By Darci Palmquist
Thanksgiving is generally about three things: tradition, food and family (in no particular order). All of which can make it seem like a tough time to go green.
But look at it another way: new traditions need to start sometime, so what better day than Thanksgiving? Try going green (or greener) this year by incorporating some eco-friendly changes to your holiday shopping, food, decorations and travel with our easy — and fun — tips.
Yum…Turkey, Sweet Potatoes, Stuffing and More
First up: the meal. Make your holiday a little more Earth friendly by choosing an eco-theme for your feast, like one of our four outlined below — it's a fun way to start a new tradition with an environmental impact.
The Locavore: Eat Local and in Season
This means doing as much of your Thanksgiving Day shopping as possible at local farmers markets and farms — for food items like eggs, milk, veggies, turkey, potatoes, pie fillings and more.
The eco-benefits of eating locally? Food grown or raised in your region has fewer food miles: The carbon emissions associated with local foods are smaller. The plus for you is that local fruits and veggies usually taste better because they've been picked at the peak of freshness, rather than produce shipped from thousands of miles away that had to be picked before ripening.
What about the turkey, you say? There's a growing number of small farms that sell turkeys directly to the public. Localharvest.org has a searchable map so you can hone in on foods sustainably grown and raised near you.
The Tree-Hugger: Shop Organic
The benefits to your health might not be proven yet, but there's no doubt that organic agriculture is better for the landscape — fewer pesticides and other toxic chemicals seeping into soil and running off into rivers and lakes.
If you take on this eco-theme, remember to go organic from start to finish — and don't forget to include organic wines and other beverages on your menu!
When it comes to turkey, pasture-raised, organic turkeys are the way to go. Or consider buying a heritage turkey this year, defined as centuries-old breeds of turkeys that need to be raised over longer periods of time (unlike the sped-up rearing process of today's breeds).
The White Rabbit: Go Vegetarian
Eating vegetarian has been touted as one of the best ways to help save the planet. Conventional meat production is a major cause of deforestation and global greenhouse gas emissions — more so than the transportation sector, according to a 2006 study from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
So, whether you've been vegetarian for years, you want to make a statement this holiday, or you're ready to start a new daily diet, there are easy ways to have a vegetarian Thanksgiving:
- The feast usually has so many vegetable-based sides — mashed potatoes, caramelized brussel sprouts, roasted carrots, pumpkin soup, cranberry sauce and more — that you could easily go without a main course and feel completely satisfied. And have room left for dessert! Check out these veggie menu ideas.
- If you want to try out a turkey alternative, there are plenty of companies making tofurkey (described by Wikipedia as "a loaf of vegetarian protein"). See some of the options, plus recipes for preparing your fake bird.
The Full Monty: Eat Local, Organic AND Vegetarian
It's true, just one eco-theme above won't achieve maximum sustainability benefits. For instance, all local food is not necessarily organic, while organic food can be high in those food miles we mentioned earlier. What to do? Go whole hog (um, turkey) and do it all! It's the ultimate challenge for your new holiday tradition.
Now that you've chosen your theme, there's one more thing you need to decide: whether to use this as an opportunity to educate your dinner guests or not.
You could easily serve local food without saying a word to Aunt Flo and Uncle Jack. Or you could let them in on your secret and hopefully inspire others to adopt some greener habits. You don't have to preach — a subtle and fun way is to create labels for your dishes that indicate where the food came from.
It's Not Just About the Feast
What else is there to consider besides the delectables you'll be eating? Oh, just decorations, recycling, composting and travel. Here are a few quick tips to round out your big day:
Decorating: Use the beauty of nature instead of man-made plastic. Step outside and gather some pretty oak leaves and acorns to arrange on the table. Clip some branches and put them in a vase. Use squashes or gourds as centerpieces. Here are a few more ideas for nature decorations.
Make sure you burn candles made from soy or beeswax rather than paraffin candles, which are made from petroleum and produce more soot than these alternatives.
- Composting and Recycling: Do it! There's not much more to say on the subject matter — it helps reduce the amount of waste going to landfills every holiday. If you don't know how to compost, here are some easy tips for getting started.
Travel: Thanksgiving is often the biggest holiday for travel. And it's often something we won't compromise on just for eco-reasons. (Skip the family get-together because of climate change? That would never fly with my relatives.)
So offset the carbon emissions of your holiday travel. Websites like TerraPass, Carbonfund.org and The Nature Conservancy's own carbon calculator help you calculate the amount of carbon you emit and offer ways of offsetting those emissions.
If you're driving, check your air filter and make sure your tires are fully inflated; you'll reduce your carbon emissions and get better gas mileage.