Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Where Your Food Comes From

When you begin to prepare your Thanksgiving dinner you may wonder about where all that food comes from. Well a new interactive map from CU Boulder and The Plotline, can help show you where. The Food Twin shows you where food is grown and consumed in America and how crops travel from producers to consumers.

Click on your county on the map and you will see colored dots flowing into your county from other counties around the United States. The colors of the dots represent different food groups (grain, nuts, vegetables, fruits and tubers). Each dot represents a set number of calories from that food group. If you switch to the 'producer' view on the map you can see in which other counties food produced in your county is consumed.

It is important to note that the Food Twin is a simulated model of food production and consumption. The model is based on satellite data and survey statistics "to generate an estimate of the types of crops that are grown in different regions across the United States". The consumption of different food groups is estimated based on consumer surveys. The routes between producers and consumers of food is modeled using 'possible shipment routes between all counties". 

You can read more about the production, consumption and transportation models used by the map in this blog post. The map is however a model and your Thanksgiving green beans and candied yams may not actually have been grown in the counties indicated by the Food Twin.

If you want to know more about the geography of your Thanksgiving meal then you should explore Esri's Mapping the Thanksgiving Harvest. This interactive map shows where your turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, potatoes, green beans, brussels sprouts, pumpkins and pecans were reared or grown.

Around 46 million turkeys are eaten every Thanksgiving. A large proportion of those turkeys come from Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Indiana. There is a very big chance that your sweet potatoes come from North Carolina, which grows more than half of all America's sweet potato crop.

What you actually eat for your traditional Thanksgiving meal will also be influenced by geography. For example if you live in the north or west then you will probably have cranberry sauce with your turkey; while those who live in the southern states will mostly be enjoying sweet potato casserole. Nearly everyone will be eating turkey - but how you prepare your turkey can also be shaped by where you live. If your turkey is smoked, roasted or fried probably depends on whether you live in the mid-west, the east coast or California.

If you want to know more about how where you live shapes your Thanksgiving menu then you should refer to the LA Times. The newspaper has used data from Google to determine the Thanksgiving foods searched for in different regions of the United States. You can read the results of their analysis in What will be on your Thanksgiving plate? It depends on where you’ll be. The article even includes a little tool which can show you the Thanksgiving foods that are most searched for in every state.

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