Dear EarthTalk: Any tips for how to make my Thanksgiving greener and less wasteful this year?
—Melissa W., Boston, MA
Ah, Thanksgiving! For many of us, it’s the favorite holiday because it revolves around togetherness and inclusiveness and preparing and eating our favorite foods—and usually doesn’t include any overt commercialism. But just because you don’t have to buy and wrap gifts doesn’t mean Thanksgiving is necessarily green, although there are lots of little things you can do to make it more that way.
Menu planning is a good place to start. Hard core environmentalists would go meatless, of course, given the greenhouse gas and natural resource burden of raising livestock, not to mention animal cruelty. The non-profit farm animal advocacy group, Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), suggests swapping out the turkey with something meatless like Turtle Island Foods’ Tofurky, a pre-cooked tofu-wheat protein blend, Field Roast’s vegetable-based Celebration Roast, or Gardein’s Veggie Turkey Breast.
For the rest of us who are still eating meat and can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without some real turkey or tenderloin, just eat less of it and fill up your plate with other healthy vegetable-based sides.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan and going to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, FARM says to let your host know you don’t eat animal products ahead of time: “You can help by asking what you can bring and how you can help prepare the meal.” Go to FARM’s Compassionate Holidays website to download one or more of the group’s holiday-worthy recipes (old-fashioned stuffing, green bean casserole, vegan gravy, creamy mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce)—all free of animal products.
Another way to reduce the environmental impact of your Thanksgiving is to shop locally (to reduce the “food miles” and carbon footprint of your dinner) and stick to organic foods (which don’t require harmful pesticides and herbicides to grow). The Nature Conservancy suggests doing as much shopping as possible at local farmers markets and farms: “The plus for you is that local fruits and veggies usually taste better because they’ve been picked at the peak of freshness, rather than shipped from thousands of miles away” and picked before ripening. Finding foods grown sustainably and locally is as easy as steering your web browser to the LocalHarvest.org website and zeroing in on your region on the searchable local foods map.
And then there’s the issue of waste. While Thanksgiving might not be as much of a retail packaging waste nightmare as Christmas, it more than makes up for that in its abundant amounts of food-related waste. Earth911 suggests buying food in bulk if you’re hosting a large crowd so as to reduce packaging waste while saving money—and to bring your own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store so you aren’t reliant on disposable paper or plastic bags. Meanwhile, Harvard University’s Office of Sustainability says that cutting disposable dinnerware, glasses and napkins will also eliminate considerable amounts of waste.
Thanksgiving is a good reminder that we all have a lot to be thankful for, and it only makes sense to show your gratitude to the environment by honoring nature as much as possible—before, during and after your Thanksgiving celebration.