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The price of your Thanksgiving dinner — and where it came from

Thanksgiving dinner
The price of a basic Thanksgiving meal in 2016 fell to $49.87 as food prices mark the first annual drop in nearly 50 years.
(Los Angeles Times)

The cost of a basic Thanksgiving meal for 10 people dropped 24 cents, to $49.87, thanks to the first annual deflation in food prices in nearly half a century, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The consumer price index for supermarket food was down by 1.1% from last year’s annual rate, with little more than a month left to the year. The annual decline is likely to be between 0.25% and 1.25%, marking the first time U.S. retail food prices posted an annual deflation since 1967, the agency’s Economic Research Service said.

A strong U.S. dollar made U.S. goods less competitive abroad, leaving more in the domestic market, while low oil prices kept the cost of transportation and other factors lower, according to USDA.

Turkey prices dropped substantially from last year — 30 cents less for a 16-pound turkey — as the industry fully recovered from last year’s avian flu outbreak, according to the Farm Bureau. 

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U.S. dairies over-produced so much, the federal government spent $20 million to buy 11 million pounds of cheese, according to USDA. A Wall Street Journal analysis of USDA data suggests the dairy industry dumped as much as 43 million gallons of milk in the first eight months of this year.

The price slide is not expected to last through next year. USDA predicts retail food prices will rise by 0.5% to 1.5% in 2017.

The Farm Bureau survey, now in its 31st year, includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers. 

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In current dollars, the meal cost a high of $63.16 in 1986, and was below $50 from 1991 to 2010. 

Here’s a look at some of what may be on your plate this year:

A beginner’s guide to cooking a Thanksgiving turkey »

Turkeys

There are nearly enough turkeys raised in the U.S. for each person to have his or her own bird for Thanksgiving. 

The latest turkey census showed more than 286 million birds in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

North Carolina has the most turkeys, with more than 54 million birds. California ranks seventh, with a little more than 15 million birds. 

According to the National Turkey Foundation industry group, Americans eat about 16 pounds of turkey a year, a number that has been flat since the 2000s. The consumption has doubled from the 1970s, when the average was 8.1 pounds per year. 

It is the fourth-most consumed protein in the nation.

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Cranberries

First mass sold in 1914, cranberry sauce is now a mainstay. 

Wisconsin leads the nation in the number of acres used to produce cranberries, according to the USDA. The state was followed by Massachusetts and New Jersey. 

Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to the Americas. They grow in shrubs that can reach up to 7 feet tall. Although the berries are not grown in bogs, the fields are often flooded at harvest time because the berries float in water. 

The methods for commercial production of cranberries were developed by a group of farmers who later formed the brand Ocean Spray. 

Green beans

The production of green beans, or snap beans as called by the USDA, is spread nationwide. All but Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts and Mississippi have some amount of acreage devoted to the production of these beans. 

Wisconsin is the bean king, with more than 70,000 acres of beans, followed by Florida and New York.

The origins of the ubiquitous green been casserole comes from 1955, when recipe pamphlets were the “tasty” videos of that era. Dorcas Reilly created the recipe that was inspired by various Minnesotan hot dish recipes.

Thinking of Thanksgiving sides? Try this roasted garlic smashed potatoes recipe »

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Mashed potatoes

In nearly every Thanksgiving meal, the starch is the spiritual center to the dish. 

Idaho makes the most potatoes, with 30% of all potatoes grown in that state. Other northern states follow Idaho’s lead.

Only three states in the nation do not produce any potatoes: Connecticut, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Mashed potatoes have been a part of the western diet since Spanish conquistadors brought the spud back to Europe from South America.

One of the earlier mentions of “mashed” potatoes was in the 1747 English cookbook “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” by Hannah Glasse. The recipe was more of a custard, as it called for the addition of sugar, eggs and some brandy. 

geoffrey.mohan@latimes.com

daniel.wheaton@sduniontribune.com

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