For a holiday that’s all about gratitude, it’s rather ungrateful that we waste 200 million pounds of food each Thanksgiving.
“It undermines the spirit of the holiday and ignores the 50 million Americans who frequently don’t get enough to eat,” according to Food Tank. “The turkey we waste on Thanksgiving could provide a meal to every American in that category.”
In the spirit of being grateful for what we have, here’s how you can celebrate a more conscious Thanksgiving this year.
SERVE A RESPONSIBLE THANKSGIVING MEAL
Think further than just the turkey and try to reduce excess and waste for the whole meal.
Choose a vegetarian menu. Sure, this may run counter to your traditions, but it can be a great way to break out and try something new. Meat adds to your carbon footprint, and many turkeys live inhumane lives, so choosing to go meat-free is great for them, too.
Decolonize your Thanksiving. In As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, Dina Gilio-Whitaker reminds us that prior to colonization, Native people were some of the healthiest people in the world. Genocide, forced displacement, and industrialism led (first) to starvation in Indian country and (later) to dependence on foreign, unhealthy foods.
The loss of access to culturally-appropriate food sources went hand-in-hand with the loss of access to sacred places and traditional plant medicines. This rupture of Native peoples’ relationship with ancestral lands made way for an extractive, capitalist economy that put us on the path to the climate crisis and sixth mass extinction of the earth’s biodiversity. You can find resources to decolonize your Thanksgiving here.
Go organic and Fair Trade. Look for coffee, tea, fruits, baking ingredients, chocolate, and even your wine to come with certified organic and fair trade labels. These foods are better for the planet and better for the communities producing them, too.
Choose heritage, free range. If you can’t live without the turkey, at least go for one that’s had a humane, healthy life. Look for a heritage turkey that’s been pasture-raised and free-range. Your local farmer is the best bet for finding such birds or you can try a sustainable supplier like Butcher Box.
Compost. Got leftovers and table scrapings? Compost food waste of all varieties to further reduce the carbon footprint of your meal. If you don’t have a compost of your own, either start one or donate your food waste to a local farmer who can turn it into black gold.
Serve with real dishes and glasses. Disposables are expensive, and after being used once they represent an incredible waste of resources. If you worry about needing help with clean up, don’t share the best family gossip at the dining table, save it for the kitchen and dishwashing duty!
CELEBRATE AN ALTERNATIVE THANKSGIVING
If traditional Thanksgiving feels inauthentic or like a celebration of gluttony to you, even with these modifications, you might want to consider a completely different way to spend the day.
- Donate food to local organizations that feed the hungry.
- Help cook and serve a meal at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
- Invite to dinner someone who otherwise would be alone that day.
- Volunteer at an animal shelter.
- Remember your elderly neighbors, and visit a senior center or nursing home.
- Go hiking. If the weather is right where you live, pack some turkey (or Tofurky) sandwiches and head into the great outdoors to give thanks for nature’s life-sustaining wonder.
- Plant some trees. The dormant, leafless state they assume in autumn marks an ideal time for successful transplanting.
- Spend the day assembling care packages for U.S. troops overseas. One organization facilitating such care packages is Any Soldier, but the internet abounds with organizations that can help.
This section is less relevant this year, but we can always dream of future greener gatherings, right?
GREEN TRAVEL TO YOUR THANKSGIVING EVENT
In addition to having the dubious distinction of being the holiday to produce the most food waste throughout the entire year, it also is implicated in travel eco-ills.
More than 65 million people travel for Thanksgiving celebrations in the US, and that adds up to a lot of greenhouse gas emissions pushed into the atmosphere. You can reduce your Thanksgiving travel carbon footprint by taking some steps to make your holiday travel even more climate-friendly.
Choose a central location. If you’re bringing family together from far and wide, try to choose a location that’s central to everyone so that you minimize travel as much as possible. Or choose the place where the most people already live.
Use public transit. If you live within the same city as the celebrations, go by public transit rather than driving. Not only can this be safer (winter driving conditions and drunk drivers are both hazards), it is cheaper, too.
Choose rail over air. Traveling by motor coach or rail, especially if the distance is short, is usually less expensive and much better for the planet. Plus it can be a fun experience – especially for kids!
Carbon neutralize. Regardless of your travel choice, you may want to consider buying carbon offsets for the travel you’ve done. Choose ones that are certified by a third-party, such as those through Carbonfund, 3Degrees, or TerraPass.
Do you have conscious Thanksgiving traditions that give back or are eco-friendly? Tell us about them in the comments.