This week, many of us will sit down to enjoy an indulgent meal with our families and friends, while reflecting on the many things we have to be thankful for. Around my Thanksgiving table, usually there is talk of family, good health, time spent together, and of course, having the next day off work to recover from a day of feasting.
I don’t think anyone has ever mentioned bees.
But considering that bees help produce about 80% of the food we consume, I think it’s time to express some appreciation!
This year, take a look around your Thanksgiving table, and send a silent thanks to the tiny workforce that has quietly enabled your meal.
Turkey, chicken, roasted ham, or prime rib: choices abound for the main dish of a Thanksgiving meal. As many consumers become educated about the dangers of corn-fed, antibiotic-loaded factory meats, they are choosing sustainable local meats, like pasture-raised turkeys, for the main dish at their table.
Bees are major contributors behind the lives of animals raised in pastures. Turkeys and other pasture-raised animals forage for seeds, fruits, acorns, and nuts: foods that would not be possible without the pollination of bees. So slather on a little more gravy, consider the (hopefully) happy, pasture-grazing life of your turkey, and thank the bees for their pollination efforts!
Some enjoy a sweet, brown sugar and marshmallow-topped version, while others prefer savory flavors; but either way, thank a bee for that squash, in whatever form it takes on your table. Each seed in the squash must be pollinated, and bees are definitely up for the job.
The pollinated seeds help the squash ripen and sweeten, making it edible (and delicious) for humans. And it’s not just squash: many other common vegetables are on your holiday table because of bees. Onions, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are just a few of the rewards of the bees’ labor.
While potatoes are not pollinated by bees, the creamy, rich texture of this Thanksgiving classic wouldn’t be possible without good old-fashioned butter and cream. We rely on cows for our dairy products, and where do they get their fuel?
That’s right: bee-pollinated grass. Butter is the glorious product that makes so many Thanksgiving foods possible. Creamy potatoes, flaky piecrust, homemade rolls (with a little extra butter on top; it is Thanksgiving, after all), and soul-warming vegetable casseroles all call for a hearty helping of butter. Without bees, our butter-less foods would be far less rich and flavorful.
Cranberry flowers are not capable of self-pollination, and rely on honeybees and bumblebees to move pollen between flowers. In fact, cranberry growers have to take special care to introduce bees to their cranberry crops at exactly the right time, otherwise the bees will move onto tastier nectar (like weeds in the area).
And even if the ridged, canned cranberry sauce is more your style for Thanksgiving (no judgment here!), it’s likely you will see other bee-pollinated fruits at your table. Apples, pears, strawberries, and peaches are all fruits of the bees’ hard labor. So serve up another slice of fruit pie, and thank a bee for the fresh, flavorful fruit inside.
Do you enjoy a little espresso with dessert (or a morning cup to help you wake up to throw the turkey in the oven)? Thank your buzzing friends for that jolt of caffeine. Coffee farmers have found that relying on bees instead of wind to pollinate their crops results in a higher yield and better quality of crop.
They have also found that bee pollination results in more uniform fruit, meaning that the farmers have to spend less time sorting out misshapen or deformed crop. Easier harvests, well-caffeinated humans, and happy bees: sounds like everyone wins when it comes to coffee.
It’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie, and bees run the behind-the-scenes operation to bring that delicious, spiced bite to your lips.
From the pumpkin itself (bees are the best and most reliable pollinators of pumpkin flowers), to the buttery crust, to the dollop of freshly whipped, vanilla flavored cream on top: bees help produce every element of the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert.
The Picturesque Table
All of the tasty elements of a Thanksgiving feast come together at a photo-worthy table. Believe it or not, that freshly pressed tablecloth and perfectly folded napkin are helped along in the early stages of their production by bees, which pollinate cotton plants.
The flickering candles, used to set the dining mood, may use wax from beehives as they burn. But you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to have your Thanksgiving production supported by bees. Bees could have helped develop the wood for the table that holds your happy family. While some trees rely on wind pollination, fragrant trees like cherry trees, basswood, chestnut, and willows trust their pollination needs to bees.
Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, and no creature is more deserving of our thanks than the hard-working bee. The time to appreciate them is now: Bees are suffering the effects of pesticides, malnutrition, and parasites, and dying in large numbers.
This phenomenon, called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is heart wrenching for bee-lovers and food lovers alike. Without bees, our Thanksgiving table would look very different. At the very least, it would be much more expensive. Who would do all that pollinating for free? And what would my household do without their beloved pumpkin pie?
So, how can you show your appreciation for these amazing creatures? The best way may be to start your very own beehive, and watch their pollination efforts with your own eyes. You may be surprised at your garden’s growth and yield!
If you are like me, you are just starting to learn about all the amazing benefits bees bring to our planet, and you may not be ready to bring bees into your abode just yet.
That’s okay, too! You can still be a steward of bees. Keep reading and learning about bees here at PerfectBee, and support the efforts of politicians and non-profit groups to learn more about CCD. On Thursday, share with your family some of the ways that bees have contributed to your special holiday meal.