Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to celebrate with our family and friends and express gratitude for what we have. This holiday season, let’s also show our gratitude to the planet we call home by reducing our carbon footprint with these quick and simple tweaks:
- Incorporate more plant-based food. Livestock agriculture and meat production release a significant amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming. Even if you prefer to serve turkey as the main dish, you can cut down on the overall meat intake by adding more plant-based side dishes to the menu. “There are plant-based alternatives to every traditional Thanksgiving dish out there, all the way down to a roast,” says Chloe Coscarelli, award-winning vegan chef and author of Chloe Flavor and The Complete Vegan Cookbook. You can also do quick ingredient swaps to make traditional holiday dishes more plant-based. For instance, swap chicken broth for vegetable broth in a soup base, top your sweet potatoes with vegan marshmallows instead of regular gelatin-filled marshmallows, trade butter for olive oil in your veggies or use coconut milk instead of regular milk in your mashed potatoes, suggests the Cupcake Wars winner. In addition, “you can substitute your traditional sausage stuffing for stuffing made with carrots, celery, lentils and onions,” suggests Andrea Correale, celebrity caterer and founder of Elegant Affairs. Here are a few plant-based Thanksgiving recipes to get you inspired.
- Opt for a pasture-raised turkey. “If you’re looking to serve the most sustainable turkey this Thanksgiving, a pasture-raised turkey is the way to go,” says Heidi Diestel, California-based turkey farmer and owner of Diestel Family Ranch. “These birds are raised almost entirely on open pastures and are free to forage. They also play a crucial role in polyculture, a traditional style of farming that uses agriculture to revitalize agricultural land,” tells the fourth-generation farmer. “Another perk to purchasing a certified-organic or pasture-raised bird from a local family farm is that they are free of antibiotics, hormone stimulants, preservatives and other harmful ingredients,” she adds. Although you can buy organic turkey fresh or frozen, “many frozen turkeys aren’t antibiotic-free or third-party animal welfare certified. Also, they are often pumped with a salt solution that increases the overall weight of the bird and its sodium content,” Diestel points out. This is why it’s important to read the label before buying—look for a bird that’s marked with the USDA Certified Organic symbol.
- Shop locally. “Buying locally means the produce hasn’t traveled very far. This means less pollution from trucks and ships and less packaging—which typically travels with the produce to ensure the best condition possible upon arrival,” notes Coscarelli. “Also, when you buy locally-sourced ingredients, you are reinvesting in your own community, which is hard to argue with. Even if it’s just one or two things, it can make a difference,” she adds. Plus, if you’re buying from a farmers’ market, it also gives you the chance to talk to the farmer about the best way to prepare or cook the produce you’re buying. “And since seasonal produce doesn’t have to travel very far, it’s harvested at its peak, which means it will not only be packed with its full nutrient potential but also taste unbelievably richer and juicier,” says the bestselling cookbook author. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a handy app to help you navigate local farmers’ markets. Oh, and don’t forget to take some reusable shopping bags with you!
- Decorate with nature. Ditch the usual plastic decorations, instead, adorn your home with natural, biodegradable embellishments that will add festive cheer without heading for the landfill. “You can use readily available things such as pumpkins, acorns, walnuts in the shell and colorful autumn leaves for table décor,” suggests Correale. Similarly, use soy wax candles and small baskets or clear glass bowls filled with pine cones, small pumpkins or acorns to decorate the living room. For more inspo, check out these easy and eco-friendly festive decoration ideas.
- Rethink gifting. If you’re looking for a hostess gift, choose fair trade and ethically-sourced products. “Or, gift experience like tickets to a museum or a dinner reservation, which reduces packaging waste and often makes for a more memorable gift too,” says Lauren Olson, Zero Waste Manager at World Centric. If you’re gifting a battery-operated device, include rechargeable batteries as well. “Around 40% of all battery sales happen during the holidays. If these batteries are not rechargeable, they will likely end up in a landfill once they run out of power,” the sustainability expert points out. It’s also a good idea to rethink your gift wrapping. “Most store-bought wrapping paper and plastic ribbons are not recyclable because of their shiny coating, so consider using reusable wrapping materials instead,” suggests Olson. Think vintage maps, brown recyclable paper, cloth ribbons, colorful scarves and pretty fabrics. “If every family in the U.S. wrapped just three gifts in reusable materials, we could save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields,” notes Olson. “And if you received any gifts that you weren’t wishing for this year, don’t toss them into the bin. Instead, give them to a friend or donate them to a local charity,” she suggests.
- Save energy. When it comes to cooking, “the type of baking dishes you use can have a significant impact on your energy use,” says Olson. “Typically, glass and ceramic dishes retain heat better than metal. Plus, they allow you to turn your oven down about 25 degrees,” she adds. Also, whether it’s for the big holiday or a recipe testing day, “chop up all the ingredients, pull the spices you’ll need and organize everything else before pre-heating the oven—or else the oven could be on for over an hour before you actually need it,” tells Coscarelli. Meanwhile, on the stove, “using a pan that covers the entire burner and covering the pan with a lid while cooking can help you save energy,” says Olson. “It’s also helpful to defrost your food in the refrigerator before cooking to cut down on cook time,” adds the zero-waste expert. After cooking your food, especially if you’re making it ahead of time, “try temporarily storing it caterer-style using wire racks and Sterno so that you don’t have to turn the oven back on to re-heat,” suggests Correale. “You can set up a folding table in your garage and buy some wire racks, aluminum pans and Sterno at your local store to store the food. This way, it’s out of your way and holding heat until you are ready to serve,” she explains. Outside the kitchen, you can save energy by using ambient LED lights or candlelight instead of incandescent lamps, wearing warm clothes instead of cranking up the thermostat and switching off the TV if no one’s watching it. Here are some additional tips to conserve energy during the holidays.
- Minimize plastic use. Avoid using disposable plastic utensils like glasses, plates and cutlery as they generate a lot of non-recyclable waste. Instead, try using bamboo or palm plates, forks and knives, suggests Correale. They are not only convenient but also eco-friendly and great to look at. Or, you can go old-school and use your own china, silverware and glasses (making your Nana proud in the process!). Additionally, place napkins made of cloth instead of paper. For packing leftovers, use reusable food storage containers or biodegradable sandwich bags.
- Curb food waste. Americans waste an extra five million pounds of uneaten food each year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. That’s enough food to feed over 500 people throughout an entire year. “To prevent food waste and to save money, spend time carefully planning your recipes and grocery shopping lists for the holiday dinner,” says Olson. “For smaller gatherings, consider serving a turkey breast, which will easily feed about four to six people,” suggests Diestel. Or, if you choose to serve a whole bird, “keep the carcass after carving to make stock for other recipes,” she adds. Plus, don’t overdo the desserts, suggests Correale. “Remember, it’s about quality, not quantity,” notes the entertaining expert. Serving food on smaller plates is another great way to prevent overindulgence and cut down food wastage. In addition, don’t throw away any leftovers. Either store them in the freezer to make leftover recipes or share them with your guests in biodegradable take-out containers, suggests Correale. If you’re unsure about how much food you need to prepare, use Guestimator—an online tool that aims to help reduce food waste by estimating exactly how much food you’ll need.