With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many Americans are already awaiting the feasts that come with one of our most indulgent holidays. However, with so much excitement and anticipation in the air, we often forget to consider how to ensure that this annual feast is one that the planet can keep providing for generations to come.
On such an important day for food and family, Thanksgiving is not only an opportunity to enjoy the holiday season but also a chance to honor and celebrate the planet.
Here are some ideas to upgrade your celebrations and have a more sustainable Thanksgiving feast:
1. Buy local and eat the rainbow
Visiting your local farmer’s market and buying local (when possible) is a great way to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving feast. Buying locally and seasonally produced foods means fewer food miles, reducing CO2 emissions. The average piece of produce in the US travels 1500 miles, while local produce travels just 50 miles on average. Plus, buying local food helps boost the local economy, support farmers, and preserve green space. That said, buying local can be expensive. If a lot of your local choices are above your budget, even buying just a few items (rather than your whole produce list) is still worth the effort and can make a difference.
And of course, when it comes to buying your food, prioritize your fruits and veggies. Choosing plant-based foods is an important part of creating a sustainable feast. While you may not be keen to scrap the traditional Turkey, you can still make vibrant side dishes that are indulgent and good for the planet too. If you do not follow a plant-based diet, consider filling your plate with a little less meat this time around and filling up with more veggies instead.
2. Use the good dishes
This is an easy one: bring out the good china, use cloth napkins and ditch disposable cookware, plastic wrap, and tableware. Also if you are having Thanksgiving at someone else’s house, consider bringing your own reusable containers for leftovers.
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If you are pushed to go for disposable items, choose to go with biodegradable plates that can be composted.
3. Keep it simple
For those in the kitchen, Thanksgiving can be anything but fun because there is so much pressure to produce a huge Turkey and crank out dozens of different side dishes. Don’t make extra work for yourself and instead, approach this Thanksgiving with the aim to have as little waste as possible. First off, consider getting a smaller turkey and let the side dishes become the center of the show – it’s always been about the mashed potatoes and pie, anyway. Then, think back to some of the less-popular dishes and leave out the ones that come to mind. You’ll be thankful you cut yourself some slack!
4. Have a plan for leftovers
In the US, food is the single-largest component of waste in landfills and a staggering 133 billion pounds of food is wasted every year. Plan ahead and find some recipes to make use of your leftovers. Consider making stock from turkey bones, leftover thanksgiving salad or breakfast hash with leftover stuffing. Ask your guests to bring tupperware with them and take full advantage of your freezer by freezing portions of food that can be reheated for a quick meal.
5. Avoid a food coma: eat mindfully and get outside
Thanksgiving is traditionally a day for overindulging and eating to excess, but if you begin your meal with the intention to enjoy each bite with purpose, you’ll find that you don’t have to unbutton your pants after dinner. Also, instead of going into a food coma in front of the television, consider going for a walk outside with your loved ones. Since Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to expressing gratitude, connecting with nature alongside your loved ones is the easiest way to give thanks and honor the earth.
6. Honor the history of Thanksgiving
Lastly, having a sustainable Thanksgiving means more than planning a climate-friendly menu. It begins with how we observe the holiday and requires us to recognize the uncomfortable truths behind the holiday’s history. The fight to save the planet is inextricably linked to the fight for social, economic, and racial justice. Native Americans are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and have spent decades fighting for environmental preservation, clean water protection, and the expansion of fossil fuels.
Many Native American communities consider Thanksgiving to be a National Day of Mourning and use the day to commemorate the genocide of millions of Native people and honor the modern struggles of those that survive today. Unfortunately, the false historical narratives that are taught to many of us about Thanksgiving continue to perpetuate harm to indigenous communities and erase their voices.
This Thanksgiving, consider beginning your meal by formally acknowledging the original caretakers of America and their enduring struggle for equal rights and climate change resilience. Simply by amplifying the truth behind Thanksgiving you are already working towards a better future. If you are feeling particularly inspired, you can also consider making a family donation to the Native American Rights Fund or the Indigenous Environmental Network.