Can you believe it’s that time of the year again? Thanksgiving, a time for family gatherings, eating until your pants don’t button, food coma-induced naps and football watching on the sofa and filling your fridge with leftovers that inevitably end up in the trashcan. Why do we use Thanksgiving as an excuse to be bad to our bodies and the planet? These overeating and food wasting holiday habits compromise the issues that are important to us. If you want to try a different approach this year, here are some tips to make sure your Thanksgiving is a healthy and sustainable one.
1. Rethink your main dish
According to this report, we produce and consume 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. The only way we can produce this many turkeys for one day is through factory farming. And that mean overuse of antibiotics, animal cruelty and massive amounts of turkey waste runoff. Yuck! Consider ditching the turkey this year and substituting with a vegetarian main dish. Think roasted sweet potatoes or squash with quinoa stuffing… it’s nutrient-dense, hearty and packed with protein.
If a turkey-free Thanksgiving just isn’t possible with your family and friends, there are other sustainable options. Buy a heritage turkey from a small-scale, local farmer practicing humane turkey breeding. Or buy an organic, free-range turkey. Buying organic ensures the turkey has been fed organic feed and has never been treated with antibiotics. Free-range ensures the turkey was raised free of confinement. Many grocery stores and natural grocers carry organic and free-range turkeys.
2. Buy local produce
Support your local farmers and communities by purchasing your fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets. If you don’t have access to farmer’s markets, be mindful of the origin of your fruits and veggies when shopping in grocery stores. Also buying foods that are in-season is more sustainable because they don’t require transport by planes or semi-trucks emitting harmful fumes into the atmosphere. Some of the most common Thanksgiving side-dishes are actually in-season, like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash and cranberries.
3. Buy Fair Trade
For those ingredients you can’t find at your local farmer’s market, be sure to buy Fair Trade Certified. By buying fair trade chocolate, quinoa, rice, sugar, coffee, tea, coconuts, bananas, mangos, seafood, etc, you’re supporting small-scale producers around the globe, ensuring they’re paid a fair living wage for their labor. Fair trade is a tangible contribution to the fight against poverty and climate change. Every single purchase you make can have a positive impact. Learn more at befair.org and look for these labels:
4. Eat mindfully
Don’t overdo it. We’re so accustomed to making enough food to feed the whole neighborhood during Thanksgiving. We end up with mountains of leftovers that ultimately get thrown away when we find them in the back of the fridge in late December. Reduce your food waste footprint this year by cooking less, not overeating, composting food scraps, and being mindful of leftovers in the days following Thanksgiving.
5. Use cloth napkins
Avoid unnecessary waste by using reusable dinnerware, glasses and napkins. Ditch those paper plates and plastic forks and breakout the china and silver. No, but seriously, if your family is accustomed to using disposable dinnerware to avoid a big cleanup at the end of the night, think about how much waste you can avoid just by using regular plates and silverware. Substitute paper napkins and paper towels with reusable cloth napkins and dish towels. And use glass tags or markers so people don’t lose track of their glass and reach for a new one every 20 minutes.
6. Drink local water
Ironically, Americans spend $13 billion on bottled water, much of which is actually tap water but has the added bonus of a chemical leaching plastic shell. Bottled water creates mountains of plastic waste that will live on this planet for thousands of years. Drink tap water this Thanksgiving and if you’re concerned about water quality, use a filter on your tap.
And for those bubbly water fans in the house, avoid buying bottled sparkling water that was shipped from all over the world (Italy, France, etc). You can make your own sparkling water at home with one of the many soda water makers on the market.
7. Get moving
Instead of watching the football game in a food comatose on the couch, throw on a coat and get outside to toss the ball around with your friends and family. Or take a walk around the neighborhood, take the kids to the park or find a nearby hiking trail to explore.
There are lots of ways to kick off a responsible holiday season. Making sure you’re serving healthy and sustainable food is a move we can all be grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving! And please post any additional tips you have for having a sustainable Thanksgiving below.