10 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving | Civil Eats

10 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving

Since I started this holiday tips tradition a few years ago, the sustainable food movement continues to transform fields of corn, soy and CAFOs to more verdant, bountiful lands filled with organic produce, heirloom greens and pasture-raised livestock. Countless more school and community gardens have sprouted up. Hundreds of local groups are transforming food deserts by bringing in supermarkets and community gardens.  Thousands of people are gleaning public fruits for food pantries across the country. And there’s plenty more backyard farmers with their personal chicken coops, goat shelters, fruit trees and raised beds.

This is in light of the gloomy news that approximately two-thirds of all Americans are overweight or obese and 17 million households are food insecure (meaning they don’t have regular access to food). This year’s holiday tips offer more ways to make your Thanksgiving meal an opportunity to support sustainable agriculture, reduce your water use and go on a low carb(on) diet.

Eat organic. We’ve all heard it before but it’s pretty simple. Eating organic doesn’t pollute our drinking water or air, reduces your carbon dioxide emissions , protects farm workers and is safer for humans. And, best of all, it tastes better.

Meet a farmer. Take a trip to your local farmers’ market to savory locally grown produce and handcrafted goods, meet farmers in your community and stock up on goodies for your holiday meal. Best of all, it’s one of the most interesting and exciting ways to keep kids preoccupied during your holiday shopping.

Celebrate endangered species.  Help to keep our food chain diverse and support local culinary traditions by consuming nearly-forgotten endangered beauties like the Wilson Popenoe Avocado, Hauer Pippin Apple and Algonquin Squash.

Skip Meat. Yes, it might be sacrilegious to suggest that people opt-out of eating meat on Thanksgiving. However, factory farming (where most turkeys live their miserable lives before ending up on your dining room platter) is inhumane. Livestock is responsible for one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions.  If it’s too much for you to go meat-free on Thanksgiving, start the following week with Meatless Mondays.

Adopt-a-Turkey. Whether or not you decide to eat turkey during Thanksgiving, some lucky farm animals were rescued from the cruel, inhumane conditions of industrial farms. They are now enjoying blissful, grassy fields at farm sanctuaries and need your support.

End Hunger Year Round.  Thanksgiving sparks countless effort to serve meals and donate canned goods to local food banks.  Unfortunately, food pantries alone will not solve our nation’s hunger crisis. Support groups like Mazon, Bread for the World and Meals on Wheels which are delivering meals to millions of people every day but also working to change the system so that there is no hunger in America.

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Save your scraps.  The average US family wastes $600 in food annually. Rather than throwing out uneaten fruits and veggies, transform them in a compost bin. City green compost bins are on the path to being nearly as ubiquitous as blue recycling bins. Or get your own bin and transform your scraps into gorgeous dirt that will make your plants quite happy.

Grow.  So, now that you have a compost bin, it probably makes sense to have a place to put that mulch. Whether your choosing to start simple with some herbs (pretty hard to kill) or more challenging crops like lettuce or root vegetables, all you need is a windowsill , a little plot of yard or community garden spot and some sunshine to start growing.

Drink local water. Ironically, Americans spend $18 billion on bottled water, much of which is actually tap water but has the added bonus of the plastic’s toxic chemicals leaching into the water. Bottled water creates mountains of plastic which will be here for thousands of Thanksgiving meals to come.  If you’re concerned about the quality of your drinking water, opt for a filter on your tap.

Share your own tips! This list is hardly exhaustive so please share your ideas and resources for a sustainable Thanksgiving for all.

Happy eating!

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Photo: Mr. T in DC via Flickr

Sarah Newman is a vegetarian locavore living in Los Angeles where she frequents the 18th street farmers market. She works as a researcher and blogger at Participant Media, producer of Food, Inc. Read more >

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  1. Check out The Dinner Garden for sustainable eating!!! www.dinnergarden.org for veggies grown right outside your kitchen door!!!
  2. Steven
    It is impossible to be a vegetarian locavore in the Northeastern US, since almost nothing grows locally from November through May. So what's the better environmental option, humanely raised grass fed meat, dairy, and eggs locally sourced, or fruits, greens and grains shipped across the country?
  3. Josephine
    This is a great article! Direct and straight to the point. When you offer simple tips with an explanation to how these changes can benefit people and the environment, you can't help but reflect on your own lifestyle and want to make adjustments.

    These are a number of simple ways to live a healthier and greener life and this article lists a lot of easy tips that can be done right away!

    I'm glad the sustainable food movement continues to grow and that the change will become more visible as the years go by. Even to this day, I've been seeing more and more bicyclists on the road and that itself is a hopeful sign that people are beginning to opt for a healthier and greener lifestyle.
  4. Kelly Tuke
    Thanksgiving calls for a huge grocery bill. Often eating organic and purchasing locally grown greens (particularly in the Northeast) is extremely expensive. Are there any tips on where families can find sustainable yet also affordable options this thanksgiving?
  5. keylor
    harvest and eat wild game.
  6. Leslie
    Has anyone ever heard of freezing or canning produce when it is in season. I have a basement full of sweet potatoes, squash and potatoes, tomatoes are canned, as well as homemade jam and pickles, not to mention all the corn and beans in the freezer. You want an affordable, sustainable Thanksgiving? Start planning for it in JUNE!
  7. Thank you for the reminders! My husband laughed at me when I drove 45 minutes to buy apples today--which I agree, seems ridiculous. Still, they were sustainably raised, and I bought A LOT--3 pecks plus another smaller bag and apple cider. It was worth it to me to stock up for the winter, since we'd depleted our supply. Our turkey is free range organic, and crazy expensive...but again, it's important to me to support our local farmers. Lettuce will be from our garden. We're trying--we aren't perfect, but we're working toward a healthy, sustainable Thanksgiving! Happy holidays!
  8. PoorlilRobin
    Leslie!! Thank you Thank you!
    Canning makes me feel so proud of me!! People often complain about the cost but this only costs me effort. I've got cupboards full of canned goods, freezer full of fresh picked blueberries & raspberries (which were wild) and organic beef and lamb.
    It really costs very little to buy things right from the farmer and/or grow and can it yourself. I feel so prepared. Com'on old man winter, do your worst!
  9. I think urging people to try their hand at a sustainable Thanksgiving is a great effort in any form (I even did it on my own blog!). But as some of the comments already suggest, the high cost of doing so is often left out of the equation. The high levels of unemployment in this country, coupled with the new USDA stats about how many Americans either experience hunger or are (as you mention) food insecure, mean that we need to pay serious attention to the affordability of healthy and sustainable food. The food gap is keeping pace--or maybe even outpacing--the income gap in the US.

    My local Market Basket (the market of choice for low-income families from the greater Boston area as well as for those in the immediate walking area, like myself) is selling turkeys for $0.69/lb; Whole Foods, the cheapest is $1.99/lb; through my local farmer, $4.99/lb. It may be literally impossible to feed your family fresh food, even vegetarian food, for less than $0.69/lb for the major protein: many families simply can't make the choices we sustainability advocates promote. Thanks for the article, and I hope it makes more people think about these issues!
  10. Thanks for all the great tips.

    We especially appreciate the distinction you make between long and short term solutions to the epidemic of hunger in America. We are immensely grateful for the diligent and persistent efforts by food relief organizations to meet increased demand during these tough times. Unfortunately, the efforts of charitable food programs alone will not solve this problem. We must also advocate for more permanent solutions, including responsible legislation and improved utilization of government food programs. No one in the wealthiest nation in the world should go hungry - today or ever.

    Thank you for your support!

    Michelle Stuffmann
    MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

  11. Barb
    Steven, you can do it if you preserve and freeze. The pastured and local meats preserve it for you, in a sense.
  12. Barb
    Also, check these folks out. They rock.

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