In the spirit of giving thanks, here are several ways you can celebrate a greener and more conscious Thanksgiving this year.
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.”
“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.”
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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.
Plan Ahead to Reduce Food Waste
“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.
Choose Organic, Free Range, 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 usually better for your health.
These certifications also make sure that the workers producing them earn a living wage and their resources are not destroyed.
If your celebration includes meat, try to choose an animal that has lived a humane, healthy life. Look for a heritage turkey that’s been pasture-raised and free-range.
Use Leftovers and Compost Scraps
Make the most of leftovers. With a few flourishes (and maybe some sourdough bread), turkey sandwiches will be amazing for a few days after Thanksgiving.
Compost your food waste 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 the Thanksgiving Meal on Real Dishes
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!
Include an Element of Giving
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.
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.
Find more ideas on how to give back here.
Green Your Travel
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’s 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.
Download these free Thanksgiving coloring pages to entertain little ones during the holiday.