Who grows the most Thanksgiving foods these days?

Turkey, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cranberries, apples, potatoes, green beans, and corn: Where did they originate and which countries grow ’em now? Gobble, gobble.


The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of turkey. Turkeys are an indigenous animal to North America (specifically forested regions of Mexico and the United States). These U.S. states are the top five producers within the country today:

  1. Minnesota
  2. North Carolina
  3. Arkansas
  4. Missouri
  5. Virginia

Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are a collective category covering a wide range of cultivated items. Gourds tend to be Old World in origin — even the pre-Columbian American varieties either migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge from Asian origins or floated across the Atlantic from Africa. “Pumpkins” (the British colonial-era name for a bright orange type of squash) and squash in general are all indigenous to North America. Pumpkins have been found in Mexico for millennia. Today, however, most of the world gets their pumpkins, squash, and gourds from major emerging market producers of the Old World. Notably, though, no African country cracks the top 5 list, despite the inclusion of gourds, but gourds are also very common across Asia:

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Russia
  4. Iran
  5. United States

Sweet potatoes (or yams) are sometimes substituted for pumpkin/squash at the Thanksgiving table or are sometimes included alongside them. Like ordinary potatoes, sweet potatoes were domesticated in South America. Remarkably, however, sweet potatoes made the jump to Polynesian islands in the Pacific well before the Western arrival in the New World, indicating strongly that Polynesian explorers landed in pre-Columbian South America and returned home with the crop. This early start in Polynesia helped sweet potato later become a major crop in nearby southeast Asia, including Indonesia. While China again tops the present-day producer list, this category is Africa’s moment to shine, as several African countries have incorporated yams firmly into their cuisine.

  1. China
  2. Tanzania
  3. Nigeria
  4. Uganda
  5. Indonesia

Cranberries remain strongly associated, in terms of production, with their natural homes in the United States and Canada. The early United States saw the conversion of the wild marsh crop (previously gathered by Native Americans and First Nations peoples) into a farmable wetland production, which began exporting cranberries all over the world, where they caught on. The Russian Empire, in particular, tried its own hand at cranberry production and that legacy can still be seen in the runners-up.

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. Belarus
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. Latvia

Apples are one of the few food items commonly associated with modern Thanksgiving that did not originate in the Americas at all, with the exception of crabapples (which are generally not consumed). Wild apples come from Central Asia (including what is now western China) and a wide number of wild species have been domesticated and bred down into various edible selections. China is far and away the largest producer of apples in the world. Distant second-place United States — “as American as apple pie” — has had edible, domesticated apples for less than four hundred years, unlike most of the rest of the modern Thanksgiving selection foods. In fact, apples were not grown in New England until several years after the first Thanksgiving.

  1. China
  2. United States
  3. Turkey
  4. Poland
  5. Italy

Potatoes have become a global staple over the past several hundred years, but they originated in South America. Today, wild species can be found from Chile to the United States, but they all came from a single strain in Peru or Bolivia, which is also where they were domesticated many thousands of years ago.

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Russia
  4. Ukraine
  5. United States

Green beans (known elsewhere as string beans or snap beans) are from Central and South America (domesticated in two separate locations) and were introduced to the rest of the world by Christopher Columbus on his second trip back from the Americas. Today the top producers are:

  1. United States
  2. France
  3. Morocco
  4. Philippines
  5. Mexico

The United States is also, unsurprisingly, the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn (maize), but 97% of U.S. corn production is not for direct human consumption. There are various animal or industrial uses for all that U.S. corn production not going to people. Mexico is a big producer of White Corn, particularly for use in tortillas and other Mexican cuisine. Maize was domesticated over several centuries of careful breeding in Mexico many thousands of years ago, with several varieties from a single strain, and became important to regional trade between indigenous groups. It remains North America’s largest grain crop, and human genetic modification is still a major influence to present day.

Statistical Data Sources: FAOSTAT (2013 top 5 producers data for each crop), AgMRC (Turkey and Corn)

Mapping indigenous lands

World Resources Institute and a dozen other groups have launched a collaborative mapping project to document indigenous lands all over the globe. Incredibly exciting!

…up to 65 percent of the world’s land is held by Indigenous Peoples and communities, yet only 10 percent is legally recognized as belonging to them. The rest, held under customary tenure arrangements, is largely unmapped, not formally demarcated, and therefore invisible to the world. Starting today, anyone can view the detailed coordinates and borders of indigenous and community lands around the world using LandMark (www.landmarkmap.org), the first online, interactive global platform to map collectively held lands.


In BC, indigenous resistance to pipelines on traditional lands

“In British Columbia, indigenous group blocks pipeline development” | Al Jazeera America – August 2015:

Since June, the Unist’ot’en clan has prevented work crews from accessing traditional territories that oil companies see as key to Canada’s future

My quick summary of the story: Indigenous Canadians from the Unist’ot’en clan are physically re-occupying land, stolen from them over a century ago, to prevent environmentally destructive energy development by the Harper government and oil companies.

No wonder Prime Minister Harper reacted so angrily last year when the United Nations reminded him he is bound to receive “Free, prior and informed consent” from First Nations peoples when Canadian federal policies affect them and their sovereign nations. Free, prior, and informed consent tends to stop things like pipelines.

Best quote: “This is Unist’ot’en territory. It’s not Canada. It’s not B.C.”

Not everyone in the Nation, of course, is happy with the resistance. Some chiefs seemed more supportive of the oil companies than of the efforts to block the pipeline, claiming it would be economically beneficial to their Nation.


Report out on Canada’s historical abuse of indigenous people

ThinkProgress, “The Canadian Government Systematically Tortured And Abused Aboriginal Children For 100 Years”:

This process of “cultural genocide” was one major objective behind the Canadian government’s support of residential schools for Aboriginal children, according to a damning report released by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Tuesday.

The children’s cultural identity was not the only thing that suffered at the schools — First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children were brutalized through physical abuse, sexual violence, derogatory language, meager food, and a deliberate attempt to rid them of their cultural identities. The commission found that at least 3,201 students died while at the schools, often because of abuse and neglect.

Families were often coerced by police into sending their children to these schools as part of a policy, intended, “not to educate them, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity,” according to the commission’s findings. The schools functioned first under the purview of various churches, and then with the support of the government from 1883 until 1998.
“Seven generations of children went through these schools and we have said that coming to terms with this past, in a way that allows for there to be a much more mutually respectable relationship is going to take, perhaps, generations as well,” Justice Murray Sinclair, who heads the commission, told NPR.

The program was not officially ended until 1998 (!), although it was wound down in most places in the early 1980s (hence the “100 years” figure above). Meanwhile, as recently as last fall, Canada’s Conservative-led government was upset that they might have to consult native peoples on policies under their existing treaty obligations to the federation’s indigenous communities and sovereign nations.


Canada gov’t upset that they might have to consult native peoples on things

Canada’s Conservative government did not seem thrilled about the results of a recent UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. They didn’t exactly shout their displeasure from the rooftops, but it got dug up pretty quickly all the same. According to the Manitoba-based APTN [Aboriginal Peoples Television Network] National News report, headlined “Ottawa buries official statement criticizing UN conference for giving Indigenous people too much power”, here is what the government said:

“Free, prior and informed consent…could be interpreted as providing a veto to Aboriginal groups and in that regard, cannot be reconciled with Canadian law, as it exists,” said Canada’s official statement. “Agreeing…would commit Canada to work to integrate (free, prior and informed consent) in its processes with respect to implementing legislative or administrative measures affecting Aboriginal peoples. This would run counter to Canada’s constitution, and if implemented, would risk fettering Parliamentary supremacy.”

The statement also reiterated Canada’s position that the UN declaration on Indigenous rights was merely an “aspiration document” that had no force in Canada.

I realize that, as U.S. person, I’m not up on all the nuances of Canadian federalism — though I do try — but to me it seems pretty straightforward: This is not a run-of-the-mill pressure group or provincial/territorial government trying to block things from parliament; rather, this is about obtaining consent for major governmental policy actions that will directly affect the First Nations, Inuit, or Métis peoples who have gotten the short end of the stick for the vast majority of Canadian history in the past two-hundred fifty plus years. Moreover, this trend has rebounded under the Harper government, according to Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (in Eeyou Istchee), in his reaction to the above statement on the Conference:

For years, the Harper government has refused to consult indigenous rights-holders on crucial issues, especially when it involves international forums. This repeated failure to consult violates Canada’s duty under Canadian constitutional and international law.

It would seem to me that special consideration and consultation — even tantamount to a “veto” option — should be given out of fairness, to ensure that a marginalized and self-governing population doesn’t get steamrolled by government decision-making every time. Failure to do so seems way more “counter to Canada’s constitution” (or the spirit of it anyway).

Plus, as I understood it, the organized indigenous nations are theoretically — much as in the United States — sovereign entities within but apart from the surrounding country, which have treaty with the federal government of Canada (or the provincial/territorial governments). That should, by definition, give them a veto anyway. At the point where you are making treaties with another entity, that entity has pretty much been de facto recognized as having the legitimate ability to object to the terms or execution. If that weren’t the case, then there would be no authority to make the treaty in the first place, and then it would be an illegitimate, coercive treaty made under duress.

Feel free to correct me if I’m missing some core constitutional element here, but it seems like a matter of human decency regardless.