Showing gratitude for bees this Thanksgiving

Many Thanksgiving favorites wouldn’t be the same without bees

As family and friends gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, it’s important to remember what got you to that table. Sure it’s the hard cooking labor in the kitchen and the difficult travel some family members took to get there. But we should also set aside time to reflect on some smaller, unheralded creatures that made our meal possible. Simply put, bees have made numerous contributions to most families’ hearty Thanksgiving feasts. Without bees, some of our signature holiday dishes would even lose their namesake ingredients -- such as the pumpkin in pumpkin pie. 

In fact, if you go down your Thanksgiving list, the bee plays an indispensable role at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Below is a list of foods that rely on bees:

  • Green bean casserole: onions
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Stuffing: onions
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Roasted vegetables: brussels sprouts, carrots
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Apple pie
  • Coffee

From the savory to the sweet, bees make the delicious foods on our plate possible. These bee-pollinated staples add color and nutrition to our plates year-round.

Thanksgiving staples that need bees. Yellow labels indicate ingredients that rely on bees. Blue labels show foods that have an indirect but often complementary relationship with bees.


While a bee-less Thanksgiving would still have the centerpiece turkey and a few sides, they would be less flavorful without pollinators. The butter used in creamy mashed potatoes and soft dinner rolls, as well as other dairy products, gets a big assist from bees that pollinate the alfalfa that feeds cows.

In addition, a farm turkey’s diet typically has a base of corn and soy, neither of which needs bees to grow, but visits from those pollinators can boost crop yields for soy. And what’s more, many of the herbs used to season the bird, including thyme, rosemary and sage, are bee favorites.

Wine connoisseurs and novices, like myself, can thank bees for contributing to the age-old beverage as well. Grapes are not directly pollinated by bees, but the cover crops used to enhance vineyards’ performance and wine flavors rely on bees.

Nature’s best pollinators help create the flavors of Thanksgiving. Above, a bee pollinates apple blossoms.

Despite how much they have to offer to our Thanksgiving feast and beyond, bees face challenges that are putting them in peril. Pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change are among the major factors that hurt bees.

The United States has 4,000 species of native bees, yet more than half of species examined are in decline. Honey bees are also faring poorly. Last year, U.S. beekeepers reported losing 45.5% of their colonies, which was the second highest annual loss rate on record.

As we give thanks for bees this holiday season and look ahead to making our new year resolutions, there are a few ways you can help save these pollinators.

  1. Plant a bee-friendly garden. Gardens are havens for bees and other pollinators. Incorporating a variety of flowering plants helps support many bee species. Contact your local nursery for native plants that are favorites of bees.

  2. Reduce your pesticide use. Aim to create a low- to no-pesticide yard to avoid the unintended negative consequences pesticides often have on bees. And this Thanksgiving, consider adding organic foods to your cart, since these foods avoid synthetic pesticides known to harm bees.

  3. Call your elected officials. Make your voice heard by picking up the phone and calling your elected officials -- city, state or federal -- to urge them to support initiatives to increase bee habitat or reduce pesticide use.

During this Thanksgiving dinner, and the many meals of leftovers that follow, I hope you share my renewed appreciation for bees and take the next step to help ensure these amazing creatures thrive.

 

Top photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.