7 Tips for a More Sustainable Thanksgiving

Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey… our stomachs are all rumbling! As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and we begin planning out all of dishes that will land on our tables this year, it is also important to consider the impacts that our annual feast has on the planet. How many natural resources are consumed to grow all of the food we’re serving, and where does all the food we don’t finish end up? How can we gravitate towards a more eco-friendly holiday celebration? Check out these 7 tips to find out!

1. Give Tofurky a chanceImage result for turkey alternatives

It has been frequently proven that the mass production of meat places a significant strain on the environment, and turkey is no exception. In 2011, Americans alone ate 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, each of which produced roughly 10.89 lbs of CO2! That adds up to 500,940,000 lbs of CO2 emitted on just one day. Not to mention the 915,200 barrels of oil it takes to produce and transport all of those turkeys. Plant-based foods on the other hand result in much lower carbon emissions, making them a more sustainable way to eat. There are a bunch of imitation meats available for purchase that could easily replace your turkey entrée. Even if tofurkey isn’t your favorite option, think of ways to put one less meat-centered dish on the table. Think you can convince your family to give this a try on Thanksgiving?

2. Explore your local farmer’s market

Buying local (whenever possible) is a great way to lessen your impact on the earth for several reasons. First off, local food means fewer food miles, which in turn means lower greenhouse gas emissions. Conventionally grown food travels roughly 1500 miles from the farm to the plate of the consumer, compared to just 50 miles for local products. As a result, conventionally grown food uses anywhere from 4 to 17 times more fuel and emits 5 to 17 times more CO2 than local food does. Local, small-scale farms also tend to practice more sustainable farming methods like polyculture, no-till farming, and using compost as a natural fertilizer.

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3. Ditch the disposables

With so many different plates being served and with so many people at the table, Thanksgiving dinner can turn into a big pile of dishes almost instantaneously. So it’s not uncommon for regular plates, cups, napkins, and silverware to be swapped with disposables for the night. While avoiding lots of plate scraping and dishwasher loads is tempting, it is not the more environmentally friendly option. All the plastic we dispose of often ends up in our oceans, contributing to wildlife endangerment and water pollution. And the paper napkins and plates we use promote deforestation, biodiversity loss, and increased CO2 emissions. So instead of disposable tableware, opt for your favorite set of dishes this year. Sure, it’ll mean a little extra time spent at the sink, but you’ll rest easy knowing the earth is thanking you.

4.Image result for compost Grow what you throw

Every Thanksgiving, Americans throw away  282 million dollars worth of uneaten turkey, or about 204 million lbs. This meat contains about 105 billion gallons of water and is enough food to feed the entirety of New York City for more than 100 days. That’s a lot of food being wasted. Instead of simply throwing away your dinner scraps this year, take them to a composting center or even use them in your own backyard as organic fertilizer for your garden!

Image result for family walking outside

5. Avoid a food coma: get outside!

Many families like to celebrate Thanksgiving Day by watching a movie or a sports game on TV together. While that’s a great way to spend time with one another, try mixing it up this year and get outside for a while. Take a walk with your loved ones to a nearby park, enjoy some pre-dinner snacks on the front porch, or play frisbee or football in the crisp autumn air. The Thanksgiving holiday is all about expressing gratitude, so getting outside and embracing nature is a great way to give thanks to the earth!

6. Stay home for the weekend

Roughly 39,000,000 families travel every year for Thanksgiving. All of the people travelling by car drive an average of 588 miles, producing 10.8 billion total lbs of CO2. All of the people travelling by plane fly an average of 500 miles, producing 800 million total lbs of CO2. Though we all want to spend the holiday with the people we care most about, the burden that transportation places on the environment is hefty. Consider taking a trip to visit the relatives in Florida every other year rather than every year. Or maybe if you travel for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, narrow it down to one trip per year. If family is within reasonable driving distance, consider opting for a road trip rather than a flight, as the carbon emissions associated with driving are far less than those created by planes. 

7. Embrace Green FridayImage result for green friday

With the holiday season also comes the spending season. Black Friday, a day of BOGO sales and in-store madness, is taken advantage of by many. A recent study concluded that in 2015, there were 133,700,000 in-store and online shoppers for Black Friday, resulting in more than 71 billion dollars spent in a single day. While the thought of a new purse or flat screen for half the normal price may sound enticing, the environmental impacts of consumer spending are tremendous. Every product we buy is produced from Earth’s finite natural resources and each of those products is eventually disposed of, contributing to mass waste production and overflowing landfills. From the period of Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, humans produce 25% more waste than our average rate (which is already far from sustainable), resulting in an additional 1 million tons of waste dumped into landfills each week. So rather than participate in the Black Friday mania this year, keep your wallet and the earth happy by embracing Green Friday and reducing consumer purchases. 

Of course, not all of these tips are completely feasible for every individual out there, but hopefully they serve as some goals to work towards. So take the time to tweak just one of your Thanksgiving traditions this year, be it substituting turkey for tofu or simply spending some time in the beautiful outdoors. Lots of little changes amount to a much bigger impact, and together we can foster a greener, more sustainable Thanksgiving holiday!

Ellie Pumpkin

Ellie Pumpkin is a second year student majoring in Environmental Sciences and minoring in Conservation and Resource Studies. Having grown up in a rural area on the coast of northern California, Ellie has a lifelong love for the outdoors and all of the life it encompasses. She is passionate about both writing and environmental advocacy and is excited to merge those interests in a student organization platform. Aside from trying to survive her lower division STEM classes, Ellie spends her time journaling, finding new music, making a mess in the kitchen, chasing sunsets, or planning her next camping trip. Ellie Pumpkin covers ecology.

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