In 2020, we published “A Just Enough Thanksgiving” during the height of the Covid pandemic. Although folks may be ready for larger gatherings and a more plentiful holiday season, being sustainable is always relevant. Simplifying your menu, bringing out your finery, and making only what you need is also less stressful and facilitates quality time with the people you love.
Here are 15 tips for making your Thanksgiving special AND sustainable:
- Keep it simple: Whether you’re hosting a small group or a large one, there’s no need to make more food than necessary. This might mean not having so many pie choices or keeping a rein on the number of side dishes. A family of four might not need an entire turkey. A turkey breast, smaller turkey, or even a roasted chicken will do.
- Get creative with decorations: Skip buying new tabletop décor every season and create beautiful, biodegradable centerpieces from nature, including pumpkins, squash, ornamental corn, pine cones, leaves, herb branches, flowers from the garden, and candles made with soy wax and essential oils. Your home will look and smell seasonally fresh, festive, and healthful.
- Use the “good” china: What are we saving it for if not the holidays (and every day)? It’s easy to get stuck in a practical mindset, but this is the time to use our best dishes, stemware, and cloth tablecloths and napkins. Single-use paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic utensils often bypass the recycle bin and go straight to trash, especially during hectic cleanups with a crowd of guests.
- Don’t over-buy: According to RoyalExaminer.com, “Each year, Americans throw away close to $300 million worth of food on Thanksgiving. This is enough to feed New York City for over 100 days.” The Environmental Education Foundation notes that trash in the United States increases an estimated 25% between Thanksgiving and Christmas. With 95% of food waste going to landfills where it decays and produces greenhouse gases, it's a most wasteful time of year instead of the most wonderful one. Eliminate less popular side dishes and focus on family favorites. Does anyone really like that canned cranberry sauce? Make a detailed list of groceries and note the quantities needed for the recipes you’re making so you don’t get seduced at the store and buy too much on impulse. Here's a "guestimator" that calculates the amount of food to buy and prepare for your number of guests. It also helps to consume the contents of your freezer ahead of holiday meal shopping to make room for leftovers later.
- Shop seasonally: Farmers’ markets are still open for fresh, local, organic produce. Shop the season for pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale, apples, pears, and pomegranates!
- Buy organic: Use locally sourced organic produce to support regenerative farming, slash transportation emissions, and introduce new culinary traditions to your guests.
- Keep it local: If you’re a guest, bring a bottle of local wine or beer that hasn’t travelled across the world. Go the extra mile (so to speak) and make it organic. After the terrible wildfires in wine country, supporting our vintner neighbors is a gracious gesture.
- The turkey tradition: If you can’t bear going without the whole bird, a pasture-raised turkey is the way to go. Heidi Diestel, owner of Diestel Family Ranch, sums it up: "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. 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. 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." Be sure to read the label and buy a bird that's marked with the USDA Certified Organic symbol.
- Choose turkey over beef: Climate Conscious says turkey is better than beef or lamb because of their massive carbon footprint.: “One kilogram of beef leads to an equivalent of 27 kilograms of CO2, while a kilogram of turkey is responsible for just under 11 kilograms of carbon dioxide."
- Consider making vegetarian/vegan recipes: You don’t have to make a tofu-turkey, but for the record, pound-for-pound, tofu has 20% of the emissions of turkey, and less than 10% of the emissions of beef. If you are serving a carnivorous meal, consider serving smaller meat portions and filling plates up with more scrumptious vegetarian side dishes. HERE is some inspiration from a previous SCOCO newsletter. Check out this delicious braised zucchini recipe from our own locavore Farmer John.
- Sustainable Sweets: UC Santa Barbara provides these fabulous no-bake desserts to save energy when your oven’s been on non-stop.
- Luscious leftovers: If you went for broke and made a huge feast, here are some great ideas for leftover turkey. That turkey carcass makes the best homemade soup stock! Check out Jane Brody's famous turkey soup. For our vegan friends, here’s a website for vegan Thanksgiving recipes. Freezing is another excellent way to prevent waste, and you can freeze almost anything. Check out "The Art of Freezing Food Safely" and which foods freeze well and which ones don't. Clear glass containers make leftovers much more appealing, easier to spot in your fridge, and more likely to get eaten, whereas opaque plastic containers are psychologically “mysterious” and often get ignored. Ask guests to bring their own containers if you plan on sending them home with extra pie. Beeswax wraps are another compostable, organic, non-toxic alternative to single-use foil, plastic, or other throwaway wraps. Of course, composting kitchen scraps is better than contributing to landfill.
- Keep fats, oils, and grease out of the drain: If you deep-fry your turkey, learn how to dispose the deep fryer oil properly. Take large quantities to Central San’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility at 4797 Imhoff Place in Martinez. Every year, 3,000 people take advantage of Central San’s free disposal service!
- Travel smarter: If you are visiting family from afar, keep in mind that traveling by plane spews almost ten times the emissions than taking the train. If you must fly, choose nonstop whenever possible. According to npr.org, “The average domestic flight uses about 100 gallons of gas per passenger. Fewer takeoffs and landings mean less environmental damage.”
- Carbon offsetting: When flying or doing any activity that widens your carbon footprint, consider "carbon offsetting," which is a way to compensate for your emissions by making an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. Many of us are actually already offsetting carbon by working at home instead of commuting into the city each day. Corporations invest in environmental projects that balance out damaging emissions produced by their operations and supply chains. Check out this Carbon Footprint Calculator or, better yet, join the Cleaner Contra Costa Challenge!
Photo by Virginia Simionato on Unsplash.com
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