows, you can add that tests have shown that organic vegetables are not any safer or more nutrious than conventionally produced vegetables.

Then your niece Lilly pipes up and says, “I feel sorry for the turkey, why do we have to kill turkeys?”   At this point, you can explain that, if we did not raise turkeys for food, they would not exist. When she gives you that “what planet are you from” look, you can explain that the only reason we have turkeys around is for food.  Turkeys do not make good pets and, for the most part, serve no useful purpose except as food.  So without a demand for turkey meat, it is likely they would have become extinct by now.  That will scramble her little brain.

Your big city cousin asks, “Are these cage free eggs?” You can jump in quickly and say, “I  hope not.” Then, go on to explain that birds raised in cages are fed a healthy, grain-based diet vs. free range birds that eat anything they want off the ground including rocks, bugs, feces, and who knows what else. This will likely produce a deer in the headlights look from the urban relative who is now unsure if she wants the eggs.

While the above may not happen at your table, the odds are, however, that the issue of GMOs will. This is an argument you cannot win. But you can score a few points by reminding your dinner guests that all products with GMO ingredients must be labeled. Also remind them that no one in the entire world has ever become sick or died from GMO food products.  If you want to have a little fun, you can tell your uncle who is topping his pumpkin pie with nondairy topping that it is made from soy oil and that 90% of soybeans are GMO soybeans. If he had used real dairy topping on his pie, he would be guaranteed that his dairy products are free of GMOs.

Here are a few other quick facts you can keep at the ready: 1. Local food is great, but we cannot feed the world — or even most of the U.S. — with backyard gardens and farmers’ markets. 2. HSUS does not help local animal shelters. In fact, less than 1% of HSUS funds actually go to help animal shelters. 3. Starting January 1, 2017, livestock farmers must be under the supervision of a licensed vet to administer antibiotics to animals. 4. On average, about 5% of your grocery food dollar goes to pay for the products that come from the farm. The rest is labor, transportation, packaging, advertising, and retail mark ups.

I hope these tips help you survive your family dinner without bloodshed and give you the opportunity to take advantage of a few teachable moments.

By Gary Truitt