Giving Thanks: Celebrating a Conscious Thanksgiving

Why does a conscious Thanksgiving matter?

Well, 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.”

Celebrating a conscious thanksgiving


“In recent years Americans have been divided over how best to honor the holiday’s controversial origins, I believe we must all remember that it brings us something far more meaningful than history,” explains Lorena Junco Margain, author of On the Way to Casa Lotus. She says it can be an opportunity to pause and reflect upon the things we are grateful for, and on gratitude itself.

“This is a rare and beautiful tradition. There are so few other times in life set aside specifically for celebrating gratitude and inviting us to reflect upon and embrace it.”

In the spirit of being grateful for what we have, here’s how you can celebrate a more conscious Thanksgiving this year.

Think further than just the turkey and try to reduce excess and waste for the whole meal. Here are some steps to make sure you’re serving a more conscious Thanksgiving dinner.


“Running short of food at Thanksgiving is the last thing you’d want to do, but too many leftovers won’t fit in the fridge and can end up spoiling before they’re eaten,” explains Sandra Ann Harris, author of Say Goodbye to Plastic and founder of ECOlunchbox. If you’re new to portion planning, try using The Guest-Imator app by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The app will guide you through simple Q&A and based on your answers, the app will suggest how many dishes to prepare and in what quantities.


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 a win for everyone.


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.


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.


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. Here’s a super chance to get a responsibly raised, free-range turkey for free when you sign up for Butcher Box delivery service.

They deliver high quality hormone- and antibiotic-free cuts right to your door, including 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef, free range organic chicken, and heritage breed pork. You don’t have to get an order every month. The Green Child team members who subscribe to Butcher Box get an order every other month. You can cancel or skip delivery at any time.


Got leftovers and table scrapings? Compost your 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.


Disposables are expensive, and after being used once they represent an incredible waste of resources. Use that good china you registered for at your wedding. Or if you don’t have enough dishes and silverware to accommodate everyone, hit up your local Goodwill or borrow from a friend or family member.

And 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!


Lorena Junco Margain also shares, “The word Thanksgiving includes both “thanks,” and “giving.” Giving thanks is one thing. Giving love, support, and help to those in need elevates the spirit of the day to a whole new level. He who gives receives. An ungrateful heart lacks the capacity to truly give.


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.

Here are some thoughtful ideas that will really help you focus on gratitude.

  • 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 would otherwise be alone that day.
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter.
  • Remember your elderly neighbors. Visit a senior center or nursing home.
  • Go hiking. If the weather is right where you live, pack some snacks 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.


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 possible

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!

Do you have conscious Thanksgiving traditions that give back or are eco-friendly? Tell us about them in the comments.

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