By Megan Hansens
Since harvest has been over for my farming family for a few weeks, I've had more time to think about the upcoming holidays and all the planning involved with them. Thanksgiving and a table full of traditional Thanksgiving food is what kicks off the holidays for us. But something that I've given even more thought to than usual this year is the fact that we often take for granted what we need to be thankful for everyday.
As we enjoy this holiday season, I feel that we should be reminded that when it comes to our food, we are truly blessed. While it's easy to sit down to holiday meals, give thanks, and dig into delicious dishes without a second thought, this year, I'd like to encourage you to take a step further and not only be thankful for the food, but also be thankful for what it represents for all of us.
More time is often given to the preparation of food for the holidays. But I'm so thankful that though I may spend extra hours in the kitchen, it's a small price to pay for the fact that I didn't have to raise, grow, and harvest each and every fruit, vegetable, protein, dairy and fiber product on my table. The time and resources it would take for me to actually raise a turkey (or a pig, cow or chicken), and all the vegetables and grains my family likes to celebrate the holidays with is not necessary today thanks to our farmers and the food production industry.
It's not something to take for granted either! Are you a person who is thankful for your career? If farmers weren't able to provide as much food as they do (one farmer today feeds 161 people!), you would be stuck much closer to home nurturing a garden, an orchard, and raising your own livestock in order to feed your family not only on the holidays but every day of the year.
I'm also grateful that in the United States not only is our food readily available, but it is also more affordable compared to other areas around the world. Before I go any further I'm cognizant of the fact that there are many who cannot afford three meals a day in our country.
I myself keep a close eye on my own grocery budget each week. But according to USDA statistics, the average American spent just 6.8 percent of their personal consumption expenditures on food compared to France (13.2 percent), Japan (14.8 percent), Mexico (22.7 percent), Russia (29 percent) and Cameroon (46.9 percent).
Not only is our food available and affordable but it is considered safer than ever before. Farmers and food industry groups work to produce safe food and the federal government sets safety standards, conducts inspections, ensures that standards are met and maintains a strong enforcement program to deal with those who do not comply with standards.
The turkey and other meat products you and I will enjoy this holiday season have come from establishments that are required to develop and implement written sanitation standard operating procedures. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meat processors in the U.S. spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year on food safety measures.
The potatoes, green beans, and other vegetables and fruits that are the main ingredients for so many holiday side dishes and desserts are also carefully regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 1998, the FDA published its voluntary guidelines for good agricultural practices (GAPs) to reduce microbial contamination. This FDA program has been updated several times since 2002. Many retail and food service buyers now require that farmers show compliance with GAPs. These buyers also may demand food safety practices that exceed the GAP guidelines.
I don't second-guess my food when I put dinner on the table on a normal weekday evening and I won't second-guess it this holiday season either. I feel extremely blessed to live in a country where our food is available, affordable and safe to consume.
I pray that your holiday season is joyful, your tables are laden with the bounties of harvest and your conscience is aware of what we are blessed with every single day.
Megan Hansens has been a member of the Champaign County Farm Bureau for 9 years.She is married to Doug, who is a corn and soybean farmer in Champaign and McLean counties, and she is a stay-at-home mom to their three young children.