Oh No! ‘Could Climate Change Ruin Thanksgiving Dinner?’

Warmer temperatures could affect just about everything you’ll see on the dinner table.


The cost and quality of Thanksgiving Day foods could eventually be affected by climate change.

Warmer temperatures can impact turkey meat texture, appearance and taste, research finds.

Water shortages could also lead to more costly plant-based foods and beverages.

Climate change could one day affect the cost and quality of dishes traditionally served for Thanksgiving Day dinner, suggests a recent paper in the journal Food Research International.

Pasty, dry turkey meat along with expensive fruits, vegetables and potatoes could be on the horizon if more variable extremes in regional weather patterns continue as a likely result of climate change, indicates author Neville Gregory.

The usual star of the Thanksgiving Day feast, roast turkey, could suffer in quality as a result.

“Climate change could affect meat quality in two ways,” Gregory, a professor in animal welfare physiology at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College, explains. “First, there are direct effects on organ and muscle metabolism during heat exposure which can persist after slaughter.”

Prior studies have demonstrated that heat stress can increase the risks of what’s known as “pale, soft, exudative” (PSE) meat. According to Purdue University Animal Sciences, PSE meat “is characterized by its pale color, lack of firmness, and fluid dripping from its cut surfaces. When cooked, this meat lacks the juiciness of normal meat.”

As a second climate change impact, Gregory believes “changes in livestock and poultry management practices in response to hazards that stem from climate change could indirectly lead to changes in meat quality.”

Pre-conditioning broilers to heat stress to encourage better survival during transport, for example, could lead to more variable breast meat taste, appearance and texture.

Earlier research by other scientists found that when turkey toms were heat stressed during the last five weeks of their rearing period, the lower quality PSE characteristics surfaced. When this condition didn’t develop, acute heat stress could, Gregory reports, “make breast meat tougher.”

Other studies mentioned by Gregory determined “that breast meat can be tougher following pre-slaughter heat stress, or that it may develop a stronger rigor.” Chewy turkey white meat could therefore be possible.

“Skin tears and muscle damage during plucking are more common during warmer months, especially in kosher slaughtered broilers which are not scalded to loosen the feathers,” Gregory mentions, again citing prior research. “The effect is probably due to weaker skin in birds grown during the warmer season.”

The pumpkins, sweet potatoes, potatoes, grains, green beans and other plant products associated with Thanksgiving dinner could also be affected by climate change, he said.

“These foods will be sensitive to water shortages should they arise,” Gregory told Discovery News. “In years when there are water shortages, their price will rise and local communities may have to import part of their needs to make up for the local shortfall in production.”

Anderson de Souza Sant’Ana, a member of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Sao Paulo, served as guest editor for the journal issue in which Gregory’s paper was published. The issue features numerous papers by scientists who present and discuss the possible impacts of climate change on all sorts of foods and beverages, such as wine.

“We wanted to bring this discussion closer to food scientists, so they could begin to deepen research aiming at understanding how the climate changes could affect the chemical, physical and microbiological properties of foods,” de Souza Sant’Ana explained to Discovery News.

While de Souza Sant’Ana reminds that this kind of climate change science is still in its relative infancy, he and his colleagues hope “to contribute to the mitigation of the effects of climate changes on foods and consequently to human health.”