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Climate change could soon make these staple Thanksgiving dishes more scarce

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(NEW YORK) — Thanksgiving could soon become another victim of climate change as rising temperatures threaten the abundance and quality of the ingredients used to make traditional dishes seen year after year.

As a result, these essential food items could become increasingly scarce and more expensive, potentially forcing families to omit or make substitutions in key recipes on their Thanksgiving menus.

Produce is among the foods most affected by climate change, according to experts. As global temperatures rise and extreme weather events such as drought, heat waves and powerful storms occur more often, altering growing seasons and changing crop yield productions, according to experts.

These changes are causing harvest yields in Thanksgiving staple ingredients such as sweet potatoes and cranberries to decrease significantly, Himanshu Gupta, co-founder and CEO of ClimateAi, a climate adaptation platform for food and agricultural supply chains, told ABC News.

Cranberries, one of the few native fruits to the U.S., are mainly grown in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and other pockets of New England, Gupta said. But rising temperatures is already causing a heavy decrease in yield in cranberry farms all over those regions.

Droughts in 2020 and heavy flooding in 2021 contributed to those decreases, Gupta said, adding that fall is now getting warmer in these regions as well.

Not only will yields decrease by at least 5% by 2070, the quality will be severely affected as well, ClimateAi found.

Americans consume 400 million pounds of cranberries per year, 20% of which is done during Thanksgiving week, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

There could be a time in the future where the constant demand for cranberries will not be able to be met during the Thanksgiving holiday, Gupta said.

A similar fate is happening to sweet potatoes, a crop that was designed to be climate resilient as it moved from Ecuador to Peru and then to the U.S., where they are grown in North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana, Gupta said.

Data is showing that by 2060 Mississippi is going to see an 18% reduction in average yields of sweet potatoes and by 2070 North Carolina is going to see a 12% deduction in average yields of sweet potatoes, Gupta said.

These reductions will likely have a heavy influence on prices of sweet potatoes, Gupta said.

“Climate change is a culture crisis,” Gupta said. “It’s also impacting our traditions and cultures in ways never seen before, and one example of that is Thanksgiving.”

Ingredients to make traditional Thanksgiving dishes are already seeing steeply increasing prices.

An average Thanksgiving meal for a family of 10 rose 20% between 2021 and 2022 — from $53.31 to $64.05 — according to a report by the American Farm Bureau released last year. In 2020, the same meal cost an average of $46.90, according to the findings.

“Climate change is one of the most significant factors in driving that cost,” Gupta said.

Turkeys saw the biggest increase in price, with the price for a 16-pound bird up $1.81 per pound, up 21% from last year, “due to several factors beyond general inflation,” the report found.

Climate change is one of factors to the price increase in Turkeys, Lea d’Auriol, founder of nonprofit Oceanic Global, told ABC News.

Rising temperatures around the world are increasing the amount of stress on turkeys, which are seeing declining birth rates as a result, d’Auriol said. For example, extreme weather patterns, such as an increase in strong hurricanes in some regions and more drought in others, are affecting regional poultry farms, d’Auriol said.

Bread and wheat, key ingredients in Thanksgiving stuffing, are extremely vulnerable to changes in climate, d’Auriol said. In 2021, the U.S. saw a 10% decrease in wheat production due to drought around the country, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Drought can also severely affect crops of green beans and Brussel sprouts, d’Auriol said.

“A lot more extreme summer heats, warmer winters, less ice — all of that actually will impact the those crop cycles,” she said. “And it will also change the nutritional value.”

 

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